Anticipations and aerostatic warfare

From Napoleon’s invasion of Great Britain to the global conflict of the year 1937. A new future-wars series – 1 / 3

It is 1803, on the English coast in front of the Channel, crowds of people are beginning to gather. Looking up, someone points to the silhouette of a large flying object in the distance. New dark dots appear on the horizon as the first one approaches. With horror, the spectators gradually make out a gigantic balloon with a mushroom-like profile. In the huge gondola fixed under the balloon there are dozens, hundreds of men, even horses. The high-altitude wind stirs the French tricolour: Napoleon’s armies have come to invade England, carried by the largest balloons ever built by human hands.

Argaud de Barges, La Thiloriere ou Déscente en Angleterre, “Projet d’une Montgolfiere capable d’enlever 3,000 Hommes et qui ne coutera que 300,000 Francs on y suspendra une lampe qui présentera une nappe de flamme suffisante pour empêcher le refroidissement. Extrait du Publiciste du Jeudi 13 Prairial de l’An XI”, Paris, Chez Boulard, 1803, detail. Copy at Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris, via Gallica. Work in the public domain, no restrictions on the use of reproduction in scientific publications.

We look away and find ourselves safe and sound at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, where we are admiring an etching by Jean Louis Argaud de Barges (1768-1808),[1] printed in the Prairial month of year XI of the French Republic (June 1803) (Figure above).[2]

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Anticipation and Satire in 1778 London

The Future Tense of War

@ ISECS International Seminars for early career scholars / SOG18
War Times in the 18th century: Perceptions and Memories, September 25-30, 2022, Schloss Seggau/Leibnitz (Austria)

A view of the House of Peers, the King sitting on the throne, the Commons attending him
J. Lodge, in The gentleman’s magazine, 1769. Yale, Horace Walpole Library.

On 23 November 1778 an account of a heated parliamentary debate on recent developments in the American War of Independence was printed in London, discussing the turning point that had transformed the conflict between the colonies and the mother country into a Euro-Atlantic confrontation with the signing of the Franco-American treaties.

The pamphlet followed the editorial custom, common in the British capital notwithstanding the restrictions in place, of committing to paper the sessions of Parliament. This report, however, had one peculiarity: it reported a session that had yet to take place.

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Geographies of Time

Geographies of Time: HD cover
Giulia Iannuzzi, Geografie del tempo. Viaggiatori europei tra i popoli nativi nel Nord America del Settecento (Rome: Viella, 2022), 324 pp. ISBN 9788833139968.


Titled Geographies of Time: European travellers and indigenous peoples in eighteenth-century North America, this book investigates the consequences that contact with the indigenous peoples of North America had on the idea of historical time in the eighteenth-century European mind. Against the backdrop of the historiography devoted to the theories of progress with which the culture of the Old World hypostatised in the societies of the globe different stages in the development of humanity, the primary corpus of this study consists of travel accounts, reports, and treatises based on direct observation. The purpose of this choice is to add, to the attention enjoyed by historical-philosophical and erudite thought and writing, the complementary exploration of the cultural uses of given ideas of time in the context of the encounter with North American human otherness. This perspective allows us to focus on and problematise the interplay that representations based on first-hand experiences reveal between pre-existing cultural palimpsest and empirical validation of knowledge. The identification of a humanity perceived as different from oneself with one’s own ancestors has been a common trope since the early modern age – between conceptual domestication of a radical difference, geographical projections of a golden age, and stratification of textual and figurative conventions.

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Dialing in Early Seventeenth-Century Europe

Early-modern luxury timekeeping

An ivory diptych dial made soli deo gloria by Paulus Reinman (active 1575-1609), in Nuremberg around 1602, at the time an important centre of manufacturing specialised in scientific instruments, including sundials such as this one.

This sundial is part of a remarkable Italian collection of objects for measuring and representing time, at the Poldi Pezzoli Museum in Milan. Photo by Geographies of Time, all rights reserved.

