Drawing upon the Newberry Library’s world-renowned collections of colonial and early modern manuscript and print materials, this seminar focused on Renaissance travel writing (Verrazano, Cartier, Thevet, Léry, Lescarbot), read in tandem with contemporaneous literature evoking fictive travel (Rabelais, Montaigne, Shakespeare), in order to explore the changing dynamics of belief and unbelief in early modern Europe. Exploration and colonization during the Renaissance, and the burgeoning travel literature they triggered, not only prompted a shift in the European consciousness from a Mediterranean world to an Atlantic one and from a feudal to an imperial model of politics. The New World also initiated a significant religious challenge to Christian accounts of the Flood and the subsequent re-population of the three previously known continents. The peoples of the Americas seemed to have fallen so far from grace, could they really be descended from Adam and Eve? This shock of cultures, amplified by the way religious controversialists compared one another to inhabitants of the New World, shook Europeans’ faith in themselves–both as devout Christians and as civilized exemplars of humanity. Perhaps more fundamentally, the idea of considering one’s native culture as foreign provided a fulcrum for the foundational modern conviction that human beings can detach themselves from their contexts. These writings sought to make Europeans feel like foreigners at home, and in so doing, they paved the way toward the oddest belief of all: the modern individual’s all-too-frequent sense, with respect to country, culture, and creed, of being a stranger in a strange land.
James Akerman, The Newberry Library
David Buisseret, University of Texas at Arlington (now emeritus)
Joan Dayan, University of Pennsylvania
Daniel Richter, University of Pennsylvania
Gordon Sayre, University of Oregon
Laurier Turgeon, Laval University
Janet Whatley, University of Vermont (now emerita)
Learn more about the institute’s director: Carla Zecher, The Newberry Library
Learn more about Center for Renaissance Studies programs.