The flood, the ark, & the shark: narrating the natural world in early modern Europe
Revisiting the academic discourse around the long-term impact of early modern Europe’s shifting ecological attitudes, this project resuscitates the critical premise of “nature as performance” and proposes a revitalized, interdisciplinary methodology for approaching textual and visual mediations of the natural world. Through a lens of “rustick horrour” then, this project looks at how 16th- and 17th-century Europe recasts the natural world in heightened, performative terms and narrates nature as monstrous and horrifying. As a focal point, this project applies rustick horrour to early modern figurations of “the Flood” and “the Ark” from the Biblical Genesis narrative and unpacks their roles in natural history treatises, maps, atlases, botanical catalogs, zoological atlases, almanacs, paintings, epic poetry, and travel journals. The “Flood,” as this project identifies, serves as scientific keystone in cultural imaginings of the Earth’s history for several centuries. However, with the advent of transatlantic exploration at the end of the 15th century and subsequent booms in scientific study of the natural world across the next two centuries, the veracity of “the Flood” weakens and becomes dislodged from its keystone position, causing a rupture in knowledge that ripples through early modern culture. This project reads the loss of the “Flood” from understandings of the natural world as an epistemic apocalypse, and through a lens of rustick horrour, this project explores how the destabilization of this ur-horror narrative triggers widespread anxiety about the overwhelming, inundating power of nature and sparks a centuries-long, intensive “Ark” re-ordering of natural world knowledge, which this project reads as performative, violent, and monstrous in its own right. Additionally, this project also applies rustick horrour to early modern mediations of sharks, reads them as creature counterparts to figurations of “the Flood” and “the Ark,” and explores their role within the shifting dynamics of natural world “apex power” in 16th- and 17th-century Europe.