APPROACHING THE UNKNOWN: “THEY SAW IT WITH THEIR OWN EYES”
The starting point for this conference is the statement “they saw it with their own eyes”: this phrase appears frequently on Fra Mauro’s fifteenth-century map of the world, a landmark in cartography because of Mauro’s decision to use the most recent eyewitness testimony rather than exclusively patristic and ancient sources. In his inscriptions on the map which describe in vivid detail his reasoning for certain depictions, Mauro often repeats the phrase in support of his daring claims about the distant lands of which he had no personal, first-hand knowledge.
Relying on those who “saw it with their own eyes” is one way of approaching the unknown. This conference will explore the diverse range of ways in which writers and thinkers from the medieval and early modern periods sought to face the challenge of the unknown: the scholarly, intellectual and literary processes by which they evaluated, diagrammatised and represented what lay beyond their own line of sight. The epistemological challenge of describing and understanding places and ideas beyond the horizon of first-hand knowledge is tackled in a wide variety of texts and contexts. Travel narratives aim to represent the far-flung corners of the earth. Astronomical texts seek to schematise the movements and relationships between distant heavenly bodies. Eschatological religious texts explore the furthest reaches of time. Literary texts offer another range of strategies for making the unfamiliar familiar. Furthermore, like Mauro’s map, the sixteenth-century Carta Marina produced by Olaus Magnus is a landmark in cartographical accuracy, and yet nevertheless its seas are populated by monsters (as in the image below). The mythical imagination thus offers another cultural approach to representing the unseen. These various texts offer a variety of strategies which may support or contest the epistemological claims behind Mauro’s statement: “they saw it with their own eyes”.
Possible paper topics can include but are not limited to:
- Travel narratives
- Astronomical and medical texts
- Literary and visual representations of the unknown
- Testimony in legal disputes
- The senses and knowledge
- Devotional texts and the unknown
- Theological texts concerning eschatology and the unknowability of God
- Medieval and Early Modern epistemologies
The workshop will be held at UCLA on April 13 and 14, 2017. The deadline for submission of abstracts (400-600 words) will be February 15. Decisions will be made no later than the end of February. We welcome graduate students (including post-baccalaureates) and junior scholars (Ph.D. within the last three years) to deliver 20-minute presentations on topics from the medieval and early modern periods. We invite submissions from all Humanities disciplines, including History, Literature, History of Art, Philosophy, and the Study of Religion. We particularly welcome paper topics which engage with original Latin sources. Please send abstracts to Professor Robert Gurval, UCLA Department of Classics, Director of the Mellon Post-Baccalaureate Program in post-classical Latin at firstname.lastname@example.org.