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UD Professor’s New Book Explores Women’s Collective Impact during the Renaissance

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​Meredith K. Ray

​​​​

​Meredith K. Ray, the Elias Ahuja Professor of Italian at UD, is working to amplify the role of women during the Italian Renaissance with her upcoming book, “Twenty-Five Women Who Shaped the Italian Renaissance.”​

Who were the movers and shakers of the Italian Renaissance?

Michelangelo, da Vinci, and Galileo to be sure, but what about epic poet and mathematics prodigy Margherita Sarrocchi or Sofonisba Anguissola, the late Renaissance painter renowned for her portraiture? Or consider the impact of warrior Caterina Sforza, who rode into battle seven months pregnant and successfully defended her city against an invading army.

Meredith K. Ray, the Elias Ahuja Professor of Italian at the University of Delaware, is working to broaden the way we look at the Italian Renaissance with her new book, “Twenty-Five Women Who Shaped the Italian Renaissance,” which will be published by Routledge this December.





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​“Twenty-Five Women Who Shaped the Italian Renaissance”

​“Twenty-Five Women Who Shaped the Italian Renaissance” can be pre-ordered after November 12.​

“I wanted to place women at the heart of a new kind of narrative about the Renaissance that explores the impact women had on the intellectual, political and cultural development of that time period,” said Ray.

The book was designed to have cross-over appeal to both academic and non-academic audiences. Ray said she worked to make her book accessible and approachable to her undergraduates, who may not have extensive knowledge of the Renaissance. She plans to use the book in future classes and hopes it might inspire her students:​

“This is why I felt compelled to write this book -- I believe that in order to work towards gender equality in the present and future, it's essential to recognize the collective impact and presence of women throughout history, and especially for women to see themselves represented in history,’ said Ray. “To do that, we need to widen the lens we use when we think about the past, perhaps ask different questions, or look in different places to find these missing stories.”

It would be easy to assume that most women had little agency during the Renaissance, but women’s lives and gender roles weren’t as rigid as might be expected. “Women couldn’t access culture in identical ways to men, but they were able to find their own paths,” noted Ray.​​

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg

​During the Bellagio residency, Ray discovered an old photo exhibit of past fellows, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, seen here.​

“For example, at times girls were able to be educated with their brothers; they may have had a father who was sympathetic to their desire to be educated,” she said. “And there were many women who took on political power when their husbands were away at war.”

Ray completed this book last fall as a fellow of the Bellagio Center Residency Program, sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation. Alumni of this highly selective program, located on the shores of Lake Como, Italy, include internationally recognized leaders such as Dikgang Moseneke and the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Since the time of the program’s inception in 1959, there is no record of any previous residents from UD.​​

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Meredith in Bellagio

​The Bellagio Center Residency Program, sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, is located on the shores of Lake Como, Italy. The prestigious program afforded Ray space and time to complete her book on “Twenty-Five Women Who Shaped the Italian Renaissance.”​

My cohort included a human rights expert from UNICEF, a former judge for the International Criminal Court of the Hague, a person focused on energy policy, and a novelist from South Africa,” said Ray. “We worked on our independent projects during the day, and then came together in the evening for a communal meal and conversation. Each of us also was responsible for presenting a lecture to the cohort about our project.”

“Twenty-Five Women Who Shaped the Italian Renaissance” features the stories of women writers, scientists, artists, musicians, philosophers, feminists, and political leaders. Ray also considers the “invisible women” whose stories have been lost – domestics, slaves, and artisans.​​

Ray, who published four earlier books on the Italian Renaissance, said that she welcomed the opportunity to reach a broader audience. Despite her busy writing schedule, Ray teaches courses each semester to undergraduate and graduate students and serves as chair of the Italian program in the department of languages, literatures and cultures.

Ray also is the series editor for an ongoing Routledge collection about women who shaped other pivotal time periods in history. Future books in the series will focus on the Scientific Revolution, the Ottoman Empire, the Suffragist Movement and the U.S. Civil Rights era.

“Twenty-Five Women Who Shaped the Italian Renaissance” can be pre-ordered after December 2 online from Routledge. ​​

Article by Margo McDonough​

Photos supplied by Meredith Ray​

Artwork by Sam Olshin​​

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Sam Olshin artwork

​Ray’s partner, Sam Olshin, is an architect and artist who traveled to Bellagio at the end of her residency. His work shown here is a view across Lake Como. ​



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Sam Olshin artwork 2

​Ray’s partner, Sam Olshin, is an architect and artist who traveled to Bellagio at the end of her residency. His work shown here is of the town’s landmark church, the Romanesque Basilica of San Giacomo. ​



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Meredith Ray finished her book during her time in prestigious Bellagio Center Residency Program.
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