Can you read a map? Can you read a pre-modern map? This course will introduce you to the ways in which the first geographies and maps of the Western world were conceived and produced within Europe and, by comparison, within other pre-modern societies, particularly Muslim ones. It will consider and interrogate both written and pictorial sources from the post-classical and medieval period and mate them with modern analytic studies to suggest some of the ways in which we can assess a pre-modern understanding of our globe. We will investigate the ways in which world cosmographies and geographies were envisioned in the medieval West from late antiquity until the period of fifteenth-century discovery, which introduced Europeans to lands and cosmographic configurations unknown by the ancient authorities. Central to the enquiry will be
- the tension between scientific and religious understanding of the globe;
- the means by which geographic knowledge was transmitted and absorbed or rejected;
- the ways in which maps were constructed and used (by scholars, theologians, merchant-travelers, and rulers);
- the mapping of imaginary spaces (including Paradise). A comparative element of the course will engage mapping in ancient Greece and in other civilizations, including the Islamic world, Asia (India and China), and the Americas.
Assignments will introduce students to both literary and cartographic sources and will encourage comparative perspectives. Most of the readings will be accessible on CTools or the internet. In addition, students will be encouraged to consult and analyze reproductions of early maps in the Map Room in the Hatcher Library and in the Clements Library, both of which have world-class collections. The course offers an experience to explore not only pre-modern maps, but also our own cartographic resources.
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