Pocket dials, formed by two leaves that fold flat when not in use with a string between the inner surfaces casting a shadow, were used to tell the time and, among other things, to regulate mechanical clocks, whose rapid technical development had by no means caused the abandonment of gnomon-based methods.

This dial worked at a multitude of latitudes, between Danzig and Sicily, listed on the vertical leaf. The finely decorated details and the very use of ivory for a secular luxury object indicate how it was intended for a wealthy clientele. The possibility of using it in a number of different places points to a potential user who was cosmopolitan in his or her interests, perhaps a noble with a refined aesthetic palate and friendships in various courts and cities of Europe, or perhaps a wealthy merchant with trades and interests around the Mediterranean, eager to show off his economic possibilities by surrounding himself with expensive objects.

The dial, around 11.5 x 9 cm, was to be oriented to the north by means of the compass encapsulated into the base. The string that served as gnomon had one end fixed immediately above the compass, while the other was inserted in one of six numbered holes on the vertical leaf to obtain different angles that made it usable at six different latitudes: the time was read by the shadow projected on one of the six rings on the horizontal surface. The list of cities on the vertical face indicates, for each place, the number corresponding to the hole to be used (54, 51, 48, 45, 42 and 39˚ N).

Ivory diptych dial by Paulus Reinman, detail. Photo by Geographies of Time, all rights reserved.

But this small object incorporated a remarkable plurality of functions. On the horizontal leaf the concave area with a fixed vertical pin is another sundial indicating the hour in two different systems which divided the day in 24 units: the Babylonian, beginning at sunrise, and the Italian, beginning at sunset.

On the vertical leaf two smaller sundials also constructed with fixed vertical brass pins indicated the number of hours of day-light in a given day of the year, between 8 and 16 depending by the position of the sun in the ecliptic (the one on the left, also with the signs of the zodiac represented around the edge) and the so-called “temporary” or “Jewish” hours – the division of the day in 12 parts, varying in length according to the time of the year (on the right).

On the top of the vertical surface there may be a windrose to identify the prevailing winds, and on the bottom an epact to calculate the date of Easter, such as in a very similar piece today at MAT – The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (accession number: 03.21.24), or perhaps a lunar volvelle with gilt-brass disc, such as in the specimen at the Whipple Museum of the History of Science, University of Cambridge (Holden-White collection no. 1935-42, accession no. 1688).

The two sundials on the vertical face are decorated with scenes of gallant life: a musician playing a string instrument with buildings in the background on the left and two lovers sitting on the right. The plants in both scenes perhaps intend to evoke the passage of time, recalling ideas of seasonality and cycles of life.

Thus, a multitude of technical and cultural trends converge in a minute object: the circulation of materials and luxury goods in Europe; the need for a standardized computation of time across geographical and political borders; the coexistence of mechanical and gnomonic systems of time calculation in the 1600s, and of different units of measurement of the year and day.

Further readings

Bruce Chandler and Clare Vincent, “A Sure Reckoning”, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 26, no. 4 (1967), 154-169.

Epact: Scientific Instruments of Medieval and Renaissance Europe, at Oxford, dir. Jim Bennett, 1998, current version 2006,, see “Paulus Reinman”, ad vocem.

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Dialing in Early Seventeenth-Century Europe," in Geographies of Time, 23/08/2021,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Trade, Curiosity and Colonial Exploitation in Eighteenth-Century Vocabularies

Geographical and/as chronological distance: a new post in the languages and/in time series

