Fall 2019 HC 221H: Explore—Encounter—Exploit: Mediating Ancient and Modern Contact Zones

Fall 2019-2020

Professor: Marcel Brousseau

4.00 credits

  • CRN 12746: Tuesday & Thursday, 12:00 - 13:20 @ CON 203

Orbis novus (new world) and terra nova (new land) were among the Latin terms used to name the places European explorers encountered in the early modern era. These terms revealed more about the antiquated cultural expectations surrounding oceanic exploration than they did about the lands they described. The terms contact zones or borderlands would now be used to account for the ways in which the imaginations and knowledges of Western travelers were met by and juxtaposed with alternate imaginations and Indigenous knowledges that were as old and worldly as those of Europe. The aim of this course is to read these counterposed knowledges together—and thus to trace what Mary Louise Pratt calls the “interactive, improvisational…interlocking understandings and practices” that occur when cultures encounter one another.

We will read a series of texts from the ancient world to the present day, including epic, exploration chronicles, 19th- and 20th-century novels, maps, short stories, films, and video games. The texts represent specific contact zones, including Persia, Asia Minor, and the Mediterranean; New France; Virginia; the U.S.-Mexico borderlands; the colonial circuit of Europe and Africa; Louisiana; the Oregon Trail; the Grand Canyon; and the Moon. We will develop strategies for analyzing how the geographic locations and cultural orientations of certain texts complicate other texts. We will also examine ways in which cultural techniques establish and legitimize different relationships between people and land.

What is the difference between exploration and cultural trespass? How are literature and media used to negotiate with and/or critique and categorize other cultures? How do different cultures cross borders and interact within the shifting frames of antiquity, colonization, modernity, and globalization? How do peoples share knowledge and gain understanding of each other, and how do they exploit and misunderstand each other? How do social constructions such as race, class, patriarchy, and heteronormativity correlate to historic cultural encounters and what Pratt calls their “often…radically asymmetrical relations of power”? While we seek to answer these questions, students will also work to develop related questions about the world around them by embarking on a quarter-long “exploration dossier” project in which they will critically examine a contact zone of their choosing through research activities and creative and analytical writing tasks.