Programme: Hakluyt Society Symposium 2021 – Decolonising Travel Studies: Sources and Approaches

10-12 November 2021
University of Warwick (online via Zoom)

(All times are GMT+0/UTC)

The Hakluyt Society, the Global History and Culture Centre (GHCC) at the University of Warwick, and Medieval and Early Modern Orients (MEMOs), invite you to the Hakluyt Society Symposium 2021 – Decolonising Travel Studies: Sources and Approaches. Attendance is free and all are welcome.

To register, please email: hakluytsymposium2021@gmail.com

Contacts: Natalya Din-Kariuki (Natalya.Din-Kariuki@warwick.ac.uk) and Guido van Meersbergen (G.van-Meersbergen@warwick.ac.uk)

Day 1: Wednesday 10 November 2021

14.00-14.15: Introduction and Welcome (Natalya Din-Kariuki and Guido van Meersbergen)

14.15-15.45: Panel 1: Decolonising Travel Studies in Theory and Practice (Chair: Caitlin Vandertop)

  • Daniel Vitkus: “Racialized Capitalism, Intersectionality, and Early Modern Travel Studies”
  • Denise Saive Castro: “Contemplating Slavery on the African West Coast: A Comparison of Portuguese and Dutch Travel Accounts with the Correspondence of Nepemba Angiga, also known as Afonso I of Kongo”
  • Sander Molenaar: “Deconstructing the ‘Imperial Gaze’ in Chinese Travel Writing: A New Look at Ma Huan’s Ying ya sheng lan (Overall Survey of the Ocean’s Shores)”
  • Carl Thompson: “Conjectures on Travel Writing as World Literature”

15.45-16.00: Break

16.00-17.15: Panel 2: Travel and Decolonisation Today (Chair: Ladan Niayesh)

  • Sandhya Patel: “Peopling the Pitt Rivers Cook-Voyage Collections on the World Wide Web”
  • R. Benedito Ferrão: “The Black Antarctic: Decoloniality and Queer Ecology in Mojisola Adebayo’s Moj of the Antarctic
  • Joanne Lee: “All Roads Lead to Africa: Decolonizing the Imperial City”

17.15-17.30: Break

17.30-19.00: Panel 3: Images and Imaginations: Visual and Cartographic Sources (Chair: Daniel Carey)

  • Farah Bazzi: “Seeing the ‘Maghreb’ by Looking at the Americas: Rethinking the Transmission of Cartographic Knowledge in the Ottoman World through the Piri Reis Map of 1513”
  • Louise McCarthy: “Cartographic Silence and Muted Voices: Reading the Subtexts of British Maps of Early Colonial Virginia (1606-1624)
  • Sara Caputo: “Travels Carved on the Pathless Ocean: European Ship Tracks and (De)colonial Mobility”
  • Apurba Chatterjee: “Travel, Visuality, and the British Indian Empire: James Baillie Fraser in the Himalayas”

Day 2: Thursday 11 November 2021

09.30-10.45: Roundtable 1: Decolonial Orientations: Travel Studies and the Pre-Modern Islamic World by Medieval and Early Modern Orients (Chair: Lubaaba Al-Azami)

  • Speakers: Amrita Sen, Maria Shmygol, Nat Cutter, and Hassana Moosa

10.45- 11.15: Break

11.15- 12.15: Roundtable 2: A Student-led Conversation by participants of the Warwick Undergraduate Research Support Scheme (Chair: Guido van Meersbergen)

  • Speakers: Chhaya Rai, Nida Mahmud, Kevin Molloy, Declan Dadzie

12.15-12.30: Publishing with the Hakluyt Society: What and How?

  • Speaker: Katherine Parker

12.30-13.15 Lunch break

13.15-14.30 Panel 4: Black Travellers in the Twentieth Century: Oppression and Liberation (Chair: Christine Okoth)

  • Kiranpreet Kaur: “Eslanda Robeson’s Congo Diary”
  • Zachary Peterson: “Africans in America and Americans in Africa: The American Committee on Africa, its Travels to the Continent, and its Sponsorship of African Travelers to the US”
  • Janet Remmington: “Navigating Apartheid: Black Women Travelling”

14.30-14.45: Break

14.45-16.00: Panel 5: New Sources, Genres, and Perspectives (Chair: Julia Kuehn)

  • Judith E. Bosnak: “Javanese Language Travelogues as ‘New’ Sources for the History of Travel”
  • Gábor Gelléri: “Colonial Tourism, De-centered”
  • Ettore Morelli: “The Diary of Morena Abraham Aaron Moletsane mor’a Moroa-ha-a-buse, 1952: African Traveller and Historian”

16.00-16.30: Break

16.30-18.00: Keynote lecture: “Travelling While Black” (Chair: Natalya Din-Kariuki)

Speaker: Nanjala Nyabola

Author of Travelling While Black (2020)

Day 3: Friday 12 November 2021

09.30-10.45: Roundtable 3: Decolonial Approaches to British Sources and Archives by TIDE (Chair: Nandini Das)

  • Speakers: Haig Smith, Lauren Working, Emily Stevenson, and Tom Roberts

10.45-11.15: Break

11.15-12.30: Panel 6: Recovering Indigenous Voices (Chair: Joan-Pau Rubiés)

  • Zoltán Biedermann: “Seeing the Invisible Hand: Retrieving Indigenous Agency from Early Iberian Travel Accounts, c.1500”
  • Lucas Aleixo Pires dos Reis & Roberth Daylon: “‘Foods that are self-served’: Methodologies for the Study of Unstated African Presences in Travel Accounts”
  • Anna Melinda Testa-De Ocampo: “Alexander Dalrymple and the Natural Curiosities in Sooloo (1770)”

12.30-13.30: Lunch break

13.30-14.45: Panel 7: South Asian Travellers, Religion, and Transnationalism (Chair: Somak Biswas)

  • Daniel Majchrowicz: “Muslim Women and Travel Writing: Rediscovering a Forgotten Archive”
  • Muhamed Riyaz Chenganakkattil: “‘Connected Stories’ of Muslim Pilgrimage to Mecca: Decolonizing the Travel Writing through South Asian Hajj Narratives”
  • Nupur Bandyopadhyay: “A Journey to Justice: Transnational Civil Rights and Ramnath Biswas, an Indian Globetrotter from Bengal, 1937-40”

14.45-15.15 Break

15.15-16.30: Panel 8: Reorienting Travel Studies: Perspectives from Europe’s Fringes (Chair: Eva Johanna Holmberg)