In 1703, the second volume of Lahontan’s Nouveaux voyages dans l’Amerique Septentrionale – a work destined to immediate wide circulation – featured a ‘Petit Dictionaire de la Langue des Sauvages’ based on the Algonquin language which, thanks to references made to it and numerous cases of plagiarism, enjoyed some success in its own right.[1] According to Lahontan, all the other Canadian languages resemble the Algonquin just as Italian resembles Spanish. The title page of the first English edition (printed in London in 1703), emphasises the idea of Algonquin being a vehicular language, describing the vocabulary as ‘a dictionary of the Algonkine language, which is generally spoken in North-America’ (title page of the first volume) and ‘A short dictionary of the most universal language of the savages’ (second volume). The idea is further reinforced by passages comparing the role of the Algonquin language in North America to that of Latin and Greek in Europe.[2] Current scholarship have read this hierarchisation both as the result of applying European classification criteria to the American context – thereby serving the purpose of cultural domination – as well as the Baron’s attempt to show off his knowledge of linguistic derivation theories.[3] As for its content, Lahontan’s ‘Petit Dictionaire’ includes words of frequent usage, with particular attention devoted to the fields of commerce and trade, military life, and the exploration and surveying of lands.[4] Elsewhere, in his Mémoires de l’Amérique septentrionale, Lahontan foregrounds the simplicity of the language, claiming it has no stress or accents, and that the limited vocabulary  regarding the arts and sciences reflects the speakers’ ignorance of such subjects – an assumption already made by earlier commentators, including the authors of the Jesuit relations.[5] The absence of any of the rhetorical ceremonial speech and flowery compliments, so common in European languages, also points to the speakers’ simplicity of customs and manners.

A similar approach was adopted a few years later by John Lawson, explorer and founder of two of the oldest European settlements in North Carolina, with interests in medicine, botany and natural history.[6] In his Voyage to North Carolina, Lawson inserted a brief vocabulary giving the English translation of words in Tuskeruro (Tuscarora), Pampticough (Pamlico), and Woccon.[7] The first of these, belonging to the Iroquois family, is a widespread trade language, while the second, part of the Algonquin family, is now extinct, meaning that Lawson’s testimony is one of the very few ever transcribed before the speakers’ community was decimated by smallpox and wars against the British and ended up being absorbed by the Tuscarora. As for Woccon, which belongs to the Siouan-Catawban family of languages, Lawson’s is still today the only surviving testimony.[8] Along with numerals, and goods and objects in everyday use, Lawson’s vocabulary includes expressions such as ‘I will sell you goods very cheap’, or ‘All the Indians are drunk’, which gives a more vivid idea of the context of his contacts with them. Of course, as current scholarship has pointed out, it also gives us a sense of the writer’s mixture of appreciation and contempt for his interlocutors.[9] While Lawson pays no systematic attention to linguistic genealogies and/or translation problems, his comments on indigenous American language skills are dismissive in the extreme. ‘Indians’ express themselves in a very rude manner.[10] Travel accounts reporting of eloquence and elegant style are not trustworthy:

To repeat more of this Indian Jargon, would be to trouble the Reader; and as an Account how imperfect they are in their Moods and Tenses, has been given by several already, I shall only add, that their Languages or Tongues are so deficient, that you cannot suppose the Indians ever could express themselves in such a Flight of Stile, as Authors would have you believe. They are so far from it, that they are but just able to make one another understand readily what they talk about.[11]

According to Lawson, the notable difference in the languages used by neighbours ‘causes Jealousies and Fears amongst them, which bring wars, wherein they destroy one another’, ultimately favouring the Europeans.[12] The language also bears witness to the influence that the European presence had already had: swearing is the first thing that natives pick up from the English, and they had no term for sodomy, before Europeans introduced the practice along with the word. The observation of language adds to the idea of the indigenous American as a good savage. Indeed, on the one hand he is to be pitied for being unpolished, uncivilised, and incapable of abstraction; on the other, he should be held up as an example of a man less corrupt than the European, possessing a pristine innocence. Lawson also makes the connection between knowledge of the American languages and plans to peacefully assimilate indigenous American cultures. A more enlightened colonial government would seek alliances with the native peoples by presenting the European – or, rather, the English – as a positive model:

[W]e should be let into a better Understanding of the Indian Tongue, by our new Converts; and the whole Body of these People would arrive to the Knowledge of our Religion and Customs, and become as one People with us […] we might civilize a great many other Nations of the Savages, and daily add to our Strength in Trade, and Interest; so that we might be sufficiently enabled to conquer, or maintain our Ground, against all the Enemies to the Crown of England in America, both Christian and Savage.[13]

Lawson, A New Voyage (1709), page225
Lawson, A New Voyage (1709), 225, ‘… here I shall insert a small dictionary of every Tongue, though not Alphabetically digested’. Copy at John Carter Brown Library.

