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Sample Short Essay Titles

You are welcome to adapt the seminar questions for use as essay titles, but please discuss your proposed title with Claudia or Rebecca before embarking on your essay. Here are some additional possibilities:

  • Did European exploration in the Americas alter the European understanding of the veracity of travellers’ tales?
  • Do you agree that Columbus ‘responded to the shock of the new by asserting all the time that it was not new’ (Abulafia)?
  • ‘The production of a sense of the marvellous in the New World is at the very center of virtually all of Columbus’s writings about his discoveries.’ (Greenblatt) Discuss.
  • ‘Very few of those who wrote about their experience of America did so in order to make sense of a new world.’ (Pagden) Discuss.
  • ‘We should move beyond the . . . question of whether an image reflects the actual appearance of the object . . . in order to examine the basic underlying principles that informed the composition of the drawings, to focus on the ideas of representation.’ (Myers) Apply this concept to an image or images of the new world.
  • ‘We can be certain only that European representations of the New World tell us something about the European practice of representation.’ (Greenblatt) Do you agree?
  • ‘The Plinian model, of a world rimmed with the magical and monstrous fragments of a divided self, has broken up on the waters of the Orinoco.’ (Campbell) Discuss this interpretation of the impact of the discovery of the new world on the European world view.
  • How helpful are our modern conceptions of disease for understanding reactions to new diseases in the 16th century?
  • What killed the Inca Huayna Capac and does it matter?
  • Renward Cysat of Lucerne commented in 1613 that the impact of seeing ‘Heathen, Turkish, Moorish, Canibal, Indian, Japanese things ex antipodibus and from the New World’ was so amazing that ‘one is thereof smitten and forgets to shut the mouth’. (Feest) Discuss European collection of new world artefacts in Wunderkammern.
  • What factors informed the collecting of new world plants and artefacts in 16th-century Europe?
  • What is the role of ‘experience’ in shaping European accounts of the Americas?
  • Discuss the comment by the Italian humanist Girolamo Fracastoro that ‘we have attained a whole world different from ours both in its peoples and even in its heavens where shine new stars’.
  • Can Thomas More’s Utopia be read as a response to the discovery of the new world?
  • How did the encounter with ‘actual pagans’ in the new world alter the European understanding of ancient Greece and Rome?
  • ‘America acts as a marginal gloss for the texts of Graeco-Roman literature.’ (Gerbi) Discuss.
  • ‘Their task, as they saw it, was not to describe a remote ‘otherness’, but to arrive at an evaluation of Indian behaviour which would eliminate that ‘otherness’.’ (Pagden) Discuss with reference to a specific European text on the Americas.
  • Discuss Antonio de Nebrija’s claim that ‘language has always been the companion of empire’. (Gramática de la lengua castellana, 1492)
  • ‘The Scientific Revolution did not start with Nicholas Copernicus and his heliocentric ideas, or with the publication of books by artisans and painters. . . It started in the 1520s, in Spain.’ (Antonio Barrera-Osorio) Discuss.
  • Was the impact on Europe of the discovery of the Americas ‘blunted’ and ‘uncertain’, as John Elliott has claimed?
  • ‘So many people in Europe cared about the knowledge produced from [the new world] because the Americas were tied up with the very birth of modern curiosity itself.’ (Parrish) Discuss.