Sites of intellectual sociability known as “salons” have taken many forms across time, place, and culture. Salons often foster the discussion of cutting-edge ideas in philosophy, the sciences, and politics, but they are also devoted to cultivating artistic practices in music, dance, poetry, and painting; visual display in fashion and material culture; and social habits such as game playing, eating and drinking, and polite conversation. Recent scholarship, in an attempt to highlight the importance of the salon, has often emphasized the intellectual content and refined sociability of these institutions, while overlooking the interplay between the intellect and fashion and between politics and play that it fostered. The salon experience—including its material surroundings—was engineered to produce precisely those crossings of intellectual, social, and, sometimes, gendered boundaries. The lived experience of the salon can be captured only through interdisciplinary study.
This working group brings together scholars from departments across Rutgers to develop new models for understanding the experience of salons in all of their complexity. Although the salons of early modern Europe provide a starting point for the project, we are eager to expand our geographic focus and temporal horizons. Members of the Rutgers community who are broadly interested in discussing practical and theoretical models for reanimating the sights, sounds, tastes, smells, texts, and subtexts of the past are encouraged to join this working group.
The working group will hold four to six meetings each semester that address critical questions such as: How did the multiple registers of the sensual environment of the salon—sight, hearing, taste, smell, and even touch—shape the salon experience? How can a multidimensional depiction of the sensual environment of the salon enrich scholars’ understanding of the interchange of ideas in this context? What is the relationship between salon practices and the texts that seem to codify them, such as letters, drawings, and musical scores? How does the experience of the salon differ across eras and cultures?
The working group will plan a symposium (perhaps modeled after a salon) featuring scholars from outside Rutgers whose work bears on our project. We also intend to create a digital interface that will present our findings to a broad public audience.