Margaret M. McGowan, a British cultural historian who created a new international field of academic study, now known as ancient dance, and received national honors in Britain and France, died March 16 in Brighton, England. She was 90 years old.
Her death, in a hospital, was confirmed by her husband, Sydney Anglo, a fellow Renaissance historian. He said the cause was bladder cancer.
Professor McGowan, who was bilingual, exposed the collision of politics, ballet, design and music at the French court of the late Renaissance and early Baroque era in his first book, published in French in 1963, “The Art of Court Ballet in France, 1581-1643. In this book, she analyzed the spectacular multimedia genre in which kings and members of royal and aristocratic families performed in public. Her interdisciplinary approach, hailed by fellow dance historian Richard Ralph as “precociously modern”, broadened the scope of dance history, his dedication to research was lifelong and diverse.
His scientific work has reached beyond Europe. Linda Tomko, a dance historian at the University of California, Riverside, wrote in an email: “Margaret McGowan’s research on dance and performance in early to mid-17th century France has vividly explored the connection of dance to operations of power, modeling a research question that has since been widely adopted in scholarly dance studies in the United States and abroad.
In 1998 Professor McGowan was honored in Britain with the title of Commander of the Order of the British Empire; in 2020, she was made Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters in France.
Margaret Mary McGowan was born on December 21, 1931 in Deeping St. James, Lincolnshire, England. Although she could have studied French at the prestigious University of Oxford, she chose to do so at the University of Reading instead because Reading, unlike Oxford, would give her a year in France.
She remained in France to teach at the University of Strasbourg from 1955 to 1957, after which she took up a post at the University of Glasgow, where she taught until 1964. She undertook postgraduate studies at prestigious Warburg Institute, which is globally recognized as a center for the study of the interaction of ideas, images and society throughout international history.
His subject was the court ballet at the court of the French kings Henry III, Henry IV and Louis XIII; his adviser was the eminent Renaissance historian Frances Yates. The inspiration she drew from both the Warburgs and Mrs. Yates became a source of lifelong loyalty.
Speaking in 2020, Professor McGowan recalled Ms Yates’ advice in her work on court ballet. Ms Yates “realized that the material I was working on had not previously been considered interdisciplinary,” she said. “Musicologists had explored vocal music, art historians had begun to find designs belonging to festivals, and literary scholars had recognized the importance of court context in understanding lyric poems.” Ms Yates, pioneering French scholar Jean Jacquot and Mr Jacquot’s colleagues at the Center National de la Recherche Scientifique all guided Professor McGowan in his efforts to integrate these artistic elements into a wider European context.
The significance of Professor McGowan’s 1963 book on court ballet has been recognized by scholars in France, Britain, the United States and elsewhere. She joined the staff of the University of Sussex in 1964 and became Deputy Vice-Chancellor in 1992. She held this post until 1998, a year after retiring as a professor.
In 1964 she married Professor Anglo, who specialized in the parallel field of Tudor tournaments, and whom she had met when they were both students of Mrs Yates at Warburg.
In an interview, Professor Anglo spoke of his wife with intense, affectionate and ironic admiration: “She was 75% of our marriage. I was at 25%. (Writing two days later, he gave himself a lower percentage than that.)
Professor McGowan has edited several books bringing together the latest work from a range of colleagues. One such colleague, Margaret Shewring of the University of Warwick, observed in an email that Professor McGowan’s retirement from academic duties had brought new wealth by allowing him to pursue many new lines of inquiry.
Some of his books mainly concern the literature of the French Renaissance: the poet Pierre de Ronsard, the essayist Michel de Montaigne. But she remained faithful to the interdisciplinary nature of the Renaissance itself.
Presenting her “Ideal Forms in the Time of Ronsard” (1985), she observed the pervasive importance of praise in Renaissance thought, as “the dominant mode in public life, in literature and in art” . She then placed Ronsard’s verses in the complex context of the reigns of the Valois monarchs in the mid-16th century. With “The Vision of Rome in the French Renaissance” (2000), she examined the vital importance of classical ruins for Renaissance Rome and, in turn, the significance of Rome for French culture.
Her “Dance in the Renaissance: European Fashion, French Obsession” (2008) won the Wolfson History Prize, awarded annually to a British subject for excellence in writing history; four years later she published a companion volume in French, focusing on sources.
Catherine Turocy, artistic director of the New York Baroque Dance Company, wrote in an email that “Dance in the Renaissance” was “a detailed analysis of 16th-century society and how dance was central to the philosophical and aesthetic thinking that informs current politics,” and that she had been inspired and guided by “the ideas, passionate views and new research” of Professor McGowan.
His last three books showed the extent of his understanding of the Renaissance. “Festival and Violence: Princely Entries in the Content of War, 1480-1635” (2019) linked public performance to military politics. “Charles V, Prince Philip and the Politics of Succession” (2020) addressed the dynastic politics of Habsburg Emperor Charles V’s use of spectacular festivities as propaganda to impose future King Philip II on the Netherlands. His last book, completed just three weeks before his death, has not yet been published: its title, “Harmony in the Universe: Spectacle and the Quest for Peace in the Early Modern Period”, indicates the characteristic scope of his vision. historical.
A loyal supporter of the Warburg Institute, Professor McGowan served as its review chair in 2006 and 2007. From 2011 to 2014, when she was in her 80s, she led the cause of the institute’s independence from screw from the University of London, bringing it before the British high court. — with eventual success.
Besides her husband, she is survived by one sister, Sheila.
In 1993 Professor McGowan was made a Fellow of the British Academy, the national academy of the humanities and social sciences. In 2007, the British journal Dance Research, where she was deputy editor for 25 years, honored her with a special Festschrift issue, hailing her as a “Pioneer of academic research in dance”.