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Cosmopoesis: A Literary History of Mercator's Atlas

Mercator's famous 1595 Atlas names a new genre and 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? This talk explores the broader intellectual and cultural matrix in which the modern world atlas was born, revealing the intersections between medicine, geography, cosmology and metaphysics in the sixteenth century. At the same time, it explores how new digital technologies for comparing images such as maps might help sketch new histories of textual emergence and evolution across time.


Ramachandran is a literary critic and cultural historian of early modern Europe. her recent work focuses on Europe’s relations with an expanding world—her first book, The Worldmakers (University of Chicago Press, 2015) charts transnational encounters and the early mechanisms of globalization from the late fifteenth to the early eighteenth centuries. It was awarded the MLA’s Scaglione prize in Comparative Literary Studies (2017), the Milton Society of America’s Shawcross Prize for the best book chapter on Milton (2016), and the Sixteenth Century Studies Association’s Founder’s Prize for the best first book manuscript (2015). Though she work primarily with the English, French, and Italian literary traditions, her interests extend to Portuguese, Spanish and Neo-Latin materials; with the support of a Mellon New Directions Fellowship (2016), she hope to expand her work into Persian and early modern South Asia. In addition to literary and intellectual historical questions, she is interested in early modern maps (particularly world mapping), the history of science and technology, early modern empires, and the rich visual archive of illustrated books in the period). Her current book project, Lyric Thinking: Humanism, Selfhood, Modernity, argues for the central importance of lyric form and language in shaping new intellectual possibilities for the self in the early modern period and beyond. Moving from Petrarch to Descartes, while also considering their afterlives in modernist writing, it draws together scholarship on theories of mind, cognition and meditation with a complex literary history of lyric’s foundational encounters with other genres, particularly the epic.

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