Explorations of Space, Mapping, and Early Modern Literature (seminar)

For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a spring 1998 semester seminar led by Tom Conley, Professor of French at Harvard University.

Building upon the work of François Rabelais and Michel de Montaigne, this seminar examined the multiple relations of the mapping of the world to early modern writing and considered the works of humanists, cartographers, chroniclers, playwrights, novelists, and poets. How does literature dramatize the quandaries of individuals living in a world whose extension is unfolding at untold speed and proportion? To what degree do issues concerning space and its representation inflect literature? More radically, in what measure does the history of early modern literature and the arts become identical to cartography in its betrayals of subjective process? The seminar examined some late-medieval and Renaissance architecture and painting, from the flamboyant style to Jean Fouquet. It attended to the purview of the cosmographer and la poésie du ciel, including Scève and Ronsard. It read literary works by cartographers such as Oronce Finé and Nicolas de Nicolai. It traced the growth of the isolario from poetry to the novela ejemplare, the histoire tragique, and to the novel. It examined the great encyclopaedic monsters, called the cosmographie universelle, that evolved from Sebastien Munsterto André Thevet and François de Belleforest. Finally, it read the poetry of navigation and of speed in selected writings of Shakespeare and Donne.