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3 MAY 2022

'Monsters, Myths and Methods': online presentation by James Raven, Wednesday 4th May

James Raven (Cambridge), ‘Monsters, Myths and Methods: Writing a Global Book Biography of Erik Pontoppidan’s Det første Forsøg paa Norges naturlige Historie (1752-3) [ The Natural History of Norway (1755)]’

  • Venue: Zoom (see below for details)
  • Start: Wed, 04 May 2022 16:00:00 BST
  • End: Wed, 04 May 2022 17:00:00 BST
Main image: Frontispiece of 1752 edition,


This presentation explores the possibilities and pitfalls of researching a book biography or life-cycle of a book, from its writing, printing and publication to its reception and legacy. The subject is Det første Forsøg paa Norges naturlige Historie by Bishop Erik Pontoppidan published in 1752-3. It was translated into German and published, also in Copenhagen, a year later. A year after that the work was translated into English and published in two grand folio volumes in London as The Natural History of Norway. The size and format of these richly illustrated editions vary greatly; they represent materially and linguistically different forms of production that were met with varying popularity and reception. The book was sought by institutions and readers all around the globe. By examining archival notes, reviews and annotated surviving copies, including those bought by Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia, by the Maharajah of Tangore in India, and by scholars, writers, clerics and institutions in St Petersburg, Hesse, Kraków, Glasgow, Oxford, Westminster, Charleston and many dozen more, we can determine how Pontoppidan’s pioneering scientific and historical ‘verification’ methods were received and the part played by different languages, translations, typographies, engraved images and material book forms. But there is also a significant twist to this history of writing, production, circulation and reception. Pontoppidan, for all his insistence on verifiability, included long sections on the sightings of kraken, or sea monsters, with notes on contemporary observations and images of the creatures (many drawn from earlier works on Scandinavian myth, such as Olaus Magnus, and repeated by great early modern naturalists). As a result, this book biography also investigates why his observations of mermaids and mythic creatures gained credibility within Enlightenment natural science (even applauded a century later in Moby Dick), and remembered, with direct reference to Pontoppidan, in reports of later sightings of sea monsters in newspapers, diaries and various publications in Ireland, Italy, the Unites States, India, Singapore, and many more besides.

Zoom details:

Topic: MEMS/Stationers 4: Global Book Biography

Time: May 4, 2022 04:00 PM London

Join Zoom Meeting:

Meeting ID: 870 5350 6632