Visual Representations of the Arctic
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Visual Representations of the Arctic

Imagining Shimmering Worlds in Culture, Literature and Politics

Markku Lehtimäki, Arja Rosenholm, Vlad Strukov, Markku Lehtimäki, Arja Rosenholm, Vlad Strukov

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  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Visual Representations of the Arctic

Imagining Shimmering Worlds in Culture, Literature and Politics

Markku Lehtimäki, Arja Rosenholm, Vlad Strukov, Markku Lehtimäki, Arja Rosenholm, Vlad Strukov

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About This Book

Privileging the visual as the main method of communication and meaning-making, this book responds critically to the worldwide discussion about the Arctic and the North, addressing the interrelated issues of climate change, ethics and geopolitics. A multi-disciplinary, multi-modal exploration of the Arctic, it supplies an original conceptualization of the Arctic as a visual world encompassing an array of representations, imaginings, and constructions. By examining a broad range of visual forms, media and forms such as art, film, graphic novels, maps, media, and photography, the book advances current debates about visual culture. The book enriches contemporary theories of the visual taking the Arctic as a spatial entity and also as a mode of exploring contemporary and historical visual practices, including imaginary constructions of the North. Original contributions include case studies from all the countries along the Arctic shore, with Russian material occupying a large section due to the country's impact on the region

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Information

Publisher
Routledge
Year
2021
ISBN
9781000366372
Edition
1

Part I

Visual Poetics and Historic Cartographies

1 Arctic Regions in Early Modern Maps

Maija Ojala-Fulwood
Until the mid-1550s the Arctic was an unknown place for most Europeans. Many people were familiar with arctic products, such as walrus hide, fur, and ivory, but for most the North − Ultima Thule − was more of a myth, a fantasy tale and a legend than a reality that was found on maps (Vaughan 1994, 35; Whitfield 1996, 28; Hayes 2003, 6). This was about to change, however, as the search for trade routes meant that explorers encroached closer to the icy seas and the illustrated travelogues of northern expeditions became best sellers of their time.
Definitions of the Arctic vary according to whether it is being studied in terms of its ecosystem, climate, geography or politics (Emmerson 2010; Howkings 2016). Adrian Howkings (2016, 10) has proposed that the Arctic can be understood as a multidimensional cultural construction in which nature and human culture, history and myth, as well as understandings of place and space, interact. Taking Howkings’s reading as a foundation, I will go one step further and suggest that this interaction culminates in maps. We are accustomed to maps that are accurate down to the smallest detail; that is, they show technically measured geographical features of the earth. For centuries, however, maps were based primarily on the visual observations and narratives of travellers. Mapmakers left unknown and unseen territories blank or filled them in with decorative and imaginary illustrations. The historian of cartography John Andrews (2009, 35) has argued that seeing is never just seeing. With this in mind, he includes habit, memory and anticipation. Thus, cultural contexts, current beliefs, and knowledge affect what we actually see and how we transform this seeing into a two-dimensional drawing. Consequently, historical maps not only reflect contemporary knowledge and experience, but also express beliefs about the surface of Earth and its inhabitants, humans and animals (cf. also Bagrow 1985/2009, 216). By analysing maps, it is therefore possible to examine past societies and their understandings of the world.
In this chapter, I will examine how the northern polar region and Arctic waters were depicted in early modern maps, particularly during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The maps are analysed in the context of visual culture and European expansion, which was characteristic of the period. With the help of three case studies, I will discuss how the polar region was visualised. I will focus on three aspects: the mythical Arctic, northern exploration and human-animal relations. My hypothesis is that these visualisations not only reflected the knowledge, experience and beliefs of contemporaries but also shaped them. This might have had long-lasting implications on how the Arctic region has been understood.

Renaissance Cartography and Expansionist Policies

Mapping was an integral part of the early modern European state-building process and colonialism. By mapping borders and new territories, European nations were able to impose power on peripheral regions, thereby playing a crucial role in European expansion. In newly established colonies, mapping was used to stake territorial claims regardless of the native indigenous people (Buisseret 2003; McCannon 2012, 77; Sutton 2015; Andrews 2009, 18). In the context of European expansion and early modern cartography, merchant fleets and navies played key roles. Several European countries, including England and Sweden, invested large sums in building navies. Yet, it was the trade-oriented Dutch who claimed hegemony in terms of overseas territory. In 1581, seven northern provinces in the Netherlands united into a confederation and declared independence from Spain. The cornerstone of the United Provinces of the Free Netherlands, or the Dutch Republic as it is commonly referred, was its combined merchant fleet and navy. Thanks to new shipbuilding technology, among other factors, the Dutch enjoyed the lion’s share of global marine freight traffic (Boxer 1965, 27; Israel 1989; Kirby and Hinkkanen 2000, 121; Prak 2005, 21).
The sixteenth century has been called the Dutch golden age because of the major economic, political, legal, social and cultural changes, such as the rise of early capitalism that occurred at this time in the Republic (Boxer 1965; Israel 1989; North 2001/2014; Prak 2005; de Vries and van der Woude 1997; Price 2011). The Dutch were leaders in the global trade, and it is therefore no coincidence that the Dutch were also the leading producers of marine maps at this time. Their merchant navy gathered new marine information, which was then visualised and depicted on maps. In addition to the merchant officers, highly skilled artisans were engaged in the mapmaking process. Moreover, the Dutch obtained outstanding production technology. Lively art markets and high demand fuelled mapmaking (Boxer 1965, 162; Alpers 1983; Ericsson 1988, 16; Whitfield 1996, 64–71; Kirby and Hinkkanen 2000, 61).
At the turn of the seventeenth century, visual arts, painting, drawing and printing enjoyed a boom in the Dutch Republic. Svetlana Alpers (1983, xxv) characterises early modern Dutch culture as being a visual culture, in which everything was pictured with the aim of describing what was seen and observed. Maps were an integral part of this visual culture. People from all classes bought maps in Dutch cities. However, it is known that rich burghers, or the merchants-politicians of the country, were particularly enthusiastic purchasers of maps, as they were especially engaged in overseas expansion, trade and nation building. According to contemporary travellers, everybody in Amsterdam had a map. Early modern Dutch maps undoubtedly represented the best knowledge of the world that was then available to a Western European (Boxer 1965, 165, 171; Alpers 1983; Zandvliet 1998, 294; Sutton 2015; Skurnik and Tunturi 20...

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