Witnessing the Past:
Early Modern First-Person Narratives in Fact and Fiction
In this class we will explore how first-person narrative can provide powerful insight into the experience of the past. With a focus on the European fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, we will study a series of fictional and historical texts in which the speaking voice expresses his or her personal experience of this volatile period in world history. Our readings will range from the chronicles written by a witness to the conquest of Mexico to Galileo’s daughter’s personal correspondence with her father, from the mysticism of Santa Teresa’s account of her spiritual journey to the biting satire of Erasmus’s fictionally autobiographical Praise of Folly. Other readings will include excerpts from Montaigne’s Essays, Cervantes’s Exemplary Stories, as well as Petrarch’s famous letter written after his ascent of Mount Ventoux.