James Raven (University of Cambridge), “Monsters, Myths and Methods: A Global Book Biography and the Enlightenment Reception of Erik Pontoppidan’s The Natural History of Norway (1752-5).” In person event: History Dept conference room (formerly the Lower Library) on the ground/first floor, Robinson Hall, Harvard Yard. Sponsored by the Early Modern Workshop and Scandinavian Studies, Harvard.
Abstract : The publication of Erik Pontoppidan’s Natural History of Norway (1752-55 in different language editions) offers a unique, multi-dimensional subject for a ‘book biography’ tracing on a global scale the many facets and legacies of its materially and linguistically different forms of production and its intellectually varying popularity and reception across the world. My current research examines archival notes, reviews and annotated surviving copies, including those bought by Franklin's Library in Philadelphia, by the Maharajah of Tangore in India, and by scholars, writers, clerics and institutions in St Petersburg, Hesse, Kraków, Glasgow, Oxford, Westminster, Charleston and many dozen more. I am attempting to determine how Pontoppidan’s pioneering scientific and historical ‘verification’ methods were received, the part played by different languages, translations, typographies, engraved images and material book forms, and, as a result, why his observations of mermaids and mythic creatures gained credibility within Enlightenment natural science (even applauded a century later in Moby Dick).