A Festschrift for John Watkins!

The literary and cultural historian is honored with a new volume of essays on the early modern world, co-edited by Professor Katherine Scheil and alum Linda Shenk
Head and shoulders of person with short brown hair and light skin, wearing wire-rimmed glasses and grey suitcoact with blue shirt and tie; on right, colorful book cover with text Early Modern Improvisations

Distinguished McKnight University Professor John Watkins has one more semester of teaching before retirement, but he’s already received his send-off tribute: a festschrift, or celebratory volume of essays, with contributions from colleagues, former students, and peers across the globe. Early Modern Improvisations: Essays on History and Literature in Honor of John Watkins was published June 3 with Routledge. 

On May 17 in the Pillsbury Hall attic, the co-editors, Professor Katherine Scheil and Iowa State University Professor (and PhD alum) Linda Shenk, launched the book at a Department of English gathering of colleagues, alums, and friends. In her introduction, Professor Scheil described texting Watkins in 2022 to see if he’d be amenable to a festschrift. There was a pause, she said. Then came the response: “Yes, and here’s the list of contributors.” Followed quickly by another text: “And you should do it with Linda Shenk.” 

Shenk enthusiastically signed on, and the two sent out queries to Watkins’ list, which included scholars from such major institutions as Oxford, Berkeley, UCLA, USC, Trinity College Dublin, University College London, and the Emory University World Shakespeare Project. The list included PhD alums Ariane M. Balizet (TCU), Julie A. Eckerle (UMN Morris), and Marcela Kostihova (Hamline) amidst international scholars such as Isabella Lazzarini from the University of Turin. “Every person we asked said yes,” Scheil related, “except for one very reluctant no due to overcommitment, and everyone came through with an amazing essay.”

And the affirmations were accompanied, added Shenk, "with extra comments of how much John has meant to them as a generous person and brilliant colleague. The warmth and generosity of you, John, was always a part of how this came together."

Early Modern Improvisations is appropriately interdisciplinary given how Watkins’ own work as a literary and cultural historian has ranged across geographical, temporal, and political borders. For example, Watkins' most recent book, After Lavinia: A Literary History of Premodern Marriage Diplomacy (Cornell University Press), looks at the relationship of Western European diplomacy and literary production from antiquity through the 17th century. His book Representing Elizabeth in Stuart England: Literature, History, Sovereignty (Cambridge UP) was the first book-length examination of the queen’s afterlife in Anglo-American imaginations across centuries. He co-authored with Carole Levin Shakespeare’s Foreign Worlds: National and Transnational Identities in the Elizabethan Age (Cornell UP).

The new festschrift, selected for the Routledge New Interdisciplinary Approaches to Early Modern Culture series, features essays on such disparate topics as Shakespeare and Tudor queens, Anglican missionary work in North America, Mediterranean piracy, the Hulu series Harlots, and medieval food insecurity. Modeled after Watkins’ creative spirit, according to its editors, it explores early modern culture and its reverberations “in ways that engage with a world outside the grand narratives and centralized institutions of power, a world that is more provisional, less scripted, and more improvisational.”

Watkins’ internationally renowned scholarship has been recognized with a Guggenheim Fellowship, American Council of Liberal Studies Fellowship, American Philosophical Society Fellowship, and the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts Scholar of the College award. 

Revered for his exuberant teaching manner as much as his scholarship, Watkins has received the top prizes for undergraduate teaching at the University, college, and department level. He has advised or served on a committee for over 20 undergraduate summa cum laude theses. In addition, he has served as dissertation director or co-director for 20 doctoral students, and as a committee member for over 40 more.

"It has been such a delight to see the many, many lives that John has touched around the world, with his scholarship, teaching, friendship, collegiality, and support," said Professor Scheil at the festschrift launch. "Thank you for bringing out the best in all of us and making our collective life of the mind so much better."

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