European Encounters with the New World: From Renaissance to Romanticism

European Encounters with the New World: From Renaissance to Romanticism

by Anthony Pagden

For more than three centuries after Columbus's voyages to America, Europeans pondered how the Old World's encounters with the New World affected European sensibilities and intellectual horizons.

In this book Anthony Pagden examines some of the varied ways in which Europeans interpreted these encounters with America.

Pagden explores the strategies used by Columbus and the early chroniclers of America to describe a continent and its inhabitants so deeply unfamiliar to Europeans that they seemed hardly to be real.

Some, like the Prussian explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, declared that scientific understanding before the oceanic voyages had advanced by slow steps and that the encounter with America had invigorated Europeans to make new discoveries in many directions at once.

  • Language: English
  • Category: History
  • Rating: 3.61
  • Pages: 216
  • Publish Date: March 23rd 1994 by Yale University Press
  • Isbn10: 0300059507
  • Isbn13: 9780300059502

What People Think about "European Encounters with the New World: From Renaissance to Romanticism"

Pagden's book examines European interactions and conceptualizations of the New World from 1492 through the Romantic period, with a particular focus on the shift from the assumed commensurability of cultures in the time of Columbus to the assumed incommensurability of cultures in the time of Diderot and Alexander von Humbert. Pagden notes that the earliest writers about the New World particularly Columbus followed what he calls the principle of attachment. A ritual to discover gold in a stream was converted into traditional Catholic prayer and fasting; Columbus renamed most places he found after European lands or royalty; a priest observing the devotion of Amerindians to a god named Cemi assumed that Cemi was simply the local word for Lucifer; flora and fauna were immediately named and shoved into traditional European categories, even if they didnt particularly fit. Columbus thus becomes part of a new dialogue of modernity, in which he follows scientific progress instead of customary assumptions to make new discoveries about the world. Things were very far away from Columbus by this point, and Diderot went so far as to suggest that travel was dangerous and unwarranted, resulting only in a diluting of cultures and violent attempts at cultural assimilation.

If the knowledge of the Ancients had been so limited in this geographical respect who could know, asked Erasmus as early as 1517, in what other as yet undiscovered ways it might also turn out to have been in error? 89 Unlike Erasmus or Cardano, unlike even Condorcet, Humboldt was convinced that the discovery of America had multiplied the objects of knowledge and of mans contemplation to the point where he had been driven to adopt a new mental stance to cope with the new information now available to him. 113 America was new in both senses of the word: new in relation to geological and human time, and new in relationship to us, the European observers. Europeans can lie but The savages discourse, by contrast, is only about the true, the given, nature of the world. This marks a decisive stage in the history of the development of mans cognitive powers It marks the recognition that the natural world possesses an intelligible order governed by a body of immutable laws, that there exist qualities not immediately accessible to the senses, and that the same transparency which characterizes the relationship btween a concrete noun and a palpable object also characterizes the relationship between abstract nouns and Both Humboldt and Diderot had seen, in the sudden and massive increase in our knowledge of other worlds which the discovery of America had entailed, a significant change in the ways in which we respond to our own. For Humboldt, the exchange of the pace of wonder for the development of a unified scientific vision, a gaze which would slowly reveal the underlying analogy between all things, human as well as natural, had , in the long run, been an unalloyed benefit to man./For Diderot, by contrast, the discovery, settlement and colonization of America threated the possibility of further imaginative response to difference, threatened to reduce us all to the citizens of a single invariable culture. 167 We all do our own things in our own ways, and the things that we do are all different things./On this account, there can be no common cultures, no common beliefs or certainties which we can all claim to share by virtue of our common humanity.

He has been a free-lance translator and a publisher in Paris a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, Senior Research Fellow of the Warburg Institute (London), Professor of History at the European University Institute (Florence), University Reader in Intellectual History and Fellow of Kings College, Cambridge and the Harry C. His research has concentrated on the relationship between the peoples of Europe and its overseas settlements and those of the non-European world from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Ideologies of Empire in Britain, France and Spain (1995), Peoples and Empires (2001), La Ilustración y sus enemigos (2002), Worlds at War, The 2500 year struggle between East and West (2008), and, as editor, The Idea of Europe from Antiquity to the European Union (2002).