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Labors of Innocence in Early Modern England

Labors of Innocence in Early Modern England

Joanna Picciotto

ISBN 9780674049062

Publication date: 06/15/2010

In seventeenth-century England, intellectuals of all kinds discovered their idealized self-image in the Adam who investigated, named, and commanded the creatures. Reinvented as the agent of innocent curiosity, Adam was central to the project of redefining contemplation as a productive and public labor. It was by identifying with creation’s original sovereign, Joanna Picciotto argues, that early modern scientists, poets, and pamphleteers claimed authority as both workers and “public persons.”

Tracking an ethos of imitatio Adami across a wide range of disciplines and devotions, Picciotto reveals how practical efforts to restore paradise generated the modern concept of objectivity and a novel understanding of the author as an agent of estranged perception. Finally, she shows how the effort to restore Adam as a working collective transformed the corpus mysticum into a public. Offering new readings of key texts by writers such as Robert Hooke, John Locke, Andrew Marvell, Joseph Addison, and most of all John Milton, Labors of Innocence in Early Modern England advances a new account of the relationship between Protestantism, experimental science, the public sphere, and intellectual labor itself.


  • Labors of Innocence is an outstanding contribution to early modern studies: strikingly original in its rethinking of key issues in intellectual history, rich in its implications for reconsidering major literary texts of the period, and persuasive in its insistence that there is a far more coherent seventeenth century than traditional definitions that split it have insisted. The virtues of the book are legion: its power of argument, clarity, and importance of subject, its honest engagement with scholarship across relevant disciplines, its care and generosity in dealing with the work of others. The work is complex and creative, the scholarship impeccable, the writing a joy.

    —J. Paul Hunter, University of Virginia/University of Chicago


  • Joanna Picciotto is an Associate Professor of English at University of California, Berkeley.

Book Details

  • 880 pages
  • 6-3/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press