Inside Dee’s Miraculous Mind

In three evening lectures at the Royal College of Physicians, Deborah Harkness, Katie Birkwood, and Bill Sherman explored the world of Tudor polymath John Dee (1527–1609). Harkness gave fascinating insights into Dee’s conversations with angels, his search for Truth (with a capital T) and his great imagination, which made him go beyond the knowledge contained in his own book collection (even though he possessed the largest library in England at the time, consisting of 4,000 volumes). Birkwood gave the audience an idea of how many decisions go into creating a book exhibition, from the choice of books to their physical presentation. Sherman went “Back to the Future” with John Dee, showing a scene from Derek Jarman’s 1978 film Jubilee, which jumps back and forth between the time of Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II. This led Sherman to reflect on some markers of modernity put down by Dee that were recognized as such only much later. The audience members joined the conversation with numerous questions on topics ranging from alchemy to Greek philosophy; in fact, their curiosity exceeded the time allotted for the discussion.

2 3 4 5 Polymath

Venue: Royal College of Physician, London

‘The Renaissance library and the worldview of John Dee’, Deborah Harkness, professor of history, University of Southern California

‘Curating Dee: behind the scenes of ‘Scholar, courtier, magician’’, Katie Birkwood, RCP rare books and special collections librarian

‘Back to the future with John Dee’, Bill Sherman, head of research, Victoria & Albert Museum

‘In conversation’, followed by exhibition viewing

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