Worldmaking: Inventing modern geographies in Mandeville, More, and the world map

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Lester, Gordon

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University of Guelph


This thesis investigates medieval and early modern European cartography and historiography and how Europe was "moved" from the periphery to the centre in representations of the world. Using Immanuel Wallerstein's world-system model and Dusselian theory, I perform comparative close readings of 'The Travels of Sir John Mandeville', Thomas More's ' Utopia', and a number of medieval and early modern world maps in order to develop a genealogy of European representations of the early modern world and Europe's placement within that world. In these texts the descriptions of Elsewhere, Cathay and Utopia define the discursive Eastern and Western limits of the European conception of the world. Elsewhere acts as a projection of European desire that gets mapped onto geographical space(s). The conclusion of the thesis is that Europe began to represent itself at the centre of the world at a time when it was materially still only a peripheral part of the world-system. It was the conquest and colonization of the Americas in the sixteenth century that moved Europe economically to the centre of the modern world-system. The invented central position of Europe, on the world map and within world history, was created after 1492, but at a time when the European conquests had scarcely begun. A key feature of that invention were representations in which literature was crucially implicated. The representative central position of Europe in early modern texts of various kinds was part of an early modern discursive system used to justify the conquest and colonization of the Americas.



medieval, early modern, European, cartography, historiography, European representations, central position