May 5th: Litshop presents, Mary Fuller "Reading at scale: Richard Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations of the English Nation (1598-1600)"

Published on: April 28, 2022
Litshop Presents,

Reading at scale: Richard Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations of the English Nation (1598-1600)

Speaker: Mary Fuller
Professor, Literature Section at MIT

When: Thursday, May 5th @ 5:15pm (ET)
Where: In-person

Hayden Library Nexus Space
Abstract: Books made up of other books pose particular challenges of method for textual scholars: what is the nature of their authorship? how do we “read” sometimes silent editorial gestures of selection, organization, and framing? Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations adds the challenge of scale: a 2000 page compilation in three folio volumes, it includes hundreds of discrete sources on the history of English  maritime expansion and overseas trade.  Over time, Hakluyt’s book has served both practical and ideological aims, and the monumental status of the work has invited generalizing claims even as its massive size has challenged detailed engagement with its contents. At the same time, the politics and interests of particular moments have skewed attention towards some parts of the compilation and away from others. My own study of Hakluyt’s book works from individual documents and voyages up through local systems of organization and selection to the scale of the volume and the work as a whole. Drawing on scholarship in areas as varied as naval history, West African trade, the North Atlantic fishery, and the sixteenth century revival of Anglo-Saxon studies, I’ve tried to produce a rounded understanding of the histories of action, writing, collecting and argument that this work embeds. Principal Navigations remains a vital source for otherwise sparsely documented histories, a unique witness to print and manuscript sources that no longer survive, and a pivotal agent in fostering, as well as recording, developments whose consequences have been global and persisting. If this history matters — and it does — we need to understand it at the level of details and systems both.