CFP: Tracing Norumbega on Early Maps of the Americas. SOCIETY FOR THE HISTORY OF DISCOVERIES (PORTLAND, MAINE) SEPTEMBER 22-25,

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Dr. Lauren Beck
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Norumbega was a region situated between New England and Maritime Canada on early maps, deriving from Verrazano’s map of North America, c. 1529, on which it was spelled Oranbega. Three centuries later, sixteenth-century Norimbega had become “the unknown regions […or] all the vast territories around the gulf and river of St. Lawrence, with all its islands” (Botham Howitt, 9), and today it remains in some ways an enigma (Bradley, 101). The etymology for the term is unclear; while most scholars agree that it was named after places in Europe, some of its variants exhibit possible indigenous influences (Morison, 464; Baker 1994). Different versions of the toponym emerged during the sixteenth century, and one nineteenth-century scholar blamed the Spanish conversion of the letter W to V/B for the confusion about the term, which he argued stood for nothing other than Norway (Goldsmid, 11). As demonstrated by the sources cited in this description, authors and cartographers spelled the toponym differently, allowing the second vowel to be e/i/o/u, which complicates the search for its etymological significance.

Norumbega was conceptualized by some Europeans as an American analogue to Nuremberg, not unlike Tenochtitlán which some explorers conceived of as an early version of Venice; the toponym was also conflated with tales of Norwegian discovery (Seaver 1998: 42, 2010: 215-218). Indeed, Norōbega and Norvmbega were as much cities with their own chorographic vignettes as regions on the Typus orbis terrarum (Ortelius, 1570) and Cornelius Wyfliet’s 1597 map titled “Norvmbega et Virginia”. Whether indicating a German or Norwegian presence in the area, or as an analogous space intended to convey certain cultural and climactic characteristics to readers in Europe, Norumbega embodies the fantasies, as much as the geo-political importance, anchored to a place, and European hopes of colonization.

Papers are sought for a session dedicated to the exploration of Norumbega, and papers treating the following topics are particularly welcomed: discovering Norumbega in map and text; Norumbega in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries; recently-discovered, unpublished resources about Norumbega; and perspectives from modern historians. Please send a 300-word proposal discussing the scope of the paper and commenting its originality, title, and a short CV to Dr. Lauren Beck by March 1st, 2011. All accepted proposals will be considered for publication.

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