Spent a pretty fabulous morning (alas curtailed) at a cartography seminar at Harvard University’s’ Radcliffe Institute, organized by the amazing team of Tom Conley and Katharina Piechocki.
Theodore Cachey (Notre Dame) shared excellent work about the cartographic impulse in Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch. Camille Serchuck (Southern Connecticut State University) talked about the “painterly” in/of early modern maps, esp. Guillaume Le Testu’s Cosmographie, of which Frank Lestringant recently prepared an excellent edition.
My own, rather different, contribution took this form: “Early Modern Cartography in the Humanist Anthropocene-- Some Thoughts Towards some Questions,” in which I asked, in a nutshell: given that so much work on cartography, since maps stopped being considered purely “scientific” or “objective,” relies on the idea that cartography “reflects” history (Dainville), then what happens if we take Chakrabarty’s “Four Theses” seriously for the history of cartography and relate the history of cartography not only to human history but also to Deep Time? We’re so used—now—to reading humanist cartography for the way it plots, for example, empire, or discovery, or religious fantasy, but what of geological time in all this? What of the planet-as-planet? Key to such thoughts are, inter alia, Ulisse Aldrovandi who coined the term geology in 1603 (see also here).
I’m sorry to be missing the other amazing speakers who have all shaped how we understand maps: Neil Safier (of the John Carter Brown Library), Anders Engberg-Pedersen (of Empire of Chance), Marc Shell (of Islandology), Bill Rankin (see his radicalcartography), Carla Nappi, Matthew Edney, Franco Farinelli, Jean-Marc Besse (whose Grandeurs de la terre is essential for its plotting of how the oikoumene comes to be equivalent to the whole planet), and others.
EXTERRANEAN MINDFULNESS ON THE BOULEVARD SAINT-MICHEL, or "YEs, Indeed, NO TEXT MESSAGES WITHOUT TANTALITE"
Thanks to the Ecole des Mines and the associated Musée de Minéralogie, the Boulevard Saint-Michel is a place of exterranean mindfulness: “Without tantalite, no text messages,” reads one of the signs, referring to the fact that, as the same poster explains in small print, tantalum “turns out to be necessary for the manufacturing of the miniaturized capacitors used in portable phones and laptops.” The s’avère nécessaire (turns out to be) situates the realization in the time of the person stopping to read the sign: “Why yes indeed, it turns out I wouldn't be able to send text messages without this chemical element.” The other posters make similar points for other elements.
This first exterranean awareness goes hand-in-hand with another slightly different one: just a few steps further along the boulevard, mined matter, turned into the very building of the Ecole des Mines, in its geological depths, carries the traces of human history in the form of bullet holes from World War II (see photo). Standing here, the flâneur becomes aware both that the phone in his pocket can't take photos and upload them without small bits of tantalite; and that other mined matter, in the form of the building, serves both in the wall and in the memorial plaques attached to it, serves to wind together geological history and memory in an uncannily similar way.
Project THE HUMANIST anthropocene
is a thought archive and workspace of Phillip John Usher (NYU) at the crossroads of early modern humanism and the problems and insights of the Anthropocene. Main Research Page.
ASLE (Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment)
Environmental Humanities (journal)
Resilience (A Journal of the Environmental Humanities)
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