From Theatre to Atlas: Cartography as Performance
In the sixteenth century, collections of maps were frequently described as “theatres of the world”—the first world atlas, compiled by Abraham Ortelius, is called Theatrum orbis terrarum (1570). But by the end of the century, the term had been replaced by a new one: “atlas,” named after Gerhard Mercator’s 1595 Atlas or cosmographic meditations. This talk traces the conceptual shift—in cartographic practice and in the mapmaker’s identity as an author—signaled by the turn from theatre to atlas. But rather than suggesting a movement away from the underlying theatrical metaphor, I argue that the conception of the mapbook as an “atlas” marks a deeper embrace of cartography itself as performance. Mercator’s Atlas identifies the image of the world with a muscular man on its famous title page. But why does a human body become the symbol for a cartographic portrait of the world? What does this conjunction tell us about the literary history of the world atlas as a textual form? Drawing on recent work in the history of cartography and the notion of text as performance, I suggest that mapmaking in the early modern period drew on emerging notions of theatrical space and textual performance even as it influenced the imagination of early modern drama.
Ayesha Ramachandran received her BA from Smith College (2001) and her PhD in Renaissance Studies from Yale University (2008). Her research and teaching focus on the literature and culture of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, primarily on Europe’s relations with an expanding world. She has just completed a book-length study, “The World-Makers: Global Imagining in Early Modern Europe,” which explores the reshaping of the concept “world” and its implications for theories of modernity across a range of disciplines. She has published articles on Spenser, Lucretius, Tasso, Petrarch, Montaigne and on postcolonial drama. She was awarded a Junior Fellowship at the Harvard Society of Fellows in 2007.