Abigail Brundin

Renaissance scholar Dr Abigail Brundin, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Italian, has been awarded an ‘I Tatti’ Fellowship from Harvard University, enabling her to spend time exploring 16th- and 17th-century Florentine archives. She hopes to shed light on a turbulent period in Italy’s literary history, when poets and writers laboured in the face of religious censorship.

I still cherish the incredible experience I had travelling to Rome for the first time as a doctoral student, getting my reader’s pass for the Vatican Archives, and venturing into the unknown."

Abigail Brundin

Having been chosen as one of 15 academics awarded the prestigious ‘I Tatti’ Fellowship each year, of which only half are open to non-US scholars, Dr Brundin is embarking on a year of study in Florence at the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies.

She will be continuing her examination of Italian literature from a period dominated by censorship of creative expression and literary production by the church and, yet, as it is now becoming apparent, characterised by individuals who resisted the pull of literary stagnation. ‘If you look at traditional historiographies of the period known as the Counter-Reformation, it has been widely written off as a time where nothing very exciting happened in terms of Italian literature,’ she explained. ‘But there is growing evidence of patterns of resistance to censorship, including the existence of groups of outspoken and experimental writers.’

Dr Brundin aims to redress the balance by exploring this under-researched area, enabling a reappraisal of the effects of censorship on literature of the time.

Dr Brundin relocates to Florence with her partner and three children, aged 5 months, 5 years and 7 years, on what she happily anticipates will be an adventure for them all. From an academic perspective, she is relishing the opportunities afforded by the chance for a sustained period of archival work, which, as she says, ‘is always a voyage of discovery.’

What would others be surprised to learn about you?

I’m a really atrocious speller. I was never taught to spell properly at my rather hippy primary school and I used to sound words out phonetically. Word spellcheck is now my best friend. It’s interesting that I’ve ended up working in Italian, which is an entirely phonetic language – basically, as long as you know what a word sounds like, you can spell it!

Who or what inspires you?

In relation to my work, I am inspired by a desire to take a fresh look at the ‘grand narratives’ of literary history to uncover the marginal or less obvious voices and perspectives. Thus far, this has meant the voices of women, and of Italians who were interested in the Reformation and its ideas. On a personal note, I always feel inspired by the beautiful landscape of Cornwall, where I’ve been going every year since I was born and now take my own children.

Have you ever had a Eureka moment?

Genuinely, I think the answer is no. I don’t know if they really occur in my field of work – it’s more about incremental understanding of the way things happen, a subtle and gradual creeping towards a greater insight. I have come across some arresting pieces in the archives, but I’ve yet in my career to stumble upon that life-changing document, that missing piece of the jigsaw – maybe next year!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

That you shouldn’t feel that a piece of work has to be definitive. A thesis or a paper is really a snapshot of where your thinking has arrived at as a result of your research up till that moment. But it’s not necessarily the final answer – if you go back to it in a year’s time, you might have other information that causes you to interpret your findings in a new way. I see some doctoral students blocked by the inability to let go of something because they don’t feel that it’s finished, but actually it’s never finished. In research, you need to constantly respond to new information as you find it.

If you could wake up tomorrow with a new skill, what would it be?

I would love to have really good Latin. It would mean that when I come across documents that look like they really matter my heart doesn’t sink at the number of hours I’m going to have to put into deciphering them!

What is your favourite research tool?

Possibly the internet – it’s wonderful today how much is digitised and online, from generous scholars who’ve put their life’s work online in searchable format, to rare and inaccessible manuscripts that are available at the touch of a button. But, phenomenally useful as this is, my favourite research tool has to be the archive. I still cherish the incredible experience I had travelling to Rome for the first time as a doctoral student, getting my reader’s pass for the Vatican Archives, and venturing into the unknown. Nothing replaces that excitement of enquiry when you’re on the spot, holding the books and papers in your own hands. Thrilling!


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. If you use this content on your site please link back to this page.