A similar connection between apprehension of the Indian nations’ customs and languages, and colonial administration and policies can be found in Cadwallader Colden’s History of the Five Indian Nations, partly based on written sources, and partly on the author’s first-hand experience as surveyor general of the New York province.[14] Colden’s text is preceded by a short vocabulary of French names, with the English and/or Iroquois translation. His aim was to enable his readers ‘to read the French Accounts or compare them with the Accounts now published’.[15] In Colden’s work the linguistic viewpoint is, in a sense, similar to the geographical one, and just as important in forming a knowledge of the territory and its history: they are both deemed essential to the success of the colonial project. The vocabulary includes names of nations, tribes, areas, villages and settlements, while footnotes are reserved for objects and activities pertaining to the everyday life, system of government and customs of the Five Nations. Subsequent reflections on Indian eloquence – from Cornelius de Pauw to Hugh Blair – did not usually devote much attention to Colden’s small vocabulary, borrowing rather from his transcriptions of speeches, being Indian eloquence the subject of much debate between fascination and scepticism.[16] In later years, Colden became familiar with Raynal’s Histoire deux Indes, a work rich in remarks on savage languages reflecting an infant mind and a vivid and profound imagination, consistent with Colden’s comparison of Native American powerful and sublime speeches to those of ancient Romans and Greeks, part of a broader employment of tropes intertwining geographical and chronological distance, i.e. drawing analogies between Native American costumes, manners, character, and virtues and those of the Europeans’ ancestors.[17]

After the Seven Year War, Jonathan Carver offered another example. A soldier and explorer born in Weymouth (today in Massachusetts), Carver published his Three years Travels through the Interior Parts of North-America in 1778. In just a few years, his account was translated into German, French and Dutch, and went through numerous editions on both sides of the Atlantic.[18] The appendixes to the travel book include ‘A short Vocabulary of the Chipeway Language’ and ‘A short Vocabulary of the Naudowessie Language’. As regards the former, it seems likely that Carver borrowed heavily from Lahontan, although a mere case of plagiarism would not explain the slight differences between the two compilations in a few instances, especially some regarding vowels, which might indicate the insertion of features from other sources and corrections based on first-hand knowledge.[19] In this respect, Carver’s Chippeway vocabulary is emblematic of his relationship with his Francophone sources: notwithstanding an open dislike for the French, he was familiar with their writings and drew upon them when needed.[20] His vocabulary of the Naudowessie, on the other hand, is the first – however short – vocabulary of the Dakota language ever to appear in print.[21] Carver documents a Dakota pidgin, learned according to an elementary process, as a set of ‘labels’ to be applied to ‘things’, without a grasp of grammar and rules. Entries include the common names of natural resources, terms to describe the environment, body parts, family names and social functions, and simple everyday activities. Sentences given as examples of how words are connected, are ‘correct in English, with the best possible substitutions of Dakota words as Carver knew them’.[22]

A man and woman of the Naudowessie; Carver, Travels through the interior parts of North America in the years 1766, 1767 and 1768 (1778), engraving, plate 3, following page 230. The Naudowessie would later be better known as Sioux or Dakota. The depiction includes various artefacts (bow and arrows, decorative bands and necklaces, a feather ornament for the head, a basket and teepees in the background. The illustration may be attributed to John Coakley Lettsom, who was involved in the editing of the 1778 London edition. Copy at Smithsonian Libraries.

