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Cartographic Humanism: The Making of Early Modern Europe

A book talk by Katharina Piechocki (Harvard University, Comparative Literature).

ABOUT THE BOOK:

What is “Europe” and where are the continent’s boundaries? Cartographic Humanism investigates Europe as an astonishingly unexamined category by mobilizing cartography as a foundational and yet highly ambiguous cultural technology of early modernity. The author argues that a new idea of Europe as an autonomous continent was driven by the rise of cartography as a new humanistic discipline. Humanists’ investigation of ancient and medieval geographic sources yielded a new cartographic lexicon, including nouns such as “topography” and “continent” and the Latinate adjective “Europeus.” Piechocki calls europoiesis the shifting image of Europe as a continent in the making by focusing on Europe’s three regions—Germany, France, and Italy—and humanists whose work showcases the tension between poetic, philological, and spatial figurations: Conrad Celtis, whose neo-Latin cartographic poetry (1501), “The Four Books of Love according to the Four Sides of Germany,” framed Germany as “Europe’s navel”; Geoffroy Tory’s "Champ fleury " (1529), a complex inquiry into the question of what constitutes a continent and what role languages play in it; and Girolamo Fracastoro’s first New World poem, "Syphilis" (1530), which imagines the continental divide between Europe and the New World in constant flux, determined by changing sea levels. Europe’s emergence as a universal idea has proven to be exceedingly influential—and often devastating on a global scale. Pushing at once against smooth narratives of progress and all-too-dark scenarios, Piechocki traces this vision of Europe back to its cartographic underpinnings in ca. 1400, when cartography turned into a tool propelling arbitrary borderlines with all their consequences.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Katharina Piechocki is an associate professor in Harvard's Comparative Literature Department. She is the author of "Cartographic Humanism: The Making of Early Modern Europe" (University of Chicago Press, 2019) and is currently completing a book titled "Hercules: Procreative Poetics and the Rise of the Opera Libretto." Her main area of research and teaching is early modern European literature, with a particular focus on cartography, translation studies, gender studies, opera, and theater, as well as theories of world cinema. She works in ten linguistic traditions: Italian, French, Portuguese, German, Polish, Spanish, Latin, ancient Greek and (beginning) Arabic, besides English. At the center of Piechocki’s work, supported by numerous national and international grants and fellowships, is the importance of spatial and poetic figuration embedded in a nuanced and deep analysis of early modernity’s diverse linguistic, literary, and cultural manifestations, from ca. 1400 to ca. 1700. Her research explores the rise and transformation of new disciplines (cartography, philology, translation) and the emergence and translation of new interdisciplinary, predominantly performative, art forms (opera, ballet, revival of ancient theater) as they traveled across regions, nations, and continents. Together with Tom Conley, she co-chairs the Cartography Seminar at Harvard's Mahindra Humanities Center.



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Duration: 57:23

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