  • Sharyl Corrado: “Evgeniia Maier (1865-1951): Noblewoman and Nomad”
  • Janne Lahti: “Settler Colonial Eyes in Unexpected Places: Finnish Travel Writers and Settler Colonization on the Arctic Ocean”
  • Nadiya Chushak: “‘First female travel blogger’: Sofiya Yablonska-Oudin’s Works and their Perception in Contemporary Ukraine”

16.45-18.00: Decolonising Travel Studies in the Classroom (Chair: Natalya Din-Kariuki and Eva Johanna Holmberg)

  • Speakers: Nandini Das, Jyotsna Singh, Nedda Mehdizadeh, and Gerald Maclean

18.00: CONFERENCE ENDS

Programme (pdf)

CFP – The Hakluyt Society Symposium 2021: Decolonising Travel Studies

The Hakluyt Society Symposium 2021

Decolonising Travel Studies: Sources and Approaches

11-12 November 2021

University of Warwick (online)

Deadline for submissions: 1 July 2021

Keynote: Nanjala Nyabola, Author of Travelling While Black (2020)

Call for Papers

The close links between travel and European colonialism have long been acknowledged. Since the early modern period, forms of global travel and exploration have often produced and reflected unequal structures of power: between those who chose to travel and those forced to, those who claimed lands and those whose lands were claimed, and those whose voices were amplified and others whose voices were erased. Post-colonial, feminist, and other critiques have exposed the inequalities inherent in the history of travel, whilst increased attention to women travellers and travel writing in Arabic, Persian, Chinese and other languages is changing the ways in which this history is written. Nonetheless, for reasons of institutional culture and the availability and accessibility of sources, the academic study of travel remains largely skewed towards the accounts and perspectives of European men from a small number of former imperial nations.

To mark the Hakluyt Society’s 175th anniversary, the Hakluyt Society Symposium 2021 aims to take stock of the historiography on global travel and exploration and reflect on what a decolonised history of travel looks like in theory and practice. Hosted by the University of Warwick’s Global History and Culture Centre (GHCC), the online symposium will bring together students and academics working across historical periods in an interdisciplinary conversation around the sources, approaches, and perspectives required to decolonise the field. Abstracts (max. 300 words) are invited for 15-minute papers that engage with one or more of the following:

  • The historical development of and colonial legacies contained in travel and exploration studies, including primary source editions such as the 380+ volumes published by the Hakluyt Society since 1847.
  • Empirical case studies of underrepresented histories of travel, particularly those that focus on BIPOC, women, and/or LQBTQ+ travellers and perspectives.
  • The politics of the archive, and the ways in which particular methodologies have rendered certain demographics (women of colour, unfree people and disabled people, for instance) absent or invisible in the histories of colonialism and travel.
  • The theory and practice of decolonisation as it pertains to the history of travel, particularly with the aim of identifying future directions for the discipline.
  • Unpublished sources for the history of travel, ideally those which might be proposed for editing within the Hakluyt Society’s Third Series.

Please submit your abstracts and a brief biographical note to hakluytsymposium2021@gmail.com by 1 July 2021. Early career researchers and postgraduate students are particularly encouraged to apply.

Organising committee: Natalya Din-Kariuki (University of Warwick, English) and Guido van Meersbergen (University of Warwick, History). Download CFP.

Call for Papers: The Hakluyt Society Symposium 2021 – Decolonising Travel Studies: Sources and Approaches. 11-12 November 2021, University of Warwick (online). Deadline for submissions: 1 July 2021. More info at: https://hakluytsociety.wordpress.com/2021/05/17/cfp-the-hakluyt-society-symposium-2021-decolonising-travel-studies/

Hakluyt Society Videos – Annual Lecture and Conference Papers 2021

From time to time, the Hakluyt Society publishes on its website videos relating to the Hakluyt Society and its publications, as well as the Hakluyt Society Annual Lecture.

This year the Hakluyt Society Annual Lecture 2021 was presented by Professor Janet M. Hartley, Emeritus Professor of International History, London School of Economics, on the subject of

‘The Volga: the River as Frontier’.

A video of the lecture can be found here.

Additionally, recordings of the papers presented at this year’s annual conference of the Société d’études anglo-américaines des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles,

‘Maps and Mapping in English-speaking countries in the 17th and 18th centuries’

held at the Université Paris-Diderot and sponsored by the Hakluyt Society, are available below, separated into two days at:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMCfl9xfo0E

www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCKWZW7QagI

Will Ryan and The Hakluyt Society

The following is a preface to a newly-published Festschrift volume celebrating our former President, Professor Will Ryan FBA: Magic, Travels and Texts: Homage to a Scholar, Will Ryan, ed. Janet Hartley and Denis J. B. Shaw. Among twenty one chapters, a section on ‘Travel, Technology and Exploration’ includes three papers by volume editors of the Hakluyt Society and one by an international representative. For details on content and purchase, see www.sgecr.co.uk/festschrift-ryan.html

Front cover of Festschrift for Will Ryan, published April 2021.

Will Ryan’s long, distinguished and affectionate relationship with the Hakluyt Society has thrived on its particular set of virtues: a love of books and of learning, respect for record made accessible through editorship, an interest in people in their historical circumstances, and the simple pleasure of knowing things and sharing them. These features made the Society a natural locus for Will and he in turn has upheld its values and character.

The Hakluyt Society has maintained a core purpose since its foundation in 1846: to publish scholarly editions of primary accounts of voyages and other travels in durable volumes and to distribute these to subscribing members and through the book trade generally. Will joined the Society in 1975. He translated and annotated Abbot Daniel’s Pilgrimage from the old Russian original (the previously published translation having been from an unreliable French translation), which appeared as part of the Hakluyt Society volume Jerusalem Pilgrimage, 1099-1185 in 1988. It was the longest of the assembled texts and Daniel and Will have given us a charming, lively and (for Daniel) personal story: ‘I travelled that holy road unworthily, with every kind of sloth and weakness, in drunkenness and doing every kind of unworthy deed.’

Will became an ‘honorary secretary’ in 1990, a post which he held jointly with Sarah Tyacke and which included what would later be the duties of the ‘series editor’, a title adopted for Will and Sarah in 1995. Will would be a series editor, either on his own or jointly with Robin Law or Michael Brennan, through to his election as president in 2008. In 2007 he was joined by two ‘honorary assistant series editors’, Gloria Clifton and Joyce Lorimer, who continue as series editors today. This means that Will shouldered this central responsibility at the Society for eighteen years. He then was president until 2011 and continues now as an active vice-president.