In these eighteenth-century journals and travel accounts, the linguistic repertoires do not necessarily indicate an in-depth study of indigenous American cultures, but do reveal a growing interest in kinship systems, social organisation, and forms of government, which could all be useful to colonial policymakers for building alliances and gaining a foothold in a territory to make the European presence more secure. The compilation criteria adopted make it clear that the priority was to consolidate trade commerce and the exchange of goods, and extend the spaces of social interaction. There was an increasing awareness on the part of the British that good relations with indigenous American nations was a key factor in gaining the upper hand against competitors from different imperial structures.

The references to French texts in the writings of British or British-American authors show that there was a dual shift occurring as regards cultural identity: writers like Colden and Carver, despite their dislike and mistrust of French sources, and despite testifying to the open competition existing between imperial projects, still referred to their rivals to supplement their knowledge of American history and geography. The contact with American radical otherness, and the exclusion of indigenous American intelligence from the European system of knowledge gave impetus to the perception of a closeness between cultures of the Old World and ultimately to a sense of Europeanness.

Ideas of a European identity also underpin the practice of using the ‘good savage’ as a mirror in which the defects and shortcomings of the observer’s home society could be reflected. While the ‘Indian’ might be seen as trapped in an infant’s stage of development,[23] the abuses, vices, and wrongs perpetrated by colonisers, as described by Lawson for example, challenge the European example as desirable point of arrival in the process of civilisation.


[1] Louis Armand de Lom d’Arce, baron de Lahontan, Nouveaux voyages de Mr. Le Baron de Lahontan dans l’Amérique Septentrionale (A La Haye:, 1703), 2 vols. On Lahontan: Réal Ouellet (ed.), Sur Lahontan: comptes rendus et critiques (1702-1711) (Québec, 1983); on the Voyages circulation: Claudio De Boni, ‘Viaggio alla scoperta del buon selvaggio, ovvero l’immaginario utopico del barone di Lahontan’, Morus: Utopia e Renascimento, 7 (2010), pp. 145–156, see 148; on Lahontan’s vocabulary: Wolfart, ‘The beginnings of Algonquian lexicography’, esp. pp. 120–121.

[2] Lahontan, Nouveaux voyages, II, p. 198.

[3] Ursula Haskins Gonthier, ‘Une colonisation linguistique? Les Mémoires de l’Amérique septentrionale de Lahontan’, Études françaises, 45/2 (2009), pp. 115–129, see p. 119; H. Christoph Wolfart, ‘Lahontan’s Bestseller’, Historiographia Linguistica, 16/1-2 (1989), pp. 1–24, see pp. 4–5.

[4] Lahontan, Nouveaux voyages, II, p. 197; Gonthier, ‘Une colonisation linguistique?’; see the critical edition in Lahontan, OEuvres completes (Montréal, 1990), 2 vols, I, pp. 735–762 for a comparison with Jean-André Cuoq’s Etudes philologiques sur quelques langues sauvages de L’Amérique (1866) and Georges Lemoine’s Dictionnaire Français-Algonquin (1911).

[5] Lahontan, Nouveaux voyages, II, p. 199 ; Denise Cloutier, ‘Lahontan et les langues amérindiennes’, in Lahontan, OEuvres completes, II, pp. 1271–1277, see p. 1274, also for a comparison with Lejeune’s Relation (1634).

[6] Little is known of Lawson’s biography before 1700, see Hugh Talmage Lefler, ‘Introduction’, in Lawson, A New Voyage to Carolina (Chapel Hill, 1967), pp. xi–liv, esp. pp. xv–xxxix.

[7] John Lawson, A New Voyage to Carolina; Containing the Exact Description and Natural History of That Country (London, 1709), see pp. 225–230.

