MacArthur Fellows Program

Ann M. Blair

Intellectual Historian | Class of 2002

Tracing the influence of technological advances, as well as political and religious upheavals, on the transmission and evolution of ideas during the Renaissance.

Intellectual Historian
Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts
40 at time of award
Published September 25, 2002

Ann Blair is an intellectual historian who has introduced fresh interpretations of early-modern European efforts to compile and classify knowledge. In The Theater of Nature: Jean Bodin and Renaissance Science (1997), Blair offers original analyses of the “commonplace” book of a leading Renaissance humanist, constituting his compendium of knowledge of the natural world. She shows how Bodin, motivated to diminish the violent religious upheaval of the times, offered a view of natural phenomena compatible with, and dependent on, shared theological views. In tracing the contemporaneous and subsequent reaction to his book, Blair also explains how it represents an influential methodological intermediate between the textual analysis of medieval natural philosophy and the empiricism of the modern science that replaced it. Her more recent efforts explore the strategies that scholars used to adjust to the information explosion during the Renaissance. She shows that methods of the medieval manuscript culture played just as influential a role in responding to this crisis of information as the new technologies of mechanical reproduction. Placing these responses within the political and religious conflict of the Renaissance, Blair documents historical responses to challenges that, in many ways, resonate with contemporary times.

Ann Blair received a B.A. (1984) from Harvard University, an M.Phil. (1985) from the University of Cambridge, and an M.A. (1987) and Ph.D. (1990) from Princeton University. She was an NSF-NATO postdoctoral fellow (1990–1991) in Paris and then taught at the University of California, Irvine (1992–1996), before relocating to her present position in the Department of History at Harvard University. Blair received the Distinguished Assistant Professor for Research Award (1995) from the University of California, Irvine, and was awarded an NEH Fellowship (1996).

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