Conference “Inventing the Good Life”

Reading Virtus KopieItaly had an immense influence on the social and cultural life of early modern Europe. Our conference “Inventing the Good Life. How Italy Shaped Early Modern Moral Culture” (Wolfenbüttel, 18-20 October 2018) will look at the moral imprint of this influence, using a special lens: the Ethica section in Wolfenbüttel. It will discuss the section’s wealth of literature on ethics and its Italian influence along three lines of argument: How did early modern Italian literature contribute to a new ‘informal’ ethics, imparting moral lessons in a non-systematic way? How did its renewed emphasis on the cultivation of virtues change the moral dynamics of early modern Europe? Which role did ethics and morality play in the transmission and translation processes involved in its proliferation?

A detailed CFP where these three lines of argument are sketched out is available in English, Italian, and French.

Paper Proposals

For the conference, we are experimenting with a new format, combining the general topic, the moral culture of early modern Europe and its Italian influence, with a specific selection of source materials – the books in the Ethica section. Therefore, your paper should combine three aspects, ideally:

  • It should, first, concern a volume in the Ethica section. For an alphabetical list, see hereor search Wolfenbüttel’s OPAC). The idea is that of a bottom-up approach. You might want to choose one specific volume/work in the section as your point of departure and elaborate on it for more general observations. As the volumes in the section often contain two or more works, you might also be interested in studying the volume as “Sammelband” in its combination of heterogeneous works.
  • Secondly, your paper should have a clear link to Italy, in the broad sense of the Italian peninsula as one important centre of early modern European culture. The author of your work can be Italian, for example, or its language Italian; it may be printed in Italy, or based on the work of an Italian author.
  • Third, your paper should reflect on the role played by ethics/morality in the volume you are presenting. Obviously, you do not need to reduce the work in question to its “moral message”. More to the point, we are interested in the complex and often ambiguous interplay between entertainment and moral instruction, as well as the place of this moral instruction in early modern society.

We welcome proposals from Italian studies and all historical minded fields, including intellectual history, cultural history, history of literature, book history, art history, history of music and history of philosophy. It is also possible to select works not present in the section if they shed special light on specific aspects of the Italian influence on European moral culture. The purpose of the discussion will be to foster a new kind of attention to the cultural history of ethics, not in the sense of another type of sub-specialization, but as a trans-disciplinary way of thinking. Presented papers will be collected for publication in a collected volume.

The languages of the conference are English, Italian, French, and German. Please send title, short abstract (max. 250 words), keywords, and contact information (including institutional affiliation) to Matthias Roick ( by 15 June 2018.

Acceptance decisions will be sent via email on 30 June 2018.


The conference is organized by Matthias Roick (Göttingen/Wolfenbüttel), together with Franziska Meier (Göttingen), Enrica Zanin (Strasbourg), and Claudia Rossignoli (St. Andrews) and takes place in the framework of the Freigeist project “The Ways of Virtue. The Ethica section in Wolfenbüttel and the History of Ethics in Early Modern Europe”. It will be held at the Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel.

The invitation to the conference includes accommodation (four nights). As for your travel arrangements, there will be an allowance of up to 250 € to cover travel expenses for those coming from within Europe, and 600 € for those coming from overseas.