[8] On Tuscarora: Lyle Campbell, American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America (Oxford and New York, 2000), p. 24, see also p. 151; Marianne Mithun, A Grammar of Tuscarora (New York, 1976); Marianne Mithun, The Languages of Native North America (Cambridge, 1999), pp. 16, 44–46, 100, 189, 199, 253, 388, 467, 532–34, 603, 605; on Pamlico and Woccon: Marianne Mithun, The Languages of Native North America (Cambridge, 1999),pp. 319, 327, 333, 501, 506. On Tuscarora and Woccon see also Harald Hammarström, Robert Forkel, Martin Haspelmath, Glottolog 3.3, <>.

[9] Murray, ‘Vocabularies’, 601.

[10] On ‘Indian’: Elizabeth Prine Pauls, ‘Tribal Nomenclature: American Indian, Native American, and First Nation’, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 17 January 2008, <>; Michael Yellow Bird, ‘What We Want to Be Called: Indigenous Peoples’ Perspectives on Racial and Ethnic Identity Labels’, American Indian Quarterly, 23/2 (1999), pp. 1–21.

[11] Lawson, A New Voyage, p. 230.

[12] Lawson, A New Voyage, p. 230.

[13] Lawson, A New Voyage, p. 237.

[14] Cadwallader Colden, The History of the Five Indian Nations of Canada, which are dependent on the province of New-York in America (London, 1747), p. xi (first part autonomously published in New York in 1727). On Colden: John M. Dixon, The Enlightenment of Cadwallader Colden: Empire, Science, and Intellectual Culture in British New York (Ithaca and London, 2016); on the correspondence with Benjamin Franklin as regards American Indian nations in New York and Albany: Timothy J. Shannon, Indians and Colonists at the Crossroads of Empire: The Albany Congress of 1754 (Ithaca and London, 2002), pp. 110–111.

[15] Colden, The History, p. xv.

[16] Mr. de P*** [Cornelius de Pauw], Recherches philosophiques sur les Américains (Berlin, 1771), tome I, p. 121; Hugh Blair, Essays on Rhetoric (Dublin, 1784), pp. 49–50. As regards Iroquois polity, noteworthy is also Adam Ferguson’s use of Colden’s History in An Essay on the History of Civil Society (London, 1767), pp. 141–143.

[17] Helen Cowie and Kathryn Gray, ‘Nature, nation and nostalgia: Narratives of natural history in Spanish and British America (1750‐1800)’, Journal of Eighteenth-Century Studies, 36 (2013), pp. 545–558, see p. 555; Guillaume-Thomas-François Raynal, Histoire philosophique et politique des établissemens et du commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes (Geneva, 1780), 5 vols, see for example IV, chapter ‘VI. Gouvernement, habitudes, vertus, vices, guerres des sauvages, qui habitoient le Canada’. For general reference on conformité, resemblance between the ancients and distant people, between the seventeenth and the eighteenth century: Ginzburg, ‘Provincializing the world’.

[18] Jonathan Carver, Three Years Travels through the Interior Parts of North-America (Philadelphia, 1796); on the publication’s success see: Edward Gaylord Bourne, ‘The travels of Jonathan Carver’, The American Historical Review, 11/2 (1906), pp. 287–302.

[19] Percy G. Adams, Travelers & Travel Liars 1600-1800 (Berkley and Los Angeles, 1962), p. 84; Bourne, ‘The Travels of Jonathan Carver’; John Parker, ‘Introduction’, in Jonathan Carver, The Journals of Jonathan Carver and Related Documents, 1766-1770 (St. Paul, 1976), pp. 1–56.

[20] Carver, Three Years Travels, pp. i, ii.

[21] Raymond J. DeMallie, ‘Appendix II: Carver’s Dakota dictionary’, in Carver, The Journals, pp. 210–221, see p. 210. Naudowessies are also known as Sioux, shortened version of ‘Nadouessioux’, possibly a French variation from an Ojibwe term; Robert Sayre, Modernity and Its Other: The Encounter with North American Indians in the Eighteenth Century (Lincoln and London, 2017), p. 350 note 34; Campbell, American Indian Languages, pp. 88, 399 note 106.

