In the Media Laboratory of Earth – Concepts of Knowledge and Space in Historical Cave Maps (1500-1900)

Speaker: Johannes Mattes # Austrian Academy of Sciences

23rd Mar 2020

15:00 - 17:00

Violet Laidlaw Room, CMB, 6th Floor

As places of a specific mediality and polyvalent imagery, caves were of interest for scholars, travelers as well as artists. Serving as a bridge between different cultures of knowledge, the underground, its observation and documentation functioned as a projection screen for the visitor’s claims of interpretation and possession. For scholars as Jacques Gaffarel, Athanasius Kircher or Johann Weichard Valvasor, who dedicated specific attention to the subterranean world, the difference between nature and culture was not so clear as it seems today. – A fact, which became particularly obvious in case of natural caves expanded by humans during Greek or Roman times. In this context, caves can be also recognized as so-called “boundary objects” (Star & Griesemer), connecting different communities of practice and meanings of various constituencies. In particular, historical cave maps represent the contemporaries’ attempt to arrange and design the knowledge of the subterranean world as well as their inherent metadisciplinarity and aestheticism. Due to their specific format, repertoire of symbols and practices of survey, these plans can be identified as an own type of map, that should satisfy either scholarly, artistic or touristic needs. On the basis of a cultural-historical approach, the paper examines cave maps as a representation of a subterranean space, but in particular as a space of representation, where discourses on knowledge, architecture and the human body were visualized and various forms of scholarly cooperation were put in practice. The variety of maps, used for this study, includes both published and archive sources of scholars like Buondelmonti (1415), Leibniz (1749) or Buckland (1823) and belongs to caves in different parts of the world.

Johannes Mattes works at the Austran Academy of Sciences