HomeUses of Geographical Compilations and Collections: Readings, Translations, and Reuses (16th-18th Centuries)

HomeUses of Geographical Compilations and Collections: Readings, Translations, and Reuses (16th-18th Centuries)

Uses of Geographical Compilations and Collections: Readings, Translations, and Reuses (16th-18th Centuries)

Des usages des compilations et recueils géographiques : lectures, traductions, réemplois (XVIe-XVIIIe siècle)

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Published on Wednesday, May 19, 2021 by Céline Guilleux


À l’époque moderne, bien des récits de voyages et discours géographiques se présentaient sous la forme de compilations imprimées ou de recueils composites. Cette journée d’étude vise à réinterroger ces objets à la lumière des projets éditoriaux affichés par les compilateurs d’une part et d’autre part des formes d’appropriations de ces recueils par d’autres acteurs. Il s’agit aussi en cela de contribuer à la réflexion actuelle sur les usages contextualisés de l’imprimé et de l’écrit.



In the early modern period, numerous travel memoirs and geographical texts assumed the form of printed compilations or composite collections. For a long time, only bibliophiles and book collectors, in their search for the “complete” collections, considered such texts as having true unity; Boucher de La Richarderie (1808), who put together a bibliography that is authoritative to this day, is a case in point. Such collections were often used as a way to find precise texts from such and such traveller or chronicler, without taking into account the book in which the texts featured, qua book. The collections in question have also been read as evidence of a culture of European mobility, those texts testifying to the diversity of the places visited by travellers as well as to the magnitude of such visits. Our conference aims at shedding new light on these objects through a re-examination both of the editorial projects as displayed by the compilers themselves in their works, and of the ways in which these collections were appropriated by other actors. Through this we also wish to contribute to the ongoing reflection on the uses of the print and writing in their historical contexts.

New attention has recently been devoted to composite works (“reference books,” miscellanea, anthologies, and collections) and the actors who stand behind them. This has enabled scholars better to grasp the intellectual projects corresponding to the main early-modern compilations. The reasons for resorting to the genre of the compilation are manifold – sometimes such a choice was linked to the necessity of gathering heterogeneous material (Trevisan 1504, Thévenot 1663-1696), sometimes to that of grouping various texts dealing with one given area (Manuzio 1543, De Bry 1590-1602 and 1597). In other cases, the aim was to collect a variety of sources capable of delivering an updated vision of the world (Ramusio 1550-1559), or to make a selection based on an agenda of national celebration (Hakluyt 1588-1589 and 1598-1600, Purchas 1625-1626). Other compilers worked at translating and amplifying the works of previous authors (abbé Prévost 1735-1749). In any case, the choice of the compilation form can be accounted for in terms of a new relationship to the world, in the framework of which the experience of the earth through travels calls for a discourse both unitary and multiple. This is due to the fact that, after the Renaissance, any attempt at describing the oecumene could not but take up a polyphonic form. Whereas the compilers’ editorial work (selection, translation, arrangement, paratexts) is now at the heart of scholars’ preoccupations, the uses of the book made both by compilers and other players in the field remains a pending question. How did compilers gain access to ancient and modern manuscripts? What kind of interaction was there between compilers and travellers? How much of a say, if any at all, did the latter have in the overall project?

The existence of collections and compilations in the form of printed books cannot be accounted for by looking at field geographers and cabinet geographers only. Other actors (printers, engravers, cartographers, and informers) participate in the process of making such an end product as the travel collection. Some of these collections were costly to produce and, in all likelihood, required the protection of patrons, or else implied resorting to subscriptions. Through censorial institutions, political and religious authorities approved, encouraged, or tolerated these publications. Finally, networks of erudite correspondents, alongside scholarly periodicals, insured that these works be known to the learned public while, as the same time, providing guidance on how they were read. To what extent were the compilation projects shaped by all these social investments surrounding the books? How did they resist or adapt to such investments? How did the initial project change along the long process of the book’s elaboration? What exactly do we know about this voice who took the liberty to comment on other people’s travels? Similarly, studying artificial collections (volumes designed and bound by book collectors) or handwritten compilations might serve as a corrective to our print-centred perception of the field. Which links were there between bibliophilic practices and publication practices?

While the compilers were building what for them amounted to an ideal geographical library, reading practices could sometimes thwart such a project. In theory, the reader could browse through the collection in order to look for images, read such and such part with a particular idea in mind, or read the book in full. Because of this, it can be said that geographical compilations were handled by various actors all involved in the field of knowledge building – cartographers, illustrators, as well as scholars could find in these books material for their own production. What is more, these collections came to be considered as reference works in increasingly wider areas of knowledge, well beyond the domain of geography; in fact they served as source for naturalist knowledge, political and juridical theory, even philosophy. Albeit difficult to document, such a history of reading is nevertheless possible thanks to the fact that our compilers worked themselves as “poachers” of sorts. We will devote particular attention to reuses of previously-published texts, to translations, and to various facets of the integration of texts into collections: such integration not only reflects editorial choices, but also bears the traces of previous readings of the same texts. When the collection aimed at giving an account of the world in its totality, which image of the world could be conveyed by texts that had been rearranged by the compiler, or that were then reworked by others? This kind of circulation of geographical texts can be looked at from a transnational vantage point; compilers, by translating excerpts from earlier compilations written in a different language, intended to place themselves in the filiation of those earlier works. In the context of nascent colonial empires, should these appropriations be understood as reflecting rivalries between European powers vying with each other for domination over faraway, overseas territories? And, consequently, should these appropriations be read as a way for compilers to take part in such competition through an extension of imperial conflicts to the realm of writing? Or was theirs a more strictly scholarly activity primarily driven by inquisitiveness about the world and anxious to make findings on faraway horizons available to lovers of exoticism?