Will’s period as series editor saw many important volumes published and some major projects brought to fruition. The three volumes of Olaus Magnus, A Description of the Northern Peoples, 1555 spanned 1996-98 and the volume editor, Peter Foote, recorded that: ‘Will Ryan has seen these difficult volumes through the press. They could not have been in more capable hands.’ Will had the distinction of seeing the fifth and final volume published of a work that had required the attentions of many an honorary secretary or series editor, having spanned 1957-2000, after an initial proposal in 1922; this was The Travels of Ibn Battuta,  A.D. 1325-1354.

The Malaspina Expedition 1789-1794 in three volumes fell to Will’s watch and the editors acknowledge that his ‘meticulous  overseeing’ created a text for the printer from ‘contributions reaching him in no particular order from the [four] different editors’. The outstanding achievement of Will’s stamina and perseverance, however, is surely Russian California, 1806-1860. A History in Documents. This was published in two very large volumes in 2014, after Will was no longer series editor, but the series editorial work had definitely fallen to him. Former president Glyn Williams has mentioned to me that he has always noted that Will’s many commitments to the Society were carried out when he was a very busy and prestigious academic librarian, with his own commitments in research and publication.

In 2013 Will was awarded the President’s Medal of the Hakluyt Society. In making this award, the president, Michael Barritt, quoted the opinion of Roy Bridges, Will’s immediate predecessor as president, which is worth recording here:

[…] few of those who have served as Honorary Secretaries and latterly Series Editors, vital as their contributions have been, were quite able to match the linguistic and technical skills as well as cultural awareness which Will has so devotedly deployed for our collective benefit.

So it is appropriate to end with a small instance of these skills. We give the last word to Abbot Daniel, in Will’s translation, who in the early twelfth century wrote what could be the credo of the Hakluyt Society: ‘I have set down everything which I saw with my own eyes, so that what God gave me, an unworthy man, to see may not be forgotten.’

Jim Bennett

The Hakluyt Society, October 2020

Surprises of Travel through Java in the Nineteenth Century

Dr Judith E. Bosnak, Researcher of Indonesian Languages and Cultures, Leiden University, shares with us some insights into her work on Purwalelana and his Javanese travels for the recent Hakluyt Society edition:

Judith E. Bosnak and Frans X Koot (2020), The Javanese Travels of Purwalelana. A Nobleman’s Account of his Journeys Across the Island of Java (1860-1875)

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When traveller Candranegara, alias Purwalelana, woke up he was startled. The guardhouse where he had just spent the night had been completely covered with a fine silken cloth and, moreover, a lavish breakfast awaited him – comprising coffee, sticky rice balls, eggs and sliced seasoned deer meat. As it turned out the village head had organized this special treat when he learned – late at night – that a nobleman had arrived near to his village, seeking refuge in a simple hut. So, replete with food and drink the traveller continued his journey through Java, at that time part of the Dutch East Indies in the Malay Archipelago.

The Javanese Travels of Purwalelana (henceforth The Travels) is a remarkable travelogue in many respects. At the time of publication in 1865/67 readers must have been surprised and maybe even confused about its literary format and content. They were used to stories from the past, composed in poetry, about courageous heroes and their adventures in battle. This book, however, provided a contemporary setting with a not-particularly-heroic traveller who presented himself in the first person. It recounted his travel experiences in prose. Was this to be considered literature? Moreover, this was one of the first books printed in Javanese script in a society where hand-written manuscripts were the norm. For several critical readers it would take a while to embrace this innovative type of book, but in others it immediately aroused a sense of longing for more. As a result, The Travels represents the birth of a new Javanese genre: the travelogue.

Who was this writer who inspired other fellow Javanese to hit the road and recount their adventures? His pseudonym ‘Purwalelana’, which could be interpreted either as ‘wanderer of the past’ or ‘first traveller’, hints at the importance of undertaking a journey and reporting about this endeavour. He certainly took a risk with his pioneering approach, describing it as follows in his introduction: ‘For a long time I have been looking for ideas that would lend themselves to be made into a book for the enjoyment of a large audience. This effort has, however, produced no results. But because of my strong determination to achieve my goal I finally decided to search for material by travelling in Java, and visiting places with stories to tell.’ He adds, with what may sound like a disclaimer, followed by a profound wish to reach out to his audience: ‘I do not, by any means, write to flaunt my abilities, but only to disseminate stories of our time, with the intent that many will find pleasure in writing, and that our literature will prosper, to the joy of connoisseurs.’

Behind the veil of pen-name Purwalelana we find the Javanese nobleman Candranegara V, Regent of Kudus (1837-1885), a town situated on the northeast coast of Java. He became known for his encouragement of education and he established a school in Kudus. A picture taken around the time The Travels was published shows the Regent in traditional Javanese attire with his left hand resting on a book, positioned on a flower-adorned cloth.

Figure 1: Regent of Kudus, Candranegara V, Woodbury & Page, c. 1865, Rijksmuseum.

The image below ended up in a commercial album published by the renowned British photographers Woodbury & Page who owned several studios on Java between the 1860s and 1880s. It resembles a carte de visite image that features the nobleman with a book – this time in a standing position.

Figure 2: Carte-de-visite of Candranegara V, Woodbury & Page, 1867, Leiden University Libraries, KITLV.

Candranegara, who became a member of several Dutch learned societies after The Travels saw the light of day, must have used this elegant business card to connect with his (overseas) networks. He was one of the first Javanese noblemen to take part in the world-wide craze for cartes de visite that started in France in the 1850s. This ‘cosmopolitan’ stand went hand in hand with the writer’s ‘inward’ eye for the beauty of his native land.

Landscape is at the core of the lyric poetry that – unexpectedly – brightens the prose of the travelogue. Purwalelana, apparently, had to switch from his (innovative) prose into (age-old) poetry in order to do justice to the splendour of nature. He explains: ‘The sights in the mountainous area where I am walking are exceptionally delightful. I can only poorly describe this magnificence, unless I express myself in poetry’. So the writer returns to those age-old Javanese literary traditions in which poets – through the aesthetic experience of composing their verses – strove to be united with the ‘Deity of Beauty’. Meanwhile they expressed their knowledge of flora and fauna. Birds are flown in by Purwalelana as follows: 

The sparrow, the turtledove,
The sooty-headed bulbul, the white-headed munia, the pipit, 
A reedbird boastfully inviting me to join them,
A cuckoo ticking against an earthen pitcher,
All these birds along the route
Epitomise a traveller’s delight.

