- 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
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.