[22]  DeMallie, ‘Appendix’, p. 212.

[23] Alexander Cook, Ned Curthoys, and Shino Konishi, ‘The science and politics of humanity in the eighteenth century: An introduction’, in Cook, Curthoys, and Konishi (eds), Representing Humanity in the Age of Enlightenment (2013; London, 2015), electronic ed.


This post is adapted from: Giulia Iannuzzi, “‘Qu’il est question d’une langue sauvage’: Phrasebooks for European Travellers in Eighteenth-Century North America”, History (2021).

Access the full text in open access on the publisher’s website at this EXTERNAL LINK.

Contact me if you wish to receive a pdf.

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Trade, Curiosity and Colonial Exploitation in Eighteenth-Century Vocabularies," in Geographies of Time, 10/08/2021,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Should the readers become traveller themselves

Unwittingly documenting the finding of some common linguistic ground: vocabularies of North American languages, and elements for a periodisation

Vocabularies of American languages and lists of words in translation are to be found in travel literature since Jacques Cartier’s sixteenth-century journey to Canada, or Jean de Lery’s to Brazil. The transcribed word gave a name to an object unknown in Europe, for which there was no word available in the writer’s mother tongue. In so doing, it attested to the truthfulness of the account, presenting a notion that the author would have been unable to learn about without actually visiting the places described. The exotic unfamiliarity of the transcribed sounds might also have appealed to the reader’s sense of wonder and fascination.[1]

Since they were discrete appendixes which supplemented the main text while also being relatively distinct in typographical terms, often coming at the end and marked by a stand-alone title page, vocabularies also indicate that different agencies were involved in the construction of the book. An apt example is the French-Indian lexicon included in Cartier’s first relation on Canada (1534), probably the first to be written in French in the age of explorations after the French translation of fifty Brazilian and Patagonian words in Pigafetta (1525). Cartier collects Onondaga, Mohawk and Huron words, while some terms not belonging to any of these groups seem to point to the existence of the variety of “iroquoien laurentien” mentioned by the author.[2] The list is not always included in coeval copies: it was first added in Giovanni Battista Ramusio’s Italian version.[3]

It will come as no surprise that a list such as Cartier’s shows a preponderant majority of words related to spheres of the physical world (i.e. body parts, objects tied to the physical surroundings, and food). The list is structured around semantic clusters, which seem almost to have been organised on the basis of free association. Of the two words in the list that refer to a temporal dimension – giorno (day) and notte (night) – only the second is translated into Huron (Aiagla).[4] Also, the word Iddio (God), despite being the first in the list, shows a blank in the Huron column. There are no words for abstract semantic fields, an omission which, while in all likelihood derived from the practical circumstances of elicitation and collection of linguistic evidence, also confirmed the long-term prejudice that Native Americans were incapable of abstract thought.[5]

A similar lacking is also in Gabriel Sagard’s Dictionaire de la langue huronne appended in 1632 to Le Grand voyage du pays des Hurons, a fine example of proto-ethnographic curiosity written after the author had been a Franciscan missionary in Canada between 1623 and 1624.[6] Containing around 2,500 words and expressions, with a separate title-page and preface, Sagard’s Dictionaire explicitly presents the Huron language not only as rich in local varieties, but also constantly fluid and changing, a feature typical of imperfect languages just beginning on their path towards refinement.[7]

Our Hurons, and generally all the other Nations, present the same instability of language, and change their words so much that, with the passing of time, the old Huron is almost entirely different from that of the present, and it is still changing, according to what I was able to conjecture and learn by talking to them: for the mind becomes more subtle, and growing older corrects things and brings them to their perfection.[8]

It is the very savage nature of the Huron language that prevented the author from compiling a definite set of grammar rules:

[I]t is an issue of savage language, almost without rules, and so imperfect that even someone more competent than me would have had a hard time […] doing any better.[9]

