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Provost's Imagine Fund for Arts and Humanities

Thinking Early: Method and Object

seek to identify a method for studying ideas, objects, and concepts from history that are usually not understood as important, lasting, or significant.

Scholars whose work attends to cultures, event, ideas rooted anytime between 1300-1800, debate whether this period should be considered "early modern," as it open up a path to our "modern era" (exact dates among countries, cultures and even media: early modern Japanese theater does not occur simultaneously with early modern Egyptian literature). But chronological markers do not always mark a certain telos nor do they necessarily impose a law of any progression at all; a practice done early in the morning does not necessarily evolve over the day or, reaching its apogee at noon, culminate in the night. This project investigates the "early" not insofar as it connotes a step in progress, but for how it intervenes in and interrupts both history and our methods for considering historical objects.

I identify 3 related notions of the early:
-- the first iteration of an object (its early stages)
-- an object before its time: a precursor but also an anachronism, something inappropriate to its time; an idea whose time has not yet come.
--an object that didn't get anywhere precisely because it was "too early" (or for that matter, "too late.")

In this last sense, the "early" identifies an untimely object, hard to locate outside of temporal processes: local, the ephemeral, and the incidental. I'd like to develop a theoretical model for "thinking early:" that is, identifying objects of study that are best removed from their position as firsts, precursors, or anachronisms, to think about them outside of their evolutionary status.

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Twin Cities