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DHC Lecture with Josiah Blackmore (Harvard University)

A Portuguese History of Water: The Maritime Imagination in Medieval and Early Modern Literature


This talk explores the sea as a principle of literary creation in medieval and early modern Portugal. It asks how the ocean and seafaring shape poetic and historiographic thought, and how the decades of maritime expansion (especially in the sixteenth century) create a collective, literary subjectivity based on the sea. In effect, the talk ponders the relationship between maritime experience and literary culture, and discovers affinities between textual genres and imaginative and scientific writings. The chronological range covered in the talk spans the thirteenth to the late sixteenth centuries.

This lecture is part of the Global Humanities Distinguished Lecture Series within the Thematic Network ‘Principles of Cultural Dynamics’.

Workshop for graduate and postgraduate students directed by the guest speaker

The day after the lecture, a workshop directed by the guest speaker will take place in which graduate and postgraduate students may participate after signing up.

Oceanic Portugal and the Maritime Subject

The workshop considers a range of texts, ranging from the 13th through the 16th centuries, in which oceanic travel (both real and imagined) constitutes what we can provisionally call a “maritime subject”. Poetry, chronicles, ships’ logs, and geographical treatises all work to create a position of literary creativity that depends on the literal and metaphorical environments of the sea. It is hoped that, in the workshop, new affinities between traditionally discrete genres of writing and thinking will be discovered, affinities made possible by the oceanic imagination.

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