From the Arctic to Oceania: Overseas Visitors in Early Modern Europe

Early modern Europe has been dubbed the “Age of Exploration” or the “Age of Discovery,” but exploration and discovery included people from the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Oceania visiting Europe, often for their own, usually diplomatic, purposes. Europeans brought others without their consent. Using written accounts and pictures—many of them portraits—we shall examine the processes, contexts, and cultural messaging contained in verbal and visual representations of these visitors. We shall pay particular attention to details of personal presentation including skin modification, hair styling, and clothing. Although many have interpreted such images as authentic depictions of regional dress, the clothes worn by the people in these pictures often suggest complex hybridities of foreign and European garments. Who decided what the people were to wear in these pictures? Can we infer that the clothing and comportment in these portraits accurately represents the sitters’ values? What kinds of self-representation were the sitters able to express? What role do clothes play in diplomacy? Do the values of the artist or patron responsible for a picture dominate or distort? How do such pictures relate to written accounts? Could such visits and their representations— written and visual—ever span cultural divides in the early stages of colonialism? 3 credits. Satisfies the geocultural or chronological requirement.