Suggested Topics

Reading/Making Geographical Compilations: Actors and Practices

  • How did compilers read other compilations? How does one cite a compilation? Does one read the texts compiled as separate pieces, the paratexts, or rather the compilation as a work in itself? What kind of filiation patterns can be traced between various compilations of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries? Should one think of the links between these compilations as of filiation, of models, or of appropriations?
  • Are there tangible traces of the readings that were made of geographical compilations and collections? How were compilations commercialised, sold, and preserved? Who owned these collections, in what way and form? What are the historically-specific bibliophilic practices linked to these compilations?
  • Who are the various actors who participated in the process of making and circulating printed compilations?

Reuses and Republications

  • Why does one reuse texts, illustrations, or maps? Where does this material come from? How did the compilers gain access to it? Does it serve the intellectual project of the collection as a whole?
  • Are such reuses simply republications of documents which were no longer accessible? Are they partial, total, or expanded? In the case of republished compilations, can an effort at updating them be traced, reflecting the evolution of knowledge in the field?

Translating: From One Compilation to the Other, From One Language to the Other

  • Why do compilers translate texts that have already appeared in other languages? Should this be understood as a process of classicisation of such and such travel account that has become indispensable thanks to its intrinsic qualities? Or was the translation of any individual text always made in the perspective of serving the overarching project of the collection?
  • What are the political aspects attached to the translation of foreign documents? How were those texts translated, commented upon, expanded, and qualified?
  • How does the process of translating a compilation affect the structure and arrangement of the material of which the composite book is made?p

Compilations and Knowledge Building

  • Which uses were made of geographical compilations in the domain of cartography, and in knowledge building in general, including in other fields – natural history, political theory, law, philosophy, etc.?
  • Does the use of a compilation as a source of knowledge stimulate the adoption of a comparative perspective?
  • Compilations and collections: What role do compilations play in the elaboration or completion of collections? Do they at times repeat already-constituted collections of objects and samples?

Submission guidelines

The conference will be held in Paris on 5 and 6 May 2022.

We suggest participants present case studies corresponding to the proposed themes. Papers can be either in English or in French. Please send an abstract (max. 300 words) to the following address: compilations.geographiques@gmail.com

by 30 June 2021.

Organization committee

  • Oury Goldman (EHESS, Centre Koyré)
  • Fiona Lejosne (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris III, Triangle UMR5206)
  • Maxime Martignon (Université Paris Nanterre, Mémo)

Scientific committee

  • Louise Bénat-Tachot (Sorbonne Université)
  • Jean-Marc Besse (EHESS)
  • Catherine Hofmann (BnF)
  • Frank Lestringant (Sorbonne Université)
  • Ladan Niayesh (Université de Paris)
  • Nicolas Schapira (Nanterre)
  • Michiel van Groesen (Universiteit Leiden)

Reading Suggestions

* Carey, Daniel, and Claire Jowitt (eds.), Richard Hakluyt and Travel Writing in Early Modern Europe, Farnham-Burlington: Ashgate, 2012.

* Chartier, Roger, “Textes sans frontières,” in: La main de l’auteur et l’esprit de l’imprimeur : XVIe-XVIIIe siècle, Paris: Gallimard, 2015.

* Dew, Nicholas, “Reading Travels in the Culture of Curiosity: Thévenot’s Collection of Voyages,” Journal of Early Modern History 10-1/2, 2006, pp. 39-59.

* Groesen, Michiel van, The Representations of the Overseas World in the De Bry Collection of Voyages (1590-1634), Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2008.

* Holtz, Grégoire, “Les récits de voyage du XVIe lus au XVIIIe siècle : Vente, collection et recomposition des imprimés géographiques,” Revue française d'histoire du livre 137, 2016, pp. 135-51.

* Lestringant, Frank, L’Atelier du cosmographe ou l’image du monde à la Renaissance, Paris: Albin Michel, 1991.

* Mancall, Peter C. (ed.), Bringing the World to Early Modern Europe: Travel Accounts and Their Audiences, Leyden: Brill, 2007.

* Morinet, Mathilde, “« Publier les curieuses découvertes » : l’entreprise éditoriale de Melchisédech Thévenot dans ses Relations de divers voyages curieux (1663-1672),” Pratiques et formes littéraires 17 [Online], December 2020. URL: https://publications-prairial.fr/pratiques-et-formes-litteraires/index.php?id=223

* Pirillo, Diego, “Voyagers and Translators in Elizabethan England: Richard Hakluyt, John Florio, and Renaissance Travel Collections,” in Alison Yarrington, Stefano Villani, and Julia Kelly (eds.), Travels and Translations: Anglo-Italian Cultural Transactions, Amsterdam-New York: Rodopi, 2013, pp. 27-43.

* Roche, Daniel, Humeurs vagabondes : de la circulation des hommes et de l’utilité des voyages, Paris: Fayard, 2003.

* Schmidt, Benjamin, Inventing Exoticism: Geography, Globalism, and Europe’s Early Modern World, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015.

* Sherman, William H., “Bringing the World to England: The Politics of Translation in the Age of Hakluyt,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 14, 2014, pp. 199-208.

* Voigt, Lisa and Elio Brancaforte, “The Travelling Illustrations of Sixteenth-Century Travel Narratives,” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 129-3, 2014, pp. 365-98.


  • Paris, France (75)


  • Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Information source

  • Maxime Martignon
    courriel : compilations [dot] geographiques [at] gmail [dot] com

To cite this announcement

« Uses of Geographical Compilations and Collections: Readings, Translations, and Reuses (16th-18th Centuries) », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, May 19, 2021, https://calenda.org/877405

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