In conjunction with the Spring 2015 VizCult series, the Art History Department presents the annual Ferber Lecture on Wednesday, April 15, 2015 at 5:15pm in the University Art Museum (Fine Arts Building). Toni Veneri, Director of the Istituto Gramsci del Friuli Venezia Giulia in Trieste, Italy, will address the uneven shifts in cartography from medieval conceptions of place and itinerary or passage to models of homogeneous, measurable, empty space associated in the Enlightenment with scientific progress, in a paper titled “Renaissance Maps and Travel Literature: Between Competing Orders of Place and Space.” The Ferber Lecture is open to the public. All are welcome.
Renaissance Maps and Travel Literature: Between Competing Orders of Place and Space
A common assumption in historical writing is that “the Renaissance” gave rise to a new spatial awareness – part of a break in Western epistemology that fostered unprecedented practices of measurement and description, which in turn made possible increasingly global exploration and territorial command. Maps and travel accounts, more than any other form of cultural production, are said to render visible the depth of this change, which involved a broad rethinking of scientific categories and, ultimately, a radical shift in the representation of geographic space. As early as humanist thought and moving through the enlightenment, this shift was heralded as a scientific advance. Positivists, characterizing what preceded as the product of naivety or ignorance, have long embraced it as a hallmark of modernity. This paper addresses a theoretical challenge to the “modern” notion of space initiated in the last century by (among others) Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Gaston Bachelard, Henri Lefebvre, Michel de Certeau, Yuri Lotman, Michail Bachtin, and Michel Foucault, who (if to different ends) turned from quantitative models of empty, measurable, homogeneous space with its endless equivalences to think about movement (passage), route (itinerary), and the qualitative differences accorded place. The result was a reassessment of the so-called “medieval” imago mundi and the all-but-forgotten (Aristotelian) notion of place, a critical turn more recently taken up by the humanistic geographers Yi-Fu Tuan and Franco Farinelli. As I will argue, when considering “Renaissance” cartography and travel literature their reflections are significant, prompting a discursive shift from the notion of replacement and inexorable advance to a discussion of contamination and coexistence between incommensurate and competing spatial orders. Their work also invites a consideration of the codependency or mutual implication of space and place, which can be seen in the reception of Marco Polo’s “voyages” some 250 years after its production, when this narrative (as late as the late sixteenth century) still informed the production and reception of maps at the dawn of modern geography and its regime of descriptive accuracy and truth.