Jennifer Mackenzie

Wolf Humanities Center Regional Fellow

20192020 Forum on Kinship

Jennifer Mackenzie

Assistant Professor of Italian Studies, Department of Italian Studies

Jennifer Mackenzie is Assistant Professor of Italian Studies at Franklin & Marshall College. She received her Ph.D. in Italian Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, and her B.A. in English from the University of British Columbia. Her research pursues questions of intellectual history with methods from literary and visual studies. She has published on the discourse of impegno, or civic involvement, in Italian literary criticism and on relations between humanism and the anthropology of images (forthcoming). She is currently working on her first book.

Vital Signs: Fiction, Philology, and the Coat of Arms in the Italian Renaissance

This project investigates how the study of the humanities intersected with the visual language that is today called heraldry. It focuses on the milieu around the Italian peninsula's longest-surviving dynasty, the Estensi. It follows the construction and evolution of their coat of arms between legal documents, scholarly conversations, family genealogies, and literary experiments, including epic poetry, between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries. Intertwined with this story is the story of how so-called medieval heraldry itself came to be understood as a feudal language, a technical visualization of kinship and power relations, a sign of feudalism's opposition to humanism, and a prototype for anthropologies of images separate from the history of art. My wager is that heraldry's fortunes and misfortunes in early modernity shed light on some of the challenges that the humanist tradition still poses: the power of grammar to both preserve and ossify language; the problem of the dividing lines between fiction and history; the status of the family as a historical subject.