JFC 5105H

Collections of Knowledge : Encyclopedism and Travel Literature in Early Modern Europe (1500-1800)

Schedule :


Instructor :

A. Motsch

Location :


Room :


Description :

1500-1800 is the first period of modern globalization by the West, of the foundation of colonial empires and of the economic but also scientific exploration of foreign lands.  This seminar deals with the intersection of the “encyclopedic movement” and geographical expansions, more particularly the knowledge produced and disseminated about other cultures and “ethnography” in particular. The course seeks to show how the new anthropological knowledge becomes a point of public interest and political disputes and how this development is supported and accompanied by a dynamic book market.


The new ideas and ideals emerging between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment period and their reception are closely linked to the invention of the printing press, the progress in literacy within society, the emergence of a public sphere, and thus the development of an ever increasing market for printed materials and books. Due to political and religious censorship, but also economic considerations, the publishing history and the book trade of the time constitute a quite complex field of inquiry. Books were written in one country, often enough printed in another, only to reappear clandestinely in legitimate or pirated copies on the marketplace for which they were intended, while their authors, editors and printers were censored, went  into exile or even to prison. Many works found their readers far away, across political, geographical and ideological divides in copied, translated or abstracted form. The changing worldview of this period is the result of new epistemological forces which seek to establish new paradigms and increasingly attempt to portray the world in encyclopedias, histories, dictionaries as well as other collections of knowledge (curio cabinets and museums). It is this worldview and its epistemological foundation which gives rise to philosophical and political modernity.



Oral presentation/Literature review:       20%

Final Essay (3500-5000 words):            70%    

Overall evaluation:                                 10%




— This list is for information purposes only. A final selection will be made at the beginning of the seminar in accordance with the interest and the linguistic competence of the participants.

— The primary and secondary literature is in various languages from the start as travel literature is written in many languages (Latin, Spanish, English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, etc.) We will work as much as possible with original sources and where necessary with translations. It is possible to work in English only, but competence in other languages is an asset and at times crucial in light of some secondary literature in this field of research and we will take advantage of students’ competences in other languages as much as possible. All texts will be available in the original version and in translation. Written assignments can be in English, French, Spanish or German according to the rules of the home departments.

José de Acosta, Historia natural y moral des las Indias, 1590

Robert Beverley, The History and Present State of Virginia, 1705.

Johannes Boemus, Omnium gentium mores, Leges et Ritus …. (published in Latin, German, French, English, Italian and Spanish), 1520-)

Théodore de Bry, Les Grands Voyages, (published in Latin, French, English and German), Francfort 1569-1640).

Théodore de Bry, Les Petits Voyages, Théodore de Bry (published in German and Latin), Frankfurt, 1597-1633

Charlevoix, Histoire et description générale de la Nouvelle-France, Paris, 1744

Charlevoix, Histoire et description générale du Japon, 1736

[Collective], Les lettres édifiantes (translated into French, published in French and subsequently translated in many other languages), Paris, 1702-1776.

[Collective], Les relations jésuites (translated into French, published in French and subsequently translated in many other languages)

Diderot et d’Alembert L’Encyclopédie

Earl of Oxford, A Collection of Voyages and Travels …, London 1745

Richard Hakluyt, The Principal Navigations, Voyages, and Discoveries of the English Nation London, 1589-.

Joseph-François Lafitau, Mœurs des sauvages amériquains comparées aux mœurs des premiers temps, Lafitau, Paris, 1724 (translated into Dutch and German)

Bruzen de La Martinière, Introduction à l’histoire de l’Asie, de l’Afrique et de l’Amérique. Amsterdam : Z. Chatelain, 1735.

Giovanni Ramusio, Navigationi et viaggi…, 1563-.

Bernard Picart, Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde, Amsterdam, Jean-Frederic Bernard, 7 vol 1723-1736 (translated into and published in French, then translated into German, Dutch and English)

Abbé Prévost, Histoire générale des voyages…, Paris, 1746-1747.

Johann Friedrich Schröter, Allgemeine Geschichte der Länder und Völker von Amerika Halle, 1752-53.