Fall 2002: “Geographers and Cartographers: Shaping the Premodern World”

This course compared the ways in which the world was bounded, charted, and described in the premodern period, particularly within Christian and Islamic spheres. Since both religious cultures reached back for geographic knowledge into the ancient Greco-Roman past, part of the interest of the course will be to assess the ways in which the shared authority of the past was transmitted, transmuted, and challenged between the fall of Rome in the fifth century and the encounter with new lands and cultures in the fifteenth and sixteenth.

Considered attempts to grasp the world in maps (e.g., the Ptolemaic grid; portolan sea charts; spiritual mappaemundi), in literary accounts (e.g., the geographies compsosed by travelers and pilgrims; descriptions of marvels and wonders), as well as in texts deriving from bureaucratic practice (e.g. administrative manuals) in order to learn both how they envisioned and represented the globe and how they measured themselves and their civilization as they experienced cultures beyond its bounds.

The course offers an opportunity for students from a variety of disciplinary and regional specialites to experience a range of the sources of premodern geographical knowledge (read in translation) and to achieve some sense of the benefits of cross-cultural exploration of the premodern world.