Events Spring 2015

A schedule for regular meetings and workshops will be posted soon.

Spring 2015 Speaker Series

March 31, 6.30pm in 754 Schermerhorn Hall (IRWGS room)Carolyn Dinshaw (NYU). “Paradise Lost, Regained, Refracted: Saint Brendan’s Isle and the Optics of Desire.”

The history of Saint Brendan’s Isle traces a curious history of desire. In the early medieval Navigatio sancti Brendanithe Irish saint journeys over the sea towards the west, sailing for seven years but eventually finding “the Promised Land, which God will give to those who come after us at the end of time.” Brendan’s island was not only the Promised Land but also the Garden of Eden, the end of time fused with the beginning. Appearing on medievalmappaemundi, this Paradise defied the physical laws of nature; Brendan found it, but even he could not access all of it. A perpetual enticement and a perpetual frustration, it beckoned and it receded.

Tudor apologist John Dee used Saint Brendan’s voyage as evidence for Elizabeth’s I’s claim to northern lands and the New World. Four early modern expeditions set out to find Saint Brendan’s Isle – to determine if it did indeed exist – but all ended by failing to find that Land of Promise. By the end of the eighteenth century it was concluded that this illusory landmass might well have been but atmospheric refraction – a mirage, even a specific kind of mirage, a Fata Morgana, an elaborate distortion that appears in vertical stacks, shifting and changing. This optical phenomenon – depending not only on heat and light but also turbulence – could explain well the perceived comings and goings of the elusive Isle of Saint Brendan.

I look at several texts from the eighth to the twentieth centuries, including the Navigatio sancti Brendani, John Dee’sBrytanici Imperii Limites, and Tim Severin’s Brendan Voyage, as well as contemporary art, in order to trace this island and to explore the concept of mirage as apt image of philology and historical research.

April 22, 6pm in Studio@Butler (208b Butler Library): David Joseph Wrisley (American University of Beirut and Fordham), “How Are Medieval Places Different from Ancient Ones?: Thoughts on Digital Maps of the Middle Ages”

The recent interest in multilingualism, cultural interactions and the Mediterranean in medieval studies is asking us to conceptualize and map the medium aevum in new ways. But what middle period do we want to model? a European one? a Mediterranean one? a global one? 

Classicists have done pioneering digital work in linking spatial information with names found in Greek and Latin texts. Many medievalists would like to see such projects emerge in our field, and yet the polyglossia and temporal and spatial scope of our period makes the endeavor seem complex. This talk explores the specific challenges medievalists face when modeling historical places and asks whether the model of the ancient world needs to be adjusted to accommodate our period.



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