Delights of travel were not only found in nature, but equally in crowded cities. Purwalelana observed the liveliness of big markets, met people from different ethnic backgrounds and commented upon the architectonic layout of government buildings. He was fascinated by the vehicle called a ‘tramway’ in Batavia, which he described as a ‘big coach on small iron wheels, running in iron grooves. It works and operates like a steam train. It is, however, drawn by a team of three horses.’ 

Figure 3: The horse-drawn ‘tramway’ in Batavia, J.C. Rappard, 1888-1890.

The illumination of Batavia’s streets also attracted the traveller’s attention and he explained the technical and financial logistics behind it: 

From the tubes which have been dug in along the roads, the gas is distributed to peoples’ homes through little tubes that enter the houses and lead to the lamps. But first it has to pass a small iron box containing a device that measures the consumption. The key to this iron case is in the hands of the Dutch owners of the gasworks. Once a month the Dutch come and open the container in order to register the quantity of gas consumed by each house. Once they have established how much this usage is, they ask the owner of the house to pay in accordance with the quantity of gas registered by the meter. 

Apart from reporting on the gasworks Purwalelana made sure that he updated his readers with several other technological developments that enriched Java: he described steam engines at work in sugar factories and explained the purpose of dams, barrages and locks built across rivers. He carefully deployed similes to make his audience acquainted with new phenomena: ‘Next we visit the dock, a floating structure that resembles in fact the wooden chest for storing wayang puppets, but without a cover. It floats near the shore, not far from the arsenal’.

Figure 4: The dry-dock in Surabaya harbour, W.J. Olland, c. 1870, Leiden University Libraries, KITLV.

