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Hannah Marcus
President and Fellows of Harvard College (Cambridge, MA 02138-3800)

Research Programs

[Grant products]

$30,000 (approved)
$30,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
2/1/2020 – 7/31/2020

The Limits of Life in Early Modern Europe (1450-1700)

We are living longer and longer. However, contrary to popular opinion, longevity is not a uniquely modern phenomenon. The Limits of Life explores the cultural and scientific world of advanced old age in early modern Europe (1450-1700). While many in this period were particularly intrigued by the possibility of extending human life, physicians and natural philosophers were also deeply concerned about the political, philosophical, ecological, and social implications of longevity. Expanding beyond the historical demography of Renaissance Italy, my research builds on recent scholarship interested in the cultural and medical history of death and dying. My research probes the ways that ideas about mortality and longevity crossed between elite spaces and popular discourse both in print and through well-documented encounters with the bodies of the aged. Longevity, as both a goal and a lived reality, revealed the religious, social, and embodied limits of early modern life.