Sagas and space (4-5): cosmography and cartography

Week 4 was entitled Cosmography: descriptions of the world in medieval texts:

This week’s main topic will be the cosmography of the North in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period and as such continues the discussion of pre-Christian cosmology in Week 1…The central question of all the sources is: How did people in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period conceive the North as a system of space and how did they represent this spatial system in texts, images, signs? Two famous works will be at the centre of our attention, the so called Itinerary by the Icelandic Abbot Nikulás, and the so called Carta Marina map by the Swede Olaus Magnus with its sea monsters.

Abbot Nikulás’ itinerary, aka Leiðarvísir og borgarskipan (Wikipedia), was published around 1157 and takes the form of a guidebook for pilgrims about routes from northern Europe to Rome and Jerusalem. Gosh. The wrap-up states that “many of the contributions you posted on cosmography and intertextuality were extremely good” – the number of contributions may have fallen off a cliff, but leaves a fully engaged hard core. Expanding on this, “a nice definition of intertextuality can be found in some of Mikhail Bakhtin’s and Julia Kristeva’s writings…Intertextuality means that a text uses another text (more or less overtly and explicitly) and thus speaks with the voice of the other text…the Bible is of course the main text which was and is re-used and re-writtten in the Christian tradition.”

Week 5 was entitled Cartography: mapping the North:

This week’s topic will be the cartography of the North in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period and as such continues the discussion of the textual cosmography from last week. This means that we will look at some of the same sources, although from different angles. The central question is still the same: How did people in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period conceive the North as a system of space and how did they represent this spatial system in texts, images, signs?

The videos take e a closer look at some of the more prominent medieval and early modern maps in the North, in particular Olaus Magnus’ Carta Marina (Wikipedia), made in the first half of the 16th century, ie a bit on the late side, but clearly Jürg Glauser’s specialist subject.

No headache inducing theory in weeks 4-5, hence rather less interesting to a non-Vikingophile.

As it happens the latest issue of Granta has the theme of the map is not the territory, ie “the difference between the world as we see it and the world as it actually is, beyond our faulty memories and tired understanding”, with pieces that “remind us of the human cost associated with the divergence of map and territory” in, for example, Iraq, and on the present state of Russia: “Communism…made the distinction between image and reality a political art form” (source: introduction). Of the open pieces, The archive is a splendid bit of experimental writing in the from of a visualisation which provides “a means of understanding the essential aspects of a literary text, avoiding the possible confusions, or a proliferation of diverging interpretations, to which a conventional approach could give rise”. It would be interesting to tie these ideas in with the texts and maps on offer in the MOOC.

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