Round Table Session 6
Voyages and exploration in the North Atlantic from the Middle Ages to the XVIIth Century
After the settlement of the North Atlantic Islands by the Norse, the Vinland sagas contain accounts of voyages to the mainland of North America in ca. the year 1000. These were the first known voyages of Europeans to America and after Columbus' historical voyage, exploration of the North Atlantic and the New World took off with the participation of almost all the major European states.
This session's theme covers a considerable time-span, most of the early modern period as well as the Middle Ages. A group of scholars mostly from the countries bordering on the North Atlantic have been invited to examine the following themes.
The role of fishing and whaling of various European peoples, such as the English, Dutch and Basque, greatly increased the knowledge of the geography of the North Atlantic, leading to further exploration. One focus will be on Svalbard's particular role in the early exploration of the Arctic regions, the argument being that Svalbard was an exception to the role of European expansion in the Arctic. Some contributors will discuss the search for the North-east Passage to India and China, while others will consider the search for the North-west Passage, the emphasis being on the many famous English explorers who undertook that mission.

Several of the contributors will be looking at the cartography of the region, how exploration continually improved the mapping of the North Atlantic, changing the image of the unknown and fearsome North Atlantic in the Middle Ages to the well-chartered North Atlantic at the end of the 17th century.

New archaeological evidence will figure in several papers as will memory as a historical tool. The enigma of the disappearance of the Norse Greenlanders will receive a fresh interpretation, the relationship between European people and their impact on indigenous people will be considered, for example Frobisher's experiences with the Inuit tradition. Was this unique?.
A fresh look will be taken at the itineraries of the early trans-Atlantic voyages. Did Zuan Caboto choose the old Norse route to Greenland or the more southern route, based on the bolder Renaissance vision? Did Cabot and Columbus have knowledge of the Vinland sagas? Is there a Bristol connection?

The role of nationalism, late-medieval nationalism as well as the 19th and 20th century version, in the invention of a tradition of European voyages of discovery, is another of the "fashionable" themes under discussion. Today there is great national pride in these many European explorers: Columbus, Leif the Lucky, Sir Walter Raleigh. This raises the interesting question of "heroes of history". Could exploration not succeed without men not only daring and skilled in seamanship but also awe-inspiring and self-seeking asks one of our experts. What kind of man was the explorer? Dauntless Viking, buccaneer or scientist? Was he interested in exploration for its own sake? Were they personally motivatated or were they simply sent as tools of private or public (royal) enterprises? We will have a chance to discuss the close connection between exploitation and exploration What was the rationale and experience behind for instance English investment in North America during the later centuries?

Finally the session will end by opening up the geographical perspective in a paper demonstrating how science (in this case botany) became increasingly integral to voyages of exploration in the 18th century and its importance in transforming some of the above-mentioned European nations into great colonial empires with interests far beyond the North Atlantic.