Seth Kimmel

Seth Kimmel

Seth Kimmel studies the literatures and cultures of medieval and early modern Iberia. He earned his B.A. in Comparative Literature and Religion here at Columbia and his Ph.D. from the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley in 2010. Before joining Columbia’s Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures in 2012, Seth spent two years as a member of Stanford University’s Mellon Fellowship of Scholars in the Humanities. During the 2018-2019 academic year, Seth was the John Elliott Member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ. At Columbia, he is on the executive committee of both the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program and the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society.

academic statement

My second book, The Librarian's Atlas: The Shape of Knowledge in Early Modern Spain is forthcoming with the University of Chicago Press and scheduled to appear in Spring 2024. The book argues that the book-lover’s dream of total knowledge helped to shape the early modern period’s expanded sense of the world itself. Ancient bibliographers and medieval scholastics had imagined the library as a microcosm of the world, but for early modern scholars the world was likewise a projection of the library. This may at first glance seem counterintuitive. Reports from late fifteenth- and sixteenth-century explorers in the New World destabilized the Old World’s cosmographic and historical consensus. Yet the mapping and ethnographic projects that early modern rulers like Spain’s Charles V and Philip II commissioned to inventory their territorial possessions and reestablish epistemological confidence nevertheless relied heavily on methods of information management honed in the library. The main characters in the book were all involved in both library work and scientific inquiry, and they include Hernando Colón, Juan Páez de Castro, Benito Arias Montano, Sebastián de Covarrubias, and Aḥmad al-Manjūr.

My first book, Parables of Coercion: Conversion and Knowledge at the End of Islamic Spain (University of Chicago Press, 2015), is an intellectual history of New Christian assimilation in the sixteenth century. The book argues that canon law, philology, history writing, and other disciplines were all transformed by hotly contested debates over eradicating Islam and Judaism from the Iberian Peninsula and converting non-Christians elsewhere in the Spanish empire. Two in-depth audio interviews about the book are available online, one at the New Books Network and another on the Ottoman History Podcast. Selections of reviews of the book are available here. The American Comparative Literature Association awarded Parables of Coercion the 2017 Harry Levin Prize for best first book published in the field of Comparative Literature. In 2020, Marcial Pons published a Spanish translation under the title, "Tener al lobo por las orejas": Polémicas sobre coerción y conversión hasta la expulsión de los moriscos.

In addition to the history of science, the history of the book, and what we might call "multiconfessional Iberia," other research and teaching interests include Mediterranean and transatlantic studies, literary theory, and comparative literature. A selection of my academic articles and books chapters are listed below. I also occasionally write for a general audience in English and Spanish. My most recent essay, for Public Books, was "What's in a Bookstore?"

I teach both undergraduate and graduate classes on medieval and early modern Iberia, always with a comparative approach and often with a focus on the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. In recent years, I have taught seminars on theories of secularism and religion, the history of reading, early modern cartography, Renaissance poetics, and cultural exchange and conflict among Iberian Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Most of my classes include some primary source research component and visits to New York area archives and libraries, and in all of my classes I try to help students become more effective and convincing analytical writers, as well as thinkers and readers. Students in my classes make ample use of CourseWorks and Wikispaces, and have occasionally experimented with ambitious digital mapping projects and research in electronic archives.

I strive to be an accessible and candid teacher and adviser, and I am always happy to brainstorm research ideas and troubleshoot writing issues. So please don't hesitate to drop me an email or stop by my office hours.


Selected Articles

“Early Modern Iberia, Indexed: Hernando Colón’s Cosmography.” Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 82, no. 1, Jan. 2021, pp. 1-28.

“Hushed Ballads: Early Modern Print Culture and Medieval Iberia’s Multiconfessional Past.” Comparative Literature, vol. 71, no. 3, Sept. 2019, pp. 314-332.

“The Morisco Question: Methodology and Historiography.” History Compass, vol. 17, no. 4, April 2019, pp. 1-10.

“Conversion and Apocalypse: The Visual Archive of the Libro del alborayque.” Romance Notes, vol. 58, no. 3, 2018, pp. 341-355.

“Foreword: Neither History nor Book.” Special Issue: “History of the Book,” Revista Hispánica Moderna, vol. 71, no. 1, June 2018, pp. 1-5.

“Fashioning Precedent: The Imperial Politics of New Christian Assimilation.” Forum: “Empire and Exceptionalism,” edited by Andrew Devereux, Republics of Letters: A Journal for the Study of Knowledge, Politics, and the Arts, vol. 5, no. 3, Feb. 2018, pp. 1-8.

“‘No milagro, milagro’: The Early Modern Art of Effective Ritual.” Critical Cluster: “Early Modern Theatre and Theatricality,” edited by Harry Sieber and William Egginton, Modern Language Notes, vol. 128, no. 2, Hispanic Issue, 2013, pp. 433-444.

“Local Turks: Print Culture and Maurophilia in Early Modern Spain.” The Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies, vol. 13, no. 1, 2012, pp. 21-38.

“Interpreting Inaccuracy: The Fiction of Longitude in Early Modern Spain.” The Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, vol. 40, no. 2, Spring 2010, pp. 299-324.

Selected Book Chapters

“Automatons and the Early Modern Drama of Skepticism.” Science on Stage in Early Modern Spain, edited by Enrique García Santo-Tomás, University of Toronto Press, 2019, pp. 210-230.

“Solicitation Stories: Reading Confession Between History and Literature.” Imagining Histories of Colonial Latin America: Essays on Synoptic Methods and Practices, edited by Karen Melvin and Sylvia Sellers-García, University of New Mexico Press, 2017, pp. 195-20.

“Tropes of Expertise and Converso Unbelief: Huarte de San Juan’s History of Medicine.” After Conversion: Iberia and the Emergence of Modernity, edited by Mercedes García-Arenal, Brill, 2016, pp. 336-57.

“Andalusian Iberias: From Spanish to Iberian Literature.” Teaching Medieval and Early Modern Cross-Cultural Encounters, edited by Karina F. Attar and Lynn Shutters, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, pp. 21-35, 229-230.

“Writing Religion: Sacromonte and the Literary Conventions of Orthodoxy.” Poiesis and Modernity in the Old and New WorldsHispanic Issues, vol. 39, edited by Anthony J. Cascardi and Leah Middebrook, Vanderbilt University Press, 2012, pp. 117-138.