Sea Monsters (Minke Jonk)

Minke looked at the importance of sea monsters both in past culture and in our modern culture. Monsters occupy a liminal space that is alien and scary, but at
the same time occasionally benevolent. For example, in Olaus Magnus’ Carta Marina (1539), many different types of monsters are depicted: the Sea Orm is shown as a red serpent and represented approaching change (such as an assassination), while the Rockas is shown saving sailors who are drowning. One interesting point that was made is that the whirlpool that is depicted is a “real” danger still today, as that area of the sea is still today known for whirlpools. Minke showed the group different examples of sea monsters through time, such as a drawing of a fourteenth-century siren. She gave the group modern-day examples, such as the images conjured by Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem “The Kraken”, the movie 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and even Japanese Noodle commericials. She also gave examples of how descriptions of sea monsters can easily lead to the creation of terrifying images, especially during a time that science has not discovered the “real” animal (i.e., a description from 1673 of a squid). The question, “why do we want to believe in sea monsters?”, lead to an interesting discussion on the romance of the unknown.

‘From Sail to Steam: How Ship Technology Changed English Romaticism (Joel Found)

Joel’s presentation, gave examples of how Romanticism dealt with evolving naval technology. He took us through “Rime of the Ancyent Marinere” (1798) by poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, where we saw evidence of the Romantic Sublime and Coleridge’s ideas of humans’ place in nature. Coleridge depicts the transition from ships powered through the use of sails to the new ship technology that was being developed (such as steam powered ships). Coleridge depicted this transition as the demise of naval culture as he knew it. Created at a later date than “Rime of the Ancyent Marinere,” J.M.W. Turner’s paintings “The Fighting Temeraire” (1839) and “Snow Storm: Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth” (1842) are both in their own way an interesting contrast of beauty and utilitarianism. “The Fighting Temeraire” asks of its viewer some interesting questions about the feelings held by Turner towards this new technology, while “Snow Storm” debunks the idea that the new technology is stronger than nature. Finally, Joel brought us through a selection of shorter poems by Herman Melville: “The Portent” (1859), “The Temeraire” (1883), and “A Utilitarian View of the Monitor’s Fight” (1866). These poems show Melville’s mixed feelings towards the shift from sail to steam.

Maps, Medieval to Modern (Brenna Gibson)

Brenna gave a great presentation on maps, starting with the Hereford map from the 1300s, which centres around Jerusalem with England depicted bottom left. This map features lots of drawings of animals and people, and depicts Biblical events en mythological scenes. We also looked at the Gough map, which was drawn in the 14th or 15th century and depicts Great Britain on its side, with Scotland pointing to the left of the picture. We moved to late 15th century maps looking at Portolan charts. These charts featured sailing directions and would have been put to practical use. We also looked at a 16th century wind chart, which was accompanied by a poem and was designed to help sailors and navigators remember what direction the wind was blowing from. We also looked at a 18th century map of North America, which was based on army surveys and was pretty much factual, even though it does contain snippets of historical information. Finally we looked at a modern map of Antarctica created in the 1920s, which depicts the routes of British naval explorers.

We primarily discussed the older maps, especially the Hereford map and the Gough map. It was interesting to see how the focus of the Hereford map is not on England, even though it was created there. It was discussed how one’s world view is determined by maps – Europeans see the world with their home country as the main focus, whereas the American or Chinese world view is completely different. This is one of these things that you never really think about, until you think about them. We also discussed the Gough map and used the interactive map on the website, looking at the 14th century depiction of Southampton and the surrounding area. Joel also brought a literary map, printed by a company that was testing out new printing techniques and chose to print – among other literary maps – a map depicting the voyage of the Pequod in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.