The Travels presents the rare perspective of a Javanese nobleman living in colonial times. Candranegara did not shy away from commenting upon developments – positive and negative – that affected his homeland, but his critique of the colonial power was mild. After all, Candranegara had a key position as regent in the colonial government and he operated within the constraints of the political system. Moreover, the principal aim of The Travels was to sing the praises of Java and to invite his fellow Javanese to discover the marvels of their native land.

~~~~~~~~~

Judith E. Bosnak holds a PhD in Indonesian Literary Studies and Linguistics with a thesis about Javanese theatre. She has carried out several seasons of ethnographic fieldwork in Java, Indonesia and has lectured in the field of Southeast Asian Studies in different parts of the world. She is currently affiliated with LUCAS, the Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society, where she participates in the research project ‘Voicing the colony. Travellers in the Dutch East Indies, 1800-1945’ in which Dutch and Indonesian travel writing is studied in comparative perspective. 

The Voyages and Manifesto of William Fergusson

The Hakluyt Society will soon distribute the first volume of 2021 to members. Edited by Derek Elliott, The Voyages and Manifesto of William Fergusson brings the views and attitudes of an otherwise unknown figure into the historical record.


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Unlike the subjects of most Hakluyt volumes, William Fergusson was not an adventurer, explorer, or a member of a famous expedition. Rather, he was an apprentice apothecary-surgeon sailing the well-plied routes of the East India Company’s growing trans-national commercial network. The volume reproduces – with annotations and an introduction – the twenty-two diaries that Fergusson composed toward the end of his life in 1767, which recount four voyages he made as a young man calling at ports in the British Isles, southern Africa, Yemen, India, Malaya, China, and St Helena in the Atlantic.

Detail of Fergusson’s manuscript showing his title ‘Journals of my Voy. & Manifesto 1767’, reproduced with kind permission from Andrew Gladstone and the Centre of South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge.

Despite the rather unexceptional voyages Fergusson’s diaries record, his account is nonetheless remarkable. Alongside descriptions of towns and peoples of the Indian Ocean trading-world during the 1730s, he relates local anecdotes and asides concerning the social lives of the inhabitants he encounters. In many ways Fergusson also offers a fresh perspective of how some Europeans saw themselves situated within their contemporary wider world. His observations are framed through the eyes of an individual who does not share in the civilizational hubris that became common amongst Europeans in the later eighteenth century. Sailing in an era before the Great Divergence, Fergusson was open to the ideas, practices, beliefs, and ways of governing that he witnessed on his travels. Interestingly for him, it was not Europe that set the standard for civilization, but rather China. 

Readers of the volume will immediately notice how much space Fergusson devotes to China compared to other parts of the world he visits. Of the four voyages Fergusson describes, he only visits Canton (today’s Guangzhou) once on his final voyage, yet it takes up a full one fifth of his total narrative. Impressed with what he saw, he even presents historical details on China and Chinese thought by drawing on the works of famous contemporary European Sinologists, such as Jean-Baptiste Du Halde’s newly published The General History of China. According to Fergusson, ‘there is not a Country in the world […] that has Such a variety and Such Plenty of all the necessary, conveniences & Delights of Life within itself, as China hath’ (Elliott, D., ed., The Voyages and Manifesto of William Fergusson, p.140).

‘A Plan of the City of Canton on the River Ta ho’, 1744. A near contemporary image of the port that so impressed Fergusson when he visited China in late 1738. Courtesy of The Barry Lawrence Ruderman Map Collection, David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford Libraries, Stanford University, California (http://purl.stanford.edu/dt252rx9323)

Fergusson’s diaries are also remarkable because they are more than simply a travelogue. They are also, as his manuscript and the volume’s title suggest, a manifesto of his beliefs and opinions, which reflect some of the most popular ideas of the early Enlightenment. None more so than the notion of natural religion, which he described as 

A Religion arising from the nature of things and discoverable of its Self by all reasonable Beings; A Religion previous to & us’d as the foundation of all others, whose worth or merit is only estimated in proportion as they are consonant to or recede from this the only Rule of Good & Bad, of Right & Wrong[.]

(Elliott, D., ed., The Voyages and Manifesto of William Fergusson, p.165)

Following the ideas of Enlightenment thinkers John Locke and the now obscure but then influential Samuel Clarke, Fergusson held a rational approach to religious belief. He spoke out against what he considered to be the devotional enthusiasm practised by adherents of the diverse religions he came across, whether they be Hindus, Muslims, animists, or Catholics. This and his universalist assumptions with which he approaches the world, further demonstrate how Enlightenment ideas were embodied by educated men of his era. 

The obscurity of its author, the mundane commercial nature of the voyages he undertook, and the manifesto, which offers a window into the intimate thoughts of an early modern Scotsman, make these diaries rather unique. Unlike with most volume authors, we do not know why Fergusson wrote his diaries. He says only that they were ‘to Serve as private memoranda’ and no other writings of his are known to survive. Indeed, very little is known about Fergusson’s life at all. Most of what is known concerns his retirement on his estate in Ayrshire, to which he moved to from London in 1755. As a result, he largely remains an enigma, with these diaries being the only insight into the person of who William Fergusson was. 

Now almost 200 years later, Fergusson’s ‘private memoranda’ have been made available to the public. Readers will surely find much entertainment and interest in reading Fergusson’s observation of the commercial world of the early eighteenth century and in his diatribes on the virtues of the values and rational thought extolled by the dominant thinking of what would become known as the Enlightenment.


Author Bio

Derek L. Elliott is assistant professor of history at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco. Before moving to the Middle Atlas Mountains, he completed a doctorate at the University of Cambridge. His research examines different lived experiences of colonialism at the intersection of law and violence within the British imperial world. His projects have been supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, Shastri Indo–Canadian Institute, and the Smuts Memorial Fund, amongst others. He is currently preparing a monograph on the use of extrajudicial state violence in governing early nineteenth-century South India.

‘New Caledonia’ and mythmaking in the Darien Scheme

Dr Alasdair Macfarlane shares his insights from a recent research trip to the Spencer Collection at the University of Glasgow. Here he explores how the print and manuscript material in the collection sheds further light on the relationship between the Cuna people of Darien and the Scottish settlers in the promotional literature surrounding the Darien Scheme.

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My project in the Spencer Collection at the University of Glasgow was largely concerned with primary print and manuscript materials relating to the ‘Darien Scheme’.

The Darien Scheme was orchestrated by the Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies (1695-1707) in the late seventeenth-century and involved the attempted establishment of a Scottish settlement and trade emporium dubbed ‘New Caledonia’ upon the Isthmus of Darien in Central America (1698-1700). While the effort proved abortive, the Scheme and its collapse has long been the focus of political and economic historians for its assumed role as a catalyst for the Union of Scotland and England in 1706/7.

Darien image 1
Sp Coll Spencer e1: ‘Carte particuliere de Isthmus, ou Darien’ (Amsterdam: Pierre Mortier). Image produced by the permission of the University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections.

More recent scholarship on the Scheme, such as Julie Orr’s Scotland, Darien and the Atlantic World (2018) has highlighted the significance of the natives of Darien, the Cuna people, as interlocutors between the rival European factions that operated in the South Seas and Caribbean. As Glasgow’s Spencer Collection holds a multiplicity of rare and original materials relating to the Scheme, many of which are outside digital circulation, I hoped to learn more of the relationship between the native peoples of Darien and the Scottish settlers, and gain a clearer sense of their significance in the short but intense period of promotional publications from the Scheme’s launch to its collapse.

