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Technology expands research horizons

Dr Lisa Sampson

Dr Lisa Sampson, School of Modern Languages and European Studies (Italian Studies)

'One of the major results of the project will be an electronic, searchable database that will allow anyone access to information on some 400 Italian Academies'

Dr Lisa Sampson, from the University's School of Modern Languages and European Studies (Italian Studies) is currently involved in a four year project that aims to explore the vibrant culture of the Italian Academies, which played a key role in social and intellectual life across the peninsula between 1525 and 1700.

The Italian Academies can be described as the first intellectual networks of early modern Europe the forerunners of the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Arts that we have today.

There were about 600 Academies in Italy during this time and they were responsible for promoting debate and discussion in many different disciplines from language and literature, through the visual and performing arts to science, technology, medicine and astronomy.

The Academies functioned as alternative institutions to the universities and the courts, and numbered among their members pioneering scientists (such as Galileo), writers, political thinkers and artists, and representatives of both sexes and all social classes.

One of the major results of the project will be an electronic, searchable database that will allow anyone access to information on some 400 Italian Academies from across the Italian peninsula, regarding their membership, intellectual interests and social networks. The information is derived from publications by the Academies held in the British Library's extensive collections - one of the finest outside Italy. This valuable electronic resource was launched during the first phase of the project (2006-9) and already holds details on the Academies of four important Italian cities. Dr Sampson is a Co-Investigator on the second phase of the project which began June 2010. This will extend the database significantly by adding several further cultural centres and also develop the findings in research papers and publications.

"My particular interest lies in the role of theatre within the Academies." said Dr Sampson. "Theatrical composition and performances can be a way of uncovering intellectual debate in these institutions as well their attitudes towards public display and entertainment."

"I also have an interest in the role of women within the Academies. Some of the remarkable engravings in the books were produced by women artists for example."

Dr Sampson will be supervising a PhD student who will be responsible for research on some select academies while preparing a doctoral thesis here at Reading. She is also contributing to the development of a series of new research initiatives and publications linked to the database creation.

These include two workshops - one to be held at this University in 2013, an international conference, monographs and scholarly articles. Dr Sampson will also help to present the research to a wider audience through a series of lectures, presentations and interaction with schools and colleges. "This database is a rich resource for teachers to bring European history and modern languages alive for their pupils", she said.

‘The Italian Academies 1525-1700: a Themed Collection Database' contains images as well as text. It is publicly available online.

The research project is funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council. The Principal Investigator is Professor Jane Everson of Royal Holloway University.



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