Northrop Frye Centre Public Seminar Series

February 9, 2015 - 11:00 am

“Changeable Conditions: British Writing About the Weather, 1700-1795”

Speaker: Morgan Vanek
Location: NF113 (Northrop Frye Hall)

Writing for The Humourist in 1720, Thomas Gordon observed, with some anxiety, a “remarkable Sympathy between a human spirit and the Weather” that threatened to undermine both reason and ethics: “we cannot bear,” he declares, “to have our best Thoughts in Poetry…or our Speeches in the House of Commons [owing] to a cool Walk in the Garden.” Gordon’s anxiety was not uncommon among writers of the early eighteenth century – but by 1771, Tobias Smollett would tell a different story. In The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, “weather-beaten” bodies – bodies drenched with rain or shivering with cold – appear not to mark the limits of human agency, but rather to call the reader to action: these bodies, marked by bad weather, appear wherever Smollett’s protagonists identify a city or scene that could be governed more efficiently, often asserting his characters’ right to intervene to keep the most brutal effects of the weather under better control.

How, in the space of fifty years, did weather turn from a force that governs the mind and marks the body into a force that could be mitigated by more forward-thinking governance? How, during a period of massive imperial expansion, does this shift in thinking affirm the changing political and economic priorities of the British empire? Tracking the change in writing about the weather in the fifty years before the beginning of the Anthropocene (or the period in which the human species began to leave its indelible mark on the geological history of the planet), this lecture will explore how eighteenth-century writers leverage the threat of environmental influence at once to justify a British right to govern all over the world – and to establish the limited view of human agency that continues to underpin contemporary debate about the reality of anthropogenic climate change.  

Join us Monday, February 9th in NF113 at 11:00am for the conclusion of the Northrop Frye Centre Public Seminars series. Morgan Vanek works in Restoration and eighteenth-century British literature, early Canadian literature, and the cultural history of meteorological science.  

February 5, 2015 - 3:00pm

"It’s paper, paper, maps”: City Maps, Poetic Bodies"

Speaker: Joanne Leow
Location: VC206 (Old Vic)

How do we find our way around a city today? We live in a time dominated by city maps of all sorts from GPS to blueprints, and in the work of urban planners and property developers. These maps are so ubiquitous that they have become the dominant ways that we understand and experience space. But how do we really find our way around the city, negotiating the various layers of histories, memories, the present, and what may be in the process of becoming our future? This talk considers the role of the literary in the production of urban spaces. Reading texts from transnational cities like Singapore, Vancouver, and Toronto through the lens of spatial theory, we will consider how human sociality and complexity can intervene in the capitalist city. Literary readings will pair poems with condominiums, verses with architecture, and stanzas with ruins. How might literature alter the ways in which we dwell in space beyond maps? What might come from the poet Dionne Brand’s revelation that “It’s paper, /paper, maps. Maps that get wet and rinse out, in my hand /anyway”?

January 23, 2015 - 2:15 pm
“Geographies of Violence: Mapping homicide trends across time and space, Bologna, 1600-1700”

Speaker: Colin Rose
Location: NF113 (Northrop Frye Hall)

The recent rise of the “digital humanities” has led historians to develop new research tools and methods that incorporate computers’ ability to analyze, manipulate and display large quantities of data of varying types. Historians face a particular challenge among humanists: how do we preserve the core values of our discipline – preservation of documentary evidence, close cultural analysis of context and meaning, considerations of change over time – while exploiting the potential of new technologies to inspire new questions and spur innovative research solutions?

Mapping, as an activity that is already familiar to most historians, provides historians the best access to a fruitful relationship with the digital humanities. This talk argues that Geographic Information Systems, or GIS digital mapping, not only helps historians to visualize and present historical data, but also to analyze it, compare it, and, ultimately, to use it. Using the example of homicides in Bologna, Italy in the seventeenth century, Rose shows how Historical GIS can improve our understanding of social history by analyzing documentary evidence through geospatial and temporal cartography.