Maps of newly conquered territories are poignant examples of ‘contact zones’ (in the sense given to the term by Mary Louise Pratt) where competing legitimacies and legacies “meet, clash, and grapple [in] highly asymmetrical relations of power” (M. L. Pratt, “Arts of the Contact Zone”, p. 34). Partly changed toponyms, dotted borders, doublings of localities, conquerors’ coats of arms or propaganda vignettes are some of the most commonly found materializations of this phenomenon on early modern maps, bearing testimony to the victors’ version of history engaging with or engaged by the counterhistories of actually or allegedly conquered populations.
In this presentation, I offer to explore some of the ways in which these maps of conquest can be mined for information on the perspective of the would-be destroyed adversaries and the traces they leave behind. The examples on which I will base my analysis are derived from the first experience of major English overseas explorations in mid-16th century, as their venture for a north-east passage to China took them to the Russia of Ivan IV. Journeying down the Volga in their enterprises of diplomacy and trade towards the Caspian Sea and Central Asia, the agents of the English Muscovy Company found themselves in the midst of the Tsar’s empire-building projects at the expense of the Tatar populations forcibly assimilated or displaced out of the newly conquered khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan. Reporting as the observing third party from that unstable frontier zone, the English in their textual and visual testimonies record as their main narrative the conquering perspective of the Muscovites methodically razing wooden Tatar towns and mosques to build Russian-style kremlins and churches, while traces of the past are visible at every bend of the river and dutifully noted by them as well.
As archives of both geographical and historical margins of the Muscovite-Tatar interactions, the English agents’ travel narratives and their accompanying maps of the Volga area offer, I will argue, both a fascinating case study of resistance to obliteration, and elements of method for addressing the superimposition of maps and countermaps within a same corpus.
Prof. Ladan NIAYESH
Department of English and American Studies
Université Paris Cité
Ladan NIAYESH is Professor of early modern English studies at Université Paris Cité and a member of the LARCA research centre (UMR 8225, CNRS). Her research focuses on 16th- and 17th-century travel writing and travel drama, especially to Muscovy and Persia. Some of her past publications include Three Romances of Eastern Conquest (MUP, 2018) and the collective Eastern Resonances (Routledge, 2019). Among various current projects, she coedits a collective volume on Writing Distant Travels and Linguistic Otherness in Early Modern England, to be published by Brepols in 2023.
ZOOM Meeting ID: 990 8868 4183
Meeting link: https://cuhk.zoom.us/j/99088684183