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First Contact: European Encounters with the New World
Course code: ELCS6055
Tutor: Dr T Maus de Rolley
Mode of Assessment: 3 hour desk examination
Term: taught in term 2
Columbus’s landfall on a Caribbean island, on 12 October 1492, was the starting point of a process that shook the foundations of the European world. The ‘discovery’ of America opened up new territory for the European expansion and colonisation overseas, and together with the exploration of Africa and the East Indies, dramatically reshaped the Renaissance geographical imagination. But the ‘shock of discovery’ also lay in the radical newness and otherness of the American continent. Suddenly, Europeans – starting with the first explorers – had to deal with lands, animals, plants, peoples, customs and beliefs of which they had had no prior knowledge. Alterity, as an historian puts it, was the fundamental discovery of the Age of Discovery.
In this comparative course, we
will examine a selection of sixteenth-century narratives of discovery, from
Columbus’s logbook (1492-1506) to Jean de Léry’s account of his 1557 journey to
Brazil, amongst the Tupinamba (1578). Though varied in nature and purpose, all
these texts attempt to make sense of this experience of radical alterity and to
convey it to their European readers. They address questions that are
fundamental to Renaissance thought: How to reconcile this new knowledge,
brought by the experience of the world, with the lessons taught by ancient
textual authorities? How to describe the unknown, the radically new? Should the
inhabitants of this transatlantic Other World be considered as noble savages living
in a terrestrial paradise, or as devil-worshippers forgotten by God? What can
the other teach us about ourselves? To what extent does the New World allow to
see the Old World from a decentered and critical perspective? As we shall see,
these Renaissance travel accounts are also, to some extent, tales of adventure,
initiatory narratives filled with wonders and dangers – tempests, famines, wild
animals and cannibal feasts. In that sense, they not only inherit from a literary tradition of imaginary voyages, but also
contribute decisively to renew and enrich it.
- Cristobal Colón [1492-1506], Los cuatro viajes. Testamento, ed. C. Varela (Madrid: Alianza, 1986). English edition: The Four Voyages of Christopher Columbus, ed. J. M. Cohen (London: Penguin Classics, 1969). Read in particular the letters written by Columbus himself: pp. 115-123; 206-226; 265-276; 283-304 (in Cohen's edition).
- Antonio Pigafetta [c. 1525], Relazione del primo viaggio attorno al mondo, ed. A. Canova (Padova: Antenore, 1999). English edition: Antonio Pigafetta, The First Voyage Around the World, 1519-1522: An Account of Magellan’s Expedition, ed. T. J. Cachey Jr (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007).
- Jacques Cartier , Voyages au Canada, suivis du Voyage de Roberval, ed. M.-H. Fraïssé (Montréal: Comeau & Nadeau; Marseille: Agone, 2000). English edition: The Voyages of Jacques Cartier, ed. and transl. R. Cook (Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1993). Read the account of the second voyage (1535-1536). Note that an English translation of Cartier's Voyages will be available in PDF format on the course's Moodle page -- as well as a French version.
- Hans Staden , Warhaftige Historia: zwei Reisen nach Brasilien (1548-1555), ed. F. Obermeier (Sao Paulo: Instituto Martius-Staden; Kiel: Westensee Verlag, 2007). English translation: Hans Staden’s True History: An Account of Cannibal Captivity in Brazil, transl. and ed. N. L. Whitehead and M. Harbsmeier (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008). You can also read the 1874 English translation of the text, available here in PDF format.
- Jean de Léry , Histoire d’un voyage faict en la terre du Bresil, ed. F. Lestringant (Paris: Livre de Poche, 1994). English translation: Jean de Léry, History of a Voyage to the Land of Brazil, otherwise called America, transl. J. Whatley (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).
Suggested Further Reading:
- Abulafia, David, The Discovery of Mankind: Atlantic Encounters in the Age of Columbus (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008)
- Certeau, Michel de, ‘Ethno-Graphy. Speech, or the Space of the Other: Jean de Léry’, in The Writing of History, transl. T. Conley (New York: Columbia UP, 1988)
- Grafton, Anthony, New Worlds, Ancient Texts. The Power of Tradition and the Shock of Discovery (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1992)
- Greenblatt, Stephen, Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991)
- Greenblatt, Stephen, ed., New World Encounters (Berkeley: University of California Press,1993)
- Hulme, Peter, Colonial Encounters: Europe and the Native Caribbean 1492-1797 (London: Methuen Books, 1986)
- Lestringant, Frank, Cannibals: The Discovery and Representation of the Cannibal fromColumbus to Jules Verne, transl. R. Morris (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1997)
- Lestringant, Frank, Mapping the Renaissance World: The Geographical Imagination in the Age of Discovery, transl. D. Fausset (Cambridge: Polity, 1994)
- Pagden, Anthony, European Encounters with the New World: From Renaissance to Romanticism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993)
- Raman, Shankar, Renaissance Literature and Postcolonial Studies (Edinburgh: EdinburghUP, 2011)
- Todorov, Tzvetan, The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other, transl. R. Howard (New York: Harper & Row, 1999).