Anna Nelson Bennett (Department of History)

The Ruggiero Prize Committee unanimously selected Anna Nelson Bennett’s “The Magic of Things: Matter, Spirit, and Power in Venice, 1580-1730” as the recipient of the 2021 David John Ruggiero Dissertation Award. According to the committee members, Dr. Bennett’s dissertation is an exhaustively researched and pristinely written examination of the material culture of magic during Venice’s “long” seventeenth century. Her innovative analysis of the object-based spiritual practice of lay-Venetians, and especially Venetian women, offers novel insights into the still-enchanted worlds occupied by her early-modern subjects, and makes a significant contribution to the already voluminous work done by previous scholars on magic and witchcraft during this period. Her dissertation, in the words of the professor nominating Bennet, “offers a significant reperiodization of the history of magic and witchcraft in Italy”—one which makes it clear that “the apparent decline of magic and witchcraft in late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth century Venice was just that: apparent.” Not only does “The Magic of Things,” to quote the nominating party again, “link up nicely with current historical reappraisals of the interlocking roles of magic, religion, superstition, and science in a putative age of reason,” but it also engages in compelling ways with cutting edge work in the fields of material culture, feminist theory, and urban studies, and should find a wide and appreciative audience among scholars throughout the humanities. Finally, the prize commitee noted that Dr. Bennett’s evocative storytelling, her carefully crafted prose, and her ability to crisply and effectively communicate complex ideas made “The Magic of Things” a pleasure to read throughout—something closer to what a reader might expect from a book manuscript than in a conventional dissertation. For these many strengths, it is a worthy recipient of the Ruggiero award and a valuable contribution to scholarship in the humanities.