Call for Papers | The Cultural Ramifications of Water, 1650–1850

Posted in Calls for Papers by Editor on April 25, 2022

From the Call for Papers:

The Cultural Ramifications of Water in Early Modern Texts and Images, 1650–1850
A special issue of 1650–1850: Ideas, Aesthetics, and Inquiries in the Early Modern Era
Edited by Leigh G. Dillard and Christina Ionescu

Proposals due by 15 May 2022

This special issue offers a fresh, wide-ranging perspective on the agency of water in relation to knowledge, innovation, and individual or collective identity by investigating parallel and interconnected visual and/or textual representations of this fundamental element in the early modern period. We currently seek two more contributions to complete this issue that evolved from a series of panels at the 2021 virtual conference of the International Association of Word and Image Studies.

A number of bestselling novels of the early modern period include key episodes in which water—whether in the form of oceans, seas, ponds, lakes, torrents, springs, rivulets, falls, wells, or fountains—plays a crucial symbolic role, variously expressing the passions embodied by ‘nature’ or more cultivated versions of this dangerous element. Charged with significance and symbolism, these representations of water are sometimes used as a backdrop or setting to the main action, but at other times, they represent an active agent in the human dramas that unfold when characters interact with this element in its materiality and that interaction unexpectedly alters the course of their lives in consequential ways. The results are often deeply poignant—drowning, shipwreck, trauma, flooding, etc.—but they can also be positively transformative—self-discovery, spiritual healing, physical nourishment, even fulfilment, etc. Within fictional realms, water acts, moreover, as a marker of identity and place in literary cartographies, triggers vital memories and meanings, surreptitiously encodes libertine thoughts, and simultaneously separates and unifies peoples, countries, and continents. In early modern literary illustration, water is equally omnipresent, and its representation is endowed with a degree of complexity that invites a closer look from an interdisciplinary perspective.

As humans grappled with mechanisation and modernisation in the Age of the Industrial Revolution, water emerged from the background to become a key element in scientific and technical illustration. Technological innovations relying on the use of water, such as the stationary steam engine and the spinning frame, were prominently displayed and meticulously explained in encyclopedias, periodicals, and specialised treatises. Through empirical observation, both professional and amateur scientists lavished attention on natural phenomena such as geysers, waterfalls, and stalagmites and stalactites, often documenting their findings not only by conventional textual means but also inventive pictorial ones. At a time when the lack of water facilitated the spread of death and disease in overcrowded cities such as Hogarth’s London, bathing in thermal pools or exposure to seawater, which were strongly advocated in medical literature, were perceived by the wealthy as beneficial to health and healing. Prints depicting the age-old cult of water, watering-places, and structures designed to contain or manipulate the flow of water proliferated throughout Europe.

For this special issue of 1650–1850: Ideas, Aesthetics, and Inquiries in the Early Modern Era, we invite proposals engaging with texts and images that shed light on the cultural ramifications of water during this important timeframe. In particular, we are interested in the way in which images visually interpret and subtly challenge the sophisticated textual dynamics between nature and culture or investigate the multiple configurations of water. Examples of verbal and visual engagements with water and its materiality during this transformative historical period may be selected from a diverse range of fields, including angling, architecture, art, botany, garden design, geology, horticulture, hydraulics, literature, natural history, medicine, and print culture. Papers addressing word and image interaction through the following topics are particularly welcome: architecture and landscape designs as a nexus of space, place, identity, and water; connections through water between humans and the environment; and water as a healing agent, source of life, and force of nature. Proposals that engage with the topic diachronically and transnationally would enhance this special issue. Please send proposal to Leigh G. Dillard (leigh.dillard@ung.edu) and Christina Ionescu (cionescu@mta.ca) by May 15, 2022.

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