Short History of the Vann Seminar
After twenty-two seasons, the Vann Seminar has become an institution at Emory. Since its inception the seminar has held more than a hundred sessions in which many of the leading historians of Renaissance and early modern Europe have presented papers, along with graduate students and scholars from the Atlanta area.
James Allen Vann was a noted expert and author of three books on early modern German history. In 1985 he came to the Emory History Department from the University of Michigan, bringing with him great intellectual energy and much enthusiasm for teaching. While still in his first semester he organized an early modern discussion group which met periodically on Sunday afternoons. Interested scholars and graduate students from the Atlanta area met over sherry, to discuss work in progress. Most of the early papers were given by graduate students who had completed their research in Europe.
The first meeting was held on November 17, 1985 at 4 PM in Candler Library. Discussion was lively. Regular participants were Russell Major, Wolfgang Reinhardt who was visiting that year from the University of Augsburg and early modernists from Georgia State and other local institutions. There were occasional visitors from farther afield such as James Farr and Carol Lansing who drove down from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Vann, who believed that scholarly discourse should be elegant, brought sherry glasses from home and supplied peanuts and his own imported sherry. He washed the glasses himself after each meeting.
After Jim Vann's untimely death in May, 1986, Russell asked David Minter, Dean of Emory College, to provide a fund of $1000 so that the seminar could be carried on as a memorial to James Vann. This request was granted, and Jim Vann's parents, of Birmingham, Alabama, also contributed a generous gift to the fund. For the next two years Professor Major directed the meetings. Later this function was taken over by James Van Horn Melton who had been hired to replace Vann in early modern German history. Major donated the "Vann seminar wine glasses," and sherry and nuts continued to be served. Major also instituted the practice of inviting distinguished guests to discuss their papers, in addition to the usual graduate students and local scholars. The first visiting presenter was Orest Ranum from Johns Hopkins University.
As the early modern faculty has grown, other colleagues have taken charge of the seminar, including William Beik, Sharon Strocchia, Geoffrey Clark, Jamie Melton, Judith Miller, and Philippe Rosenberg, in various combinations. A Vann Seminar Committee now shares these responsibilities. Enhanced College funding has enabled the seminar to invite more outside visitors, and we have been treated to a wide array of distinguished scholars with previews of some of their latest work.
As times have changed the seminar's habits have evolved. Although we still serve refreshments, we have gradually abandoned the sherry which a younger generation was not consuming. In fall of 2001 the Vann Committee decided to move the meeting time to Fridays at 4 and to reduce the number of annual sessions because of the press of other events on campus. This new pattern has worked well, and the seminar continues to be lively and well attended. Interested scholars and graduate students are always welcome to join us.