Inventing Exoticism: Geography, Globalism, and Europe's Early Modern World

Inventing Exoticism: Geography, Globalism, and Europe's Early Modern World

Inventing Exoticism: Geography, Globalism, and Europe's Early Modern World

Inventing Exoticism: Geography, Globalism, and Europe's Early Modern World

Synopsis

As early modern Europe launched its multiple projects of global empire, it simultaneously embarked on an ambitious program of describing and picturing the world. The shapes and meanings of the extraordinary global images that emerged from this process form the subject of this highly original and richly textured study of cultural geography. Inventing Exoticism draws on a vast range of sources from history, literature, science, and art to describe the energetic and sustained international engagements that gave birth to our modern conceptions of exoticism and globalism.

Illustrated with more than two hundred images of engravings, paintings, ceramics, and more, Inventing Exoticism shows, in vivid example and persuasive detail, how Europeans came to see and understand the world at an especially critical juncture of imperial imagination. At the turn to the eighteenth century, European markets were flooded by books and artifacts that described or otherwise evoked non-European realms: histories and ethnographies of overseas kingdoms, travel narratives and decorative maps, lavishly produced tomes illustrating foreign flora and fauna, and numerous decorative objects in the styles of distant cultures. Inventing Exoticism meticulously analyzes these, while further identifying the particular role of the Dutch--"Carryers of the World," as Defoe famously called them--in the business of exotica. The form of early modern exoticism that sold so well, as this book shows, originated not with expansion-minded imperialists of London and Paris, but in the canny ateliers of Holland. By scrutinizing these materials from the perspectives of both producers and consumers--and paying close attention to processes of cultural mediation-- Inventing Exoticism interrogates traditional postcolonial theories of knowledge and power. It proposes a wholly revisionist understanding of geography in a pivotal age of expansion and offers a crucial historical perspective on our own global culture as it engages in a media-saturated world.

Excerpt

They arrive in pairs, single file, and snake around a large, central orb that rests on a pedestal, each couple bearing riches from afar: ivory tusks, tortoise shells, and a claw-footed casket from a tandem of muscular Africans; large rolls of tobacco and a finely decorated coffer borne by a feather-decked duo of Indians from America; a hefty ceramic urn (filled with frankincense or myrrh, one imagines) from the two Asian delegates who bring up the rear (figure 1). They deliver their wares to a lavishly attired, splendidly coiffed, daintily gesturing woman, who sits—stage left—surrounded by objects that mark her distinctive status: books, maps, compasses, and other specimens of both learning and imperial technology. She represents Europa, the allegorical embodiment of what used to pass under the banner of Christendom, and she now receives the marvelous gifts and gracious homages of the exotic world. This last is signified more literally and graphically—geographically—by the print’s central device, a plainly discernible terrestrial globe, which announces the oeuvre’s grandiose ambitions by way of its title: La galerie agreable du monde.

By the year of this global gallery’s opening in 1729, the conceit of a magisterial Europa receiving the treasures of the exotic world had grandly landed on the cover of what surely counts among the most stupendous published works of the early modern period. in fact, the Galerie agreable may rank among the most fabulous books ever printed, early modern or not, and its appearance marked the culmination of several decades of highly impressive publications and productions—of books, prints, and maps; of material objects, natural specimens, and foreign curiosities—in the terrain of exotic geography. the gallery’s impresario, Leiden printer extraordinaire Pieter van . . .

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