One of the real strengths of the Spencer Collection is that you get a sense of the intertextual layers to the story of Darien as it was reported in Scotland. Looking at the journal of Robert Pennycook, the leader of the small fleet that departed Scotland’s shores and landed at Darien in late 1698, and its description of the first meetings with the local Cuna people, it becomes clear how familiar the Cuna had become with European encounters. The local leader ‘Captain Andreas’, on meeting the Scots is said to have ‘run in the praise of Captain Swan and Capt Davies two English Privateers, who he said were his particular friends, and whom he knew in the South Sea’ (Ms Gen 1681). Four Frenchmen are also said to have lived in the region for the last four years, and of course the garrisons of Panama, Cartagena, and Portobello were an ever-present reminder of Spanish prerogative claims over both coasts of the Isthmus.

Mythmaking around the early landings of Europeans on American shores has long been a necessary feature to their domestic promotion, and Darien was no exception (Mary Fuller, Remembering the Early Modern Voyage, 2008, p. 130). The express which was published in the March 23rd-27th (1699) edition of the Edinburgh Gazette with the arrival of Pennycook’s first dispatches back in Scotland describes the Scots landing at the invitation of the native peoples, the land itself never having been ‘possessed by any European Nation’. Moreover, the Cuna are described as resigning their own plantations and taking commissions from the colony’s council (Sp Coll Spencer f8). Poetic works followed, attributing to providence the hand of the tiller which guided the Company’s ships to the salutation of Darien’s ‘Fertile Fields and Golden Mountains’ (Sp Coll Spencer f52: Caledonia Triumphans).

Darien image 2
Sp Coll Spencer f15: ‘Advertisement. Edinburgh, the 9th of July 1696’. Image produced by the permission of the University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections.

I was already familiar with many aspects of this narrative from my PhD research, but I had underestimated how important these first reports were in defining the printed apologetics for the Darien Scheme in Scotland.

In successive speeches, pamphlets, and apologia scattered throughout the Collection, this first encounter appears to have been choreographed in print to counter the remonstrance of the Spanish crown to a Scottish settlement in Central America, by asserting the sovereignty of the native people over the Isthmus (Sp Coll Spencer 46). The history of armed conflicts between the natives of Darien and the Spanish authorities were similarly repeated to contest any notion of Spanish claims to the site of the Scottish colony, having been established through the ‘full and free Consent of the Natives’ in possession (Sp Coll Spencer 36; Sp Coll Spencer 49; Sp Coll Spencer Mu15-b.15). The most intriguing example of this assertion appears in the repeated citation of buccaneer authors such as Basil Ringrose, William Dampier, Bartholomew Sharpe, and Lionel Wafer, within the Company of Scotland’s arguments. These ‘English [and Welsh] travellers’ had crossed the Isthmus of Darien in the 1680s to harass Spanish settlements, including Panama, under the auspices of ‘letters of marque’ issued by the ‘Emperor of Darien’ (Sp Coll Spencer 65; Sp Coll Mu15-b.15). The Company attempted to argue that as the buccaneers had claimed to have been acting under legitimate warrants issued by a sovereign power, and were not convicted of piracy in the English courts on their return to Britain, the sovereignty of the Darien natives over the Isthmus had already been established in England (Macfarlane, 2020).

It is fascinating to see the relationship between the Cuna and earlier generations of English buccaneers referenced in Pennycook’s journal, and the citation of the buccaneers’ own travel accounts in popular contemporary circulation, positioned at the heart of the Company of Scotland’s promotional narrative around the Darien Scheme.

The contrast between the printed vision of ‘New Caledonia’ as it was understood and promoted in Scotland, and the hardships and deprivation which led to the Darien colony being abandoned by the first wave of settlers in mid-1699, and surrendered to the Spanish by the second wave in early 1700, has led a lot of the scholarship on the Scheme. And the Spencer Collection is not short of materials that illustrate this point (Sp Coll Spencer Add q2). Yet, when seen collected together, far less work appears to have been done on how much of the textual representation and arguments around the Scheme gained a self-perpetuating momentum once the news of the landing was made public. There is an intense internal referentiality between the materials promoting the Scheme and the Company in Scotland. Layer on layer, these materials create a sense of corroborative contemporaneity to their arguments, even as they appear to shape information to a predetermined framework around the legitimacy and viability of the Scheme.

The support of the Hakluyt Society Research Grant has given me the opportunity to explore a far wider range of primary materials around the Darien Scheme than I could have predicted. Much of the information about Darien and the settlement of New Caledonia published in Scotland appears to have been in some sense transformed or adapted to an anticipated narrative. It is clear there is an under-developed area of research around the control and transformation of information from and about the Darien settlement, especially as it relates to contemporary notions of national and native sovereignty.  Thanks to the Society’s support, I intend to pursue this further in my upcoming fellowship with the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh later this year.

Bibliography
Sp Coll Ms Gen 1681: Pennycook’s Journal, 2 Sept – 28 Decb, 1698.
Sp Coll Spencer 36: A Speech in Parliament on the 10th day of January 1701, by the Lord Belhaven (Edinburgh, 1701).
Sp Coll Spencer 46: The History of Caledonia: or, the Scots Colony in Darien (London: John Nutt, 1699).
Sp Coll Spencer 49: A Just and Modest Vindication of the Scots Design (1699).
Sp Coll Spencer 65: Scotland’s Right to Caledonia (1700).
Sp Coll Spencer Add q2: ‘Darien Letters’.
Sp Coll Spencer f8: The Edinburgh Gazette (Edinburgh, 1699-)
Sp Coll Spencer f52: Alexander Pennecuik, Caledonia Triumphans (Edinburgh: Heirs to Andrew Anderson, 1699).
Sp Coll Mu15-b.15: A Defence of the Scots Settlement at Darien (1699)
Fuller. Mary, Remembering the Early Modern Voyage (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).
Macfarlane. C. Alasdair, ‘Pirates and Publicity: The Making and Unmaking of Early Modern Pirates in English and Scottish Popular Print’, Humanities 9:1, (2020). https://doi.org/10.3390/h9010014
Orr. Julie, Scotland, Darien and the Atlantic World (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018)

Dr C. Alasdair Macfarlane is a postdoctoral researcher based in Glasgow with interdisciplinary interests in travel writing, travel hoaxes, questions of credible representation in seventeenth-century print, and Scottish colonial rhetoric.

Following his Hakluyt Society-funded research into the Spencer Collection, he was awarded a Daiches-Manning Fellowship in 18th Century Scottish Studies with IASH at the University of Edinburgh to continue his work on the materials surrounding the promotion of the Scottish colony of ‘New Caledonia’ on the Isthmus of Panama. Although currently unaffiliated, his present projects concern the development of news and correspondence networks in late seventeenth-century Scotland and the Atlantic maritime world, and their utility in the promotion of maritime enterprise.

https://www.iash.ed.ac.uk/profile/dr-alasdair-macfarlane

Professor Roy Bridges

roy_bridges

Members of the Hakluyt Society who knew Professor Roy Bridges and the many more who knew his work will be deeply saddened to learn of his death in Newmachar, Aberdeenshire, on 1 August 2020.

Roy was a leading member of the Hakluyt Society, which he joined in 1962. In 1964 he was appointed to the University of Aberdeen, where he became Professor of History, having previously taught at Makerere University in Uganda. His research and writing were mainly concerned with East Africa in the nineteenth century. He became a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and of the Royal Historical Society.

Roy Bridges_Edinburgh
Roy Bridges speaking at the launch of A Walk Across Africa at the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh, in 2018.

Roy developed a great affection for the Hakluyt Society, where he had many friends and to whose work he made many important contributions. His commitment to the Society never faded. He served several terms on Council and was President for all of six years, from 2004 to 2010. He gave two of the Annual Lectures, in 1977 and 1993, and edited or co-edited three volumes in our main series (one in the Second Series, two in the Third).

