Tim Kircher presents 2020 Algie I. Newlin lecture on Renaissance Humanism

Last Wednesday, Oct. 28, Guilford College History Professor Tim Kircher presented the 2020 Algie I. Newlin Lecture on the Relevance of Renaissance Reasoning.

The talk began in the late evening at 7 p.m. over Zoom, with an air of comfortable formality preceding the discourse. Associate Professor of History Zhihong Chen gave a brief  introduction, wherein she spoke of the History Department’s centennial anniversary this year and of Algie I. Newlin’s legacy as a contributor to Guilford College and the Religious Society of Friends. His daughter, Joan Newlin, was in attendance. 

Tim Kircher, Hege professor and author of the new book, “Before Enlightenment: Play and Illusion in Renaissance Humanism,” then began his presentation.

Initially, the three-time author of Renaissance history spoke of a bleak reality, one in which the humanities has lost its popularity, and with it a large amount of its funding. This was especially grievous, he stressed, since they serve to blend the arts and sciences—a kind of checks and balances system that is slowly becoming lost, neglected for STEM-based avenues considered more “practical.”

Associate Professor of History Philip Slaby, a colleague of Kircher’s since 2006, revealed his thoughts about the lecture.

“Tim’s talk dealing with Renaissance humanist thinkers and the lessons they have for us today was thought-provoking and timely,” Slaby said. “Indeed, today many champion scientific, technological and mathematical ways of knowing, and cast aside humanistic ways of knowing gained through literature, arts, philosophy, history and other disciplines as lacking practical value. Tim’s examination of Renaissance humanists calls us to go beyond such divisions and judgments.”

Kircher continued the lecture by offering a look into the history of humanism, predominantly from the Renaissance period. His talk included notable thinkers such as Pietro Bembo, Laura Cereta and Petrarch. He went on to declare them as among the progenitors of humanism, specifically a sect which blends objective, rational Enlightenment values with those which might be called proto-Romanticist ideals, subjective and emotional.

“I knew nothing about Renaissance Humanism before the lecture began,” said Guilford alum Dylan Mask ‘20, who attended the event. “However, because of Dr. Kircher’s talent as a professor, I feel that I not only learned about humanism, but also how it relates to our changing society today, especially the growing divide between the humanities and the sciences. I certainly think (his) talk was a meaningful experience.”

Professor Kircher proceeded to bring the ideals of centuries-old humanists into modern society with a sobering examination of our current crises. The present rifts between art and science, politics and medicine, etc. have resulted in a time that’s in desperate need of humanism, he posited. In a world battling COVID-19, the Italian mural of a healthcare practitioner cradling a depiction of her native country strikes a touching resemblance to “The Madonna and Child.”

The event ended with an extended Q&A session wherein intelligent, thought-provoking questions were asked in an incredible quantity. After closing remarks from Professor Chen, Kircher offered his final thoughts.

“History is future-oriented,” Kircher said. “It shows us ways we can realize our hidden potential by learning from the past, and how we can overcome crises facing us. I would like to present the ongoing importance of Renaissance writings for our understanding of health, science and humanities today.” 

When asked if there was anything he’d like to impart that was left unspoken, he wrote: “I hope we all ask about the future of education, and discover ways through continual, lifelong education to integrate the manifold dimensions of our personal and social lives.” 

More information and inspiration can be found at https://humanitieswatch.org/, which was developed alongside Guilford Alum Aaron Smedley with Professor Tim Kircher himself.