Credit: Andonian Timothée / Iméra
Before the Two Cultures: Literature and Mathematics in Early Modern Europe
Summary of the research project
Before the Two Cultures reveals surprising connections between mathematics and literature in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe. Long before science was a profession, early modern mathematical concepts evolved in contexts not narrowly scientific. Truly to understand them, we must relate them to other areas of cultural expression. Literature in particular addressed issues equally vital to the burgeoning sciences of quantification: calculability, contingency, and the rationality of belief in an increasingly uncertain world. Among others, Montaigne, Sidney, Shakespeare, Donne, Cavendish, Pascal, and Milton all elaborated — but also challenged — forms of abstract reason rapidly developing in domains such as arithmetic, geometry, algebra, probability, and calculus. Yet, among literary scholars, mathematics remains largely unconsidered. I explore this new field of study in a way that does justice to both literary form and mathematical content, each having played a formative role in the creation of modernity.
Shankar Raman’s research focuses on late medieval and early modern literature and culture. He received his Ph.D. in English literature (with a minor in German) from Stanford University in 1995, switching fields and careers after earning an M.S. (U. C. Berkeley) and a B.S. (MIT) in electrical engineering (as well as a second B.S. at MIT through the architecture department). From 2005 to 2010, he was involved in Making Publics: Media, Markets and Associations in Early Modern Europe, 1500 – 1700 [MaPs], a major five-year interdisciplinary research initiative funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada. In 2010-2011, he was a Beatrice Shepherd Blaine Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study (Cambridge, MA) and in 2018 was named a MacVicar Teaching Fellow at MIT, the institute’s highest teaching honour.
His first book, Framing ‘India’: The Colonial Imaginary in Early Modern Culture (Stanford 2002), examines the relationship between colonialism and literature in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe. A second book, Renaissance Literature and Postcolonial Studies, was published by Edinburgh University Press (2011). He is also co-editor of Knowing Shakespeare: Senses, Embodiment, Cognition (Palgrave Macmillan 2010). He is currently working on a monograph on the relationship between literature and mathematics in early modern Europe, tentatively entitled Before the Two Cultures.