The first volume, co-edited with Paul Hair in 1996 as Compassing the Vaste Globe of the Earth, was a set of essays marking the 150th anniversary of the Society’s foundation and including Roy’s own account of the founder, William Desborough Cooley. The Four Travel Journals volume appeared in 2007 and included Roy’s edition of ‘A Dangerous and Toilsome Journey’, the account by the freed slave Jacob Wainwright of the transportation of David Livingstone’s body to the coast. Roy’s magnum opus in his work for the Society, was published in 2018: A Walk Across Africa. J. A. Grant’s Account of the Nile Expedition of 1860-1863.

This major achievement is probably best approached through the three posts Roy wrote for the Hakluyt Society Blog to introduce the work: Hakluyt Society Edition of Grant’s Walk across Africa, The Nile Source Problem, Grant, the Nile Expedition and Colonisation.

It was important for Roy that he was able to conclude in the third post that, ‘Grant was certainly not a colonialist explorer but a distinguished and worthy traveller.’ Through the record of that journey, both James Grant and Roy Bridges have made available to us all a rich, insightful and historically located account of East Africa in the 1860s.

Roy Bridges_talk

We also have ready access to Roy’s view of the history and character of the Hakluyt Society, through a published version in the Society’s online Journal of a talk he gave at the Guildhall Library in 2014:The Literature of Travel and Exploration: The Work of the Hakluyt Society

The conclusion contains a personal credo: ‘I believe travellers’ texts can tell us a great deal about the way our now globalised world has emerged and that by promoting their study the Hakluyt Society can in a modest way promote understanding.’ Roy’s friends will recognise the man in that note of modesty but his wider readership also will agree with a momentary flamboyance elsewhere in his talk, where Grant’s Walk is called ‘a priceless and wonderful source of information.’

Jim Bennett
3 August 2020

CFP: ‘Maps and Mapping in English-speaking Countries in the 17th and 18th Centuries’, Université Paris-Diderot, January 2021

The Hakluyt Society is one of the sponsors of a conference in Paris, 15-16 January 2021, with the theme ‘Maps and Mapping in English-speaking Countries in the 17th and 18th Centuries’. It will be the annual conference of the Société d’études anglo-américaines des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles, held at the Université Paris-Diderot. The organisers have issued a call for papers (see below); offers of papers in English are welcome. DEADLINE for submissions: 20 June 2020. Paper proposals (300 words and a short CV) should be sent to colloque1718janvier2021@gmail.com by June 20, 2020.

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Maps and Mapping in English-speaking Countries in the 17th and 18th Centuries

Annual Conference of the SEAA 17-18
Dates: 15-16 January 2021
Venue: Université Paris-Diderot
Keynote Speaker: Max Edelson (University of Virginia)

CFP Maps and Mapping
https://vault.georgiaarchives.org/digital/collection/adhoc/id/391

Maps are multidimensional objects of study that entail scientific, artistic, political, diplomatic, military and economic stakes. On the scientific level, the cartographic techniques and their evolutions are related to the establishment of trades such as cartographers, geographers and land surveyors. Who makes maps, for what purpose and for whom are questions to consider in order to apprehend these documents. Secretly-used maps need to be distinguished from printed and circulated ones. The former are instruments in the hands of governments in the context of peace negotiations and military operations – as was the case for the maps on which the French and the Americans relied during the American Revolutionary War – but also in the context of the exploration and conquest of new territories, among which Northern and Southern America, as well as Africa and India. Most of the time, maps have been made public in books destined for a literate audience, but their degree of accuracy and their level of artistry need to be assessed. It can thus be considered that maps create spaces as much as they reflect them. Maps also circulate as separate objects such as terrestrial globes. This requires us to think about the manufacturing of objects and the printing of maps, but also to ponder over their commercialization, dissemination, exhibition in curiosity cabinets as well as their circulation in European and American learned societies.

Moreover, it will be necessary to tackle the way cartography and the knowledge and use of geography have transformed the writing of history in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries but also the way maps were used by writers and historians working on those periods in the centuries that followed. The historiographic discourse on the 17th and 18th centuries evolved in parallel with the progress of geographic and topographic science. These changes are particularly noticeable nowadays as digital tools have renewed the interest in maps as tools and sources of historiographic reflection. Conversely, some databases extracted from registers or other documents have been compiled thanks to digital softwares, enabling the creation of tools of digital cartography that alter our perception of the past and of History (see for example websites such as Mapping Early American Elections or Slave Voyages). These evolutions of cartography bring with them a redefinition of space(s) as being at the crossroads of power and knowledge.

It is also relevant to tackle the writing of space in the British eighteenth century by studying narrative cartography or the motif of the map inserted within travel narratives, fiction or utopias/dystopias (see for instance the inserted maps that open each of Gulliver’s Travels or the one that Thomas More inserts in his Utopia). In fictional texts, the map reinforces realism by its scientific qualities. Defoe and Swift, for example, borrowed maps from Herman Moll, a well-known cartographer at the time, in order to make their narratives appear truthful: the credit attributed to a cartographer was indeed far superior to that given to a writer of fiction. On top of the scientific dimension of maps and of the activity of mapping itself, there has always been art in cartography which can be defined as the art of drawing maps: “the map always involves a particular kind of imagination.” (Palsky, Artistes de la carte, 202) This imagination, which is at the core of the relationship between the map and the oeuvre, may be explored through a study of the decoration of legends or of the blanks of maps that can be filled in with representations of animals, monsters or ships. Reflecting over the articulation of cartographic and literary or aesthetic languages also permits us to adopt an interdisciplinary approach to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: geocriticism (Westphal, Tally) or literary cartography (Mapping Writing) will help us think about this articulation and the way of mapping fictional texts.

Therefore, this symposium will investigate the influence of cartography in a two-fold approach. It will assess its influence on the course of History, considering the impact that the perception of geography had on the political, scientific, intellectual and literary history in the 17th and 18th centuries. It will also consider its influence on historiographical science at the time and nowadays, in relation to the development of new historiographical approaches such as atlantic history, global history, the history of material culture and sociabilities, as well as gender and minorities studies.

We especially, but not exclusively, encourage contributions on the following topics and approaches:

  • cartography and narrative
  • inserting real or fictitious maps within fictional narratives
  • the contribution of writers to the geographic culture and the contribution of geography as discipline and as language to the literary production (“crossed fertilization”)
  • authenticity and truth of geographic data in literary texts
  • the map as vehicle for political sovereignty and as instrument for colonization, notably looking into the role of the Board of Trade
  • cartography as a performative act (creation of space, space of creation)
  • cartographic materials as aesthetic objects
  • the map as real or virtual historiographic object
  • authority as vested in cartographers, geographers and surveyors, and the empirical authority of maps (bias, omission, scale)
  • the materiality of maps (manufacturing, size, paper, weight, graphic and printing quality)
  • the role of the Academies of science
  • contour lines, separation lines—delineating geographic abstraction

Paper proposals (300 words and a short CV) should be sent to colloque1718janvier2021@gmail.com by June 20, 2020. Acceptance will be notified by mid-July 2020.

Selective bibliography

Books and articles:
Richard H. Brown and Paul E. Cohen, Revolution: Mapping the Road to American Independence 1755-1783. New York: London W.W. Norton et Company, 2015.
Martin Brückner, The Social Life of Maps in America, 1750-1860. Chapel Hill: Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American Culture by the University of North Carolina Press, 2018.
Eric Bulson, Novels, Maps, Modernity. The Spatial Imagination. 1850-2000. New York & London, Routledge, 2007.
