ACLA 2016: CFP Hemispheric Approaches to Literature and Cartography in the Americas

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    Giovanna Montenegro

    Please consider submitting your paper to this seminar proposed for the American Comparative Literature Association Conference from March 17-20, 2016 at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA.

    Organizer: Giovanna Montenegro, Binghamton University

    Co-Organizer: Adriana Méndez Rodenas, University of Iowa

    The use and interest in cartography by literary scholars and other non-geographers has exploded in recent years since David Woodward and J. B. Harley’s publication of the History of Cartography project. Likewise, literary scholars have been working with fictional and real topoi amidst advances in GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and the everyday use of Google Maps that suggest new ways of reading maps and space in the literature of the Americas.

    Literature and mapping have been intertwined in many works of authors of the Americas who aim to “read” colonized spaces within the continent. The geographic and literary origins of places extend to the fantastical toponyms such as the name of California, stemming from Queen Califia’s fictional paradise in The Adventures of Esplandián.  Chronicle authors during the time of conquest and exploration of the Americas mapped their respective journeys through word and image.  From Columbus’ Diario, the first inaugural text mapping the circum-Caribbean, to later explorers such as Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo in his maps of Nicaragua and Venezuela, the chronicles of conquest read as the first spatial configurations of previously unexplored American territory.

    Over the long nineteenth-century, scientific explorers, primarily Humboldt and Bonpland’s five-year odyssey, continued the tradition of hemispheric travel, combining scientific description with obsessive re-mappings of the interior of the continent and its coastal borders, what became the basis of national frontiers after Independence, thus ushering Latin America into modernity.

    Moving to the twentieth-century, Latin American “regional” narrative explored the geography of jungle and forest through fiction, drawing imaginary maps as seen in Horacio Quiroga’s Amazonian jungle stories.  Into the mid-twentieth century, major Latin American  novelists like Alejo Carpentier and Gabriel García Márquez create imaginative geographies in totalizing fictions meant to span either the entire continent (Cien años de soledad) or untrod regions (the jungle in Los pasos perdidos; the Caribbean in El Siglo de las luces). A similar cartographic impulse emerges in late twentieth-century fictions, such as Antonio Benitez Rojo’s El mar de las lentejas and other historical works which reshuffle chronicles of conquest, scientific and commercial explorations, and the Humboldtian “personal narrative” from a post-modern point of view.

    Hemispheric approaches to literature and cartography in Latin America cross borders as Latino/a fiction, Francophone, and African-American narrative address the need to map and remap familiar territories in an effort to forge new cultural identities. A minor list of works include Gloria Anzaldúa’s revision of existing political geographies in Borderlands/La Frontera; Patrick Chamoiseau’s depiction of  local story-tellers and insular culture in Solibo magnifique; Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Edwidge Dandicat’s The Farming of Bones, works that depict the geography of oppression and freedom that the institution of slavery created across rivers.

    These works suggest new ways of imagining and representing the environment and spaces of freedom/oppression, utopia/dystopias, margins/centers within the rich literature of the Americas. This seminar ponders questions such as: How does literature use geography to “place”their works? How does cartography simultaneously work with text and image to present us with imagined and real spaces? How do authors engage in a longitudinal/transverse concept of an American continent? How does the geographic singularity of islands and archipelagos affect their relationship with the mainlands? How do utopias shape the reading of “virgin”American lands? In this way, the seminar addresses concerns over reinvented indigenous, political, creole, domestic, pastoral, and wild spaces as maps and literature aim to read and decipher them across historical periods and national borders.

    Submit a paper abstract by Midnight PST on Wednesday September 23, 2015 by logging in at the ACLA website. The ACLA portal accepts paper proposals that are no longer than 1500 characters with spaces (about 250 words). Go to


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