emmadench2-9268--002-Secrets and Ciphers - Canceled.

The Renaissance is an age that is teeming with still-unsolved mysteries, many of them hidden in plain sight—and in codes.

Join Vanessa Braganza AM ’21, a self-described book detective, as she shares her discoveries about the secrets of two women of the Tudor era—Mary, Queen of Scots, and Catherine of Aragon—through their uses of hidden ciphers. Following the presentation, Harvard Griffin GSAS Dean Emma Dench will host a conversation with Braganza and the audience, including a discussion of how Braganza unearthed the truth behind a rare book in Widener Library and its supposed forgery.

Before and after the speaking program, enjoy breakfast and stimulating conversations with fellow alumni and friends!

Interested in attending? Individuals interested in attending are encouraged to confirm their attendance by Monday, October 16.


October 19, 2023
8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.

Thursday, October 19, 2023
8:00 a.m. – Doors open for registration; breakfast begins
8:30 a.m. – Presentation and Conversation with Vanessa Braganza and Emma Dench
9:30 a.m. – Breakfast continues

Freidenrich Conference Center
Oshman Family JCC
3921 Fabian Way
Palo Alto, CA 94303

Event Cost
GSAS alumni, Harvard Club of Silicon Valley and Harvard Club of San Francisco members, and Harvard recent graduates ('18–'23): $20
Harvard alumni, members of the Harvard community, and all guests: $25

Speaker Biographies

Vanessa Braganza, AM ’21, is a literary historian currently earning her PhD at Harvard. A 2022 Harvard Horizons Scholar, she is also a “book detective” who solves real, historical mysteries on a regular basis. Her discoveries have been profiled in the national and international press, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Times of London. She writes for Smithsonian Magazine.

She is currently at work writing her first book, The Secret-Seekers: A Book Detective’s Quest to Decode the Renaissance and Discover Herself, which tells the story of how she came to do something so unlikely for a living. The book tells the story of Braganza’s discovery of the little-known underworld of secret codes and ciphers during the English Renaissance—all told through her own experiences discovering and decoding ciphers that haven’t been cracked in 500 years.  

Emma Dench was born in York, grew up near Stratford-Upon-Avon, and studied at Wadham College, Oxford (BA Hons Literae Humaniores), and at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford (DPhil in Ancient History). Before taking up a joint appointment in the Departments of the Classics and of History at Harvard in January 2007, she taught classics and ancient history at Birkbeck College, University of London. She has been a Craven Fellow at the University of Oxford; a Rome Scholar and a Hugh Last Fellow at the British School of Rome; a Cotton Fellow; a Member of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton; a Visiting Professor of the Classics and of History at Harvard; and a Loeb Classical Library Foundation Fellow.

Dench is the author of From Barbarians to New Men: Greek, Roman, and Modern Perceptions of Peoples from the Central Apennines, Romulus’ Asylum: Roman Identities from the Age of Alexander to the Age of Hadrian, and “Imperialism and Culture in the Roman World” for the Cambridge University Press series Key Themes in Ancient History. Other current projects include a study of the retrospective writing of the Roman Republican past in classical antiquity.

While at Harvard, Dench received a Harvard College Professorship in recognition of “outstanding contributions to undergraduate teaching, mentoring, and advising,” a Marquand Award for Excellent Advising and Counseling, and an Everett Mendelsohn Excellence in Mentoring Award for her mentorship of graduate students.