In Europe, during the Middle Ages, classical Greek and Roman geography continued to provide the fundamental structure for knowing the world’s places and peoples. From encyclopedic compendia such as the Natural History of Pliny the Elder and its redaction in Julius Solinus’s Polyhistor to the works of canonical Roman poets such as Virgil, Ovid, and Lucan, the geographical content of antique texts invited study and explication.
Yet medieval authors well knew that classical spatial order, itself full of lacunae, only infrequently corresponded to their own reality. Dislocations: Maps, Classical Tradition, and Spatial Play in the European Middle Ages considers the ways in which medieval and, later, humanist geography absorbed and reinvented classical spatial models in order to address key questions of historical change, migration, and emerging national, regional, and linguistic identities.
Drawing on a wide range of literary texts, maps, and geographical descriptions – and utilising the ancient but now largely discarded scholarly genre of the dialogue – Dislocations argues that medieval spatial representation was complex and richly textured, whether in the form of a careful gloss in a manuscript of Lucan’s Civil War, or as the exuberant sexualized allegories of the fourteenth-century papal notary Opicinus de Canistris.
The book also explores a further kind of dislocation: the surprising connections between medieval geographical thought and twentieth- and twenty-first-century visual arts, including Dadaism and the remarkable Mappamundi Suite of the Gujarati artist Gulammohammed Sheikh. While past spatial orders may be relegated to obscurity, they just as often linger – in archives, memories, and ruins – to be retrieved and reanimated in revealing ways.