Institute Overview

Detail, Nurenberg Map of Mexico City, 1525, Ayer 655.51 .C8 1524b, Newberry Library.

Early modern mapping is a durable subject in the history of cartography, but it is not a timeworn one. Over the past several decades, scholars in a wide variety of humanities fields—including art history, literary studies, history, historical geography, and cultural studies—have produced a monumental amount of scholarship on the subject. This volume is difficult for a dedicated specialist to keep up with, and even more challenging for scholars in other fields who have limited experience working with map resources. This institute is designed for those non-specialists who have either worked with early modern maps in limited contexts, or who find themselves drawn to the subject for the first time. They will engage with the most recent scholarship, guided by faculty from multiple disciplines. Most importantly, the institute will be grounded in the extraordinary opportunity to work intensively with the Newberry’s remarkable collection of early modern cartographic resources and related materials, gaining insights into the complex contributions that the prolific archive of mapping made to transformations in the early modern world.

The topic of early modern mapping is a vast one, and there are multiple ways in which we might organize it. The obvious approaches, such as chronological or geographical schemes, or a succession of disciplinary topics such as art history, literature, and geopolitical history, are perhaps too compartmentalized; that is, they do not invite the type of interdisciplinary questions we hope to consider. In the end, the archive of early modern maps itself suggested a solution. The impact of cartography in early modern thought, culture, and worldly affairs was felt in five primary “theaters”—to borrow a popular term for collections of maps during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries—of activity: (1) the global; (2) the urban; (3) the maritime; (4) the terrestrial (i.e., on land); and (5) the celestial. There were distinctive and far-reaching transformations in each theater, but these did not occur in isolation from each other; techniques, forms of representation, materials, aesthetics, methods of distribution, data, and epistemologies in map-making were shared.

The successive treatment of these theaters will form the architecture of the institute. As shown in the preliminary syllabus, most weeks will consist of four or five morning sessions, each two or three hours in length. The first part of sessions will be seminar-format discussions led by the co-directors or guest faculty, built around material presented by the faculty and/or assigned readings—one or two articles or book chapters per session. In most cases, these will have been published by the faculty themselves. After a break, some sessions will adopt a workshop format, in which the participants themselves, working individually or in groups, will examine maps, books, prints, and manuscripts relevant to the daily topic selected from the collections. These workshops will be designed to promote the development of critical reading of map documents either separately or in conjunction with other original resources.

You can find the Institute’s preliminary syllabus here: Mapping the Early Modern World, 2022.