Lucy P. Chester, “The Mapping of Empire: French and British Cartographies of India in the Late-Eighteenth Century”, Portuguese Studies, Vol. 16 (2000), pp. 256-275.
Max Edelson, The New Map of Empire: How Britain Imagined America before Independence. Harvard University Press, 2017 and website with maps online: http://mapscholar.org/empire/
Matthew H. Edney, Mapping an Empire: The Geographical Construction of British India, 1765–1843. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.
Matthew H. Edney, Mary Sponberg Pedley (eds.), The History of Cartography, Volume 4: Cartography in the European Enlightenement. Chicago University Press, 2019.
Jean-Paul Forster, Eighteenth-Century Geography and Representations of Space in English Fiction and Poetry. Berne: Peter Lang, 2013.
John Brian Harley, Paul Laxton, and J.H. Andrews, The New Nature of Maps: Essays in the history of Cartography. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 2002.
Catherine Hofmann ed, Artistes de la carte de la renaissance au XXIe siècle. Paris, éditions Autrement, 2012.
Stephen J. Hornsby, Surveyors of Empire: Samuel Holland, J. W. F. Des Barres, and the Making of The Atlantic Neptune. Ithaca, N.Y.: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011.
Christian Jacob, L’Empire des cartes : approche théorique de la cartographie à travers l’histoire. Paris, Bibliothèque Albin Michel, 1992.
Jacques Lévy, ed. A Cartographic Turn. Mapping and the Spatial Challenge in Social Sciences. Routledge, 2016.
Mary Sponberg Pedley, The Commerce of Cartography: Making and Marketing Maps in Eighteenth-century France and England. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005
Margaret B. Pritchard and Henry G. Taliaferro, Degrees of Latitude: Mapping Colonial America. Williamsburg, VA: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2002 and digital collection https://www.nyhistory.org/exhibitions/degrees-latitude-mapping-colonial-america
John Rennie Short, Cartographic Encounters: Indigenous Peoples and the Exploration of the New World. London: Reaction Books, 2009.
Robert T. Tally, Spatiality. Londres et New York : Routledge, The Critical Idiom, 2013.
Judith A. Tyner, Stitching the World: Embroidered Maps and Women’s Geographical Education. Ashgate, 2015.
Bertrand Westphal, La Géocritique. Réel, fiction, espace. Paris : Les Editions de Minuit, 2007.
–. Le Monde plausible. Espace, Lieu, Carte. Paris : Les Editions de Minuit, 2011.

Digital humanities projects:
The Grand Tour Travelers Project, Stanford University : https://classics.stanford.edu/projects/grand-tour-project, part of the larger project : Mapping the Republic of Letters : http://republicofletters.stanford.edu/publications/index.html
Mapping Early American Elections : http://earlyamericanelections.org/
Slave Voyages : https://www.slavevoyages.org/
Mapping Writing : https://mappingwriting.com/
Nicholas Gliserman, (forthcoming): Cartography and Empire in Northeastern America, 1580-1760–digital humanities project employing ArcGIS to extract geospatial data from historical maps to analyze the changing colonial landscape.
Paul Sivitz, Billy G. Smith, Philadelphia and Its People in Maps: The 1790s. https://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/philadelphia-and-its-people-in-maps-the-1790s/

Selection Committee:

Peter Barber (Hakluyt Society)
Michael Barritt (Hakluyt Society)
Jim Bennett (Hakluyt Society)
Martin Brückner (University of Delaware)

Yann Calberac (Université de Reims)
Robert Clark (University of East Anglia/Literary Encyclopedia)
Matthew Edney (University of Southern Maine)
Stephen Hornsby (University of Maine)
Mary Pedley (University of Michigan)
Bertrand Van Ruymbeke (Université Paris 8)

Organizing Committee:
Carine Lounissi (Université de Rouen et Université Paris-Diderot, LARCA)
Emmanuelle Peraldo (Université de Nice, CTEL)
Agnès Trouillet (Université Paris III, CREW)
Sophie Vasset (Université Paris-Diderot, LARCA)

Encounters with the Querina

Dr Matthew Coneys sheds new light on the textual evolution of a 15th-century tale of shipwreck, near starvation, and miraculous rescue among the remote islands of Lofoten in the Arctic Circle….

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My first encounter with the Querina was entirely serendipitous. At the time, I was completing a research project on the Italian translation of the Book of John Mandeville, the account of the infamous fourteenth-century ‘English knight’ who claimed to have travelled to Jerusalem and throughout the exotic East. Working in a small, regional Italian library, I called up an early fifteenth-century manuscript of the Book. When the volume arrived, I was surprised to find that it also contained another text, written in the same neat hand.

It told the incredible story of the Querina, a Venetian merchant ship which was sailing from Crete to Flanders in 1431 when it was blown far off course by a fierce storm. With the rudder destroyed and masts broken, the crew of 68 found themselves adrift in the North Sea with supplies of food and water running critically low. After weeks of deliberation, they eventually decided to abandon the ship and boarded two small lifeboats. The following pages made for grim reading. One of the boats was soon lost to the waves; on the other, many of the sailors soon succumbed to exposure. It drifted onwards at the mercy of the currents.

Querina 1
The departure of the Querina, from a series by Franco Fortunato

On 6 January 1432, the remaining sailors spotted land through the fog and rowed with what little strength they had until they reached a snow-covered beach. Staggering ashore, they drank from the snow and huddled together under the upturned boat. Several weeks passed and the Venetians were close to starvation, but their fortunes finally changed when a farmer and his son came across their camp. They had drifted to Lofoten, a Norwegian archipelago some 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle, where they had made landfall miraculously close to the village of Røst. Over the course of several months the survivors were nursed back to health and experienced life in this isolated fishing community. They would eventually depart for Venice, with many of the sailors understandably opting to take the lengthy overland journey, rather than search for a ship that would take them home.

The account I stumbled upon is one of two reports of the voyage of the Querina composed by her survivors. These are extraordinary historical sources, not least because eyewitness accounts of medieval shipwrecks are by their nature extremely rare. Written by professional merchant sailors, they also contain a wealth of technical detail of interest to the maritime historian, and offer a valuable insight into the complex trade networks that crisscrossed fifteenth-century Europe. What keeps drawing me back to these works, however, is their remarkable human story: one of bravery, despair and survival, of unlikely cross-cultural encounter, generosity and friendship. Struck by the kindness and religious devotion of the villagers and their simplicity of life, the Venetians describe Røst as ‘the first circle of paradise’ – a hyperbolic claim, perhaps, but one that reflects their profound admiration for their saviours.

The two accounts are reasonably familiar to scholars of Italian travel, having been included in Giovanni Battista Ramusio’s monumental printed compendium of travel accounts, the Navigazioni e viaggi (1550-59). More recently, they have inspired a series of prints by the Italian artist Franco Fortunato, and even a Norwegian-language opera by the composer Henning Sommero. However, relatively little is known about the circulation and textual evolution of these works in the century following the dramatic events they describe. I am particularly fascinated by the question of how the accounts were read and copied in the immediate aftermath of the voyage, and the differences between Ramusio’s scholarly edition and the original versions penned by the Venetian sailors.

Querina 2
A scene from the opera ‘Querini’, written by Henning Sommero and performed by professional musicians and a chorus of islanders from Røst.

The support of a Hakluyt Society Research Grant has given me the opportunity to continue my research by reading and transcribing two early manuscript copies preserved in Venice. As well as allowing me to investigate the accounts’ textual development and early reception, spending time with these books has given me a remarkable sense of connection to the past. This was also the case with that very first manuscript that I encountered: an autograph copy, made by sailors who had lived through a terrible ordeal and kept as a treasured possession. Thanks to the Society’s support, I am continuing working towards a critical edition and English translation which I hope will bring this incredible story to new readers.

Dr Matthew Coneys is currently Research Associate in the School of English at Newcastle University, working on the Manuscripts after Print project led by Dr Aditi Nafde. He completed a PhD in Italian Studies at the University of Warwick in 2017, having previously studied for a BA at the University of Cambridge and MA at UCL. He held postdoctoral positions at the School of Advanced Study (London) and University of St Andrews before being awarded an MHRA Research Scholarship in 2018.