The confusion as regards tenses is seen as a sign of intellectual infancy, and while there are words and expressions which place events in a familiar temporal dimension, there is no sense of historical stratification.[10]

Similarly, no other abstract sphere is represented except for those connected to missionary work (i.e. teaching and learning and the Christian religion) and linguistic curiosity (i.e. expressions for asking the meaning of words, or the French and/or Huron equivalent of terms) which complete the portrayal of everyday Huron life. Sagard’s dictionary thus reinforces a conceptualisation of indigenous Americans as being at the beginning of a process of refinement. This is thematised in his narrative by parallels between the Hurons and the ancient Spartans, while the Hurons’ simple mode of dressing is reminiscent of that of Franciscan friars, so that a missionary might feel closer to them than to many of his fellow Frenchmen and women.[11] While the main narrative body of Sagard’s Voyage is highly indebted to previous written sources such as the works by Samuel de Champlain and Marc Lescarbot, the dictionary shows greater originality and reveals the author’s proto-ethnographic curiosity and his ability to observe his interlocutors with a fresh eye.[12]

Is it possible to individuate an eighteenth-century phase within the longer history of the textual genre linguistic collections annexed to travelogues? Between the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries, vocabularies began to portray an expanding variety of contact situations, bearing witness to the increasing diversity of European actors and their objectives in North America.[13] While the wordlists still served to reinforce the credibility of the account and pique the reader’s interest, more practical aims started to become prominent. They gradually became stores of useful expressions, toolboxes for the readers should they become traveller themselves, and they often contained ready-to-use formulaic expressions recording typical conversational exchanges.

The increasing presence of a proto-ethnographical curiosity shaped the recording of the language as part of a broader cognitive project as regards the American otherness. Vocabularies embody the coming together of a whole range of different objectives, scientific and communicative, religious and commercial. They lay bare the ties that bind the systematisation of knowledge as regards the customs and manners of peoples across the globe and projects of colonial dominance and expansion. While the partitioning of disciplinary-academic knowledge – including linguistics and ethno-anthropological sciences – would come to full fruition in the nineteenth-century, the curiosity about North American languages of eighteenth-century explorers, traders, and administrators, needs to be seen against the backdrop of broader reflections on human diversity and attempts to systematise it. In Anthony Pagden’s words:

In the eighteenth century […] the discussion over the languages of the “primitive”, the “savage”, the “barbarian”, became a key register in which theories of evolution and development were established – as well as the relative worth and hence possible commensurability of American societies.[14]

In the North American context, hopes of tracing back the obscure origins of the American populations and identifying affinities between different nations often rested upon linguistic genealogies. Those who compiled vocabularies based on first-hand experiences of contact were often aware that their contribution might have an impact on ongoing debates on the origins and nature of the American societies by bringing new evidence to light. In a system of knowledge in which there was still no clear-cut distinction between scholars and amateurs, it was not uncommon for authors of travel accounts to put forward opinions regarding the possible history of languages, and, on the basis of linguistic similarities, argue for example that the origin of the indigenous American nations lay in China or Israel.

From the end of the eighteenth century onwards, several wide-ranging initiatives were set in motion, such as that of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, in particular during Catherine II’s reign (1762-1796), and with specific regard to the geographical area of interest here, the one by Thomas Jefferson, Stephen DuPonceau, and Albert Gallatin.[15]  The latter, with its recording of Native American languages using a uniform standard of written registration, called for a network of correspondents and administrators to cooperate in the initiative, fundamentally contributing to the rise of North American comparative linguistics.[16]

In making a point of separating the lexicographical aspects from the narration of personal experience, Jefferson’s project exemplifies the role of linguistics in the making of a Euro-American identity. In response to Buffon’s denigrations of the ‘New World’, an American culture was being forged which, while appropriating and transposing native cultures, at the same time exploited linguistic facts as a further basis for cultural hierarchisation.[17] Compared to previous examples such as Cartier’s vocabulary, later eighteenth-century compilations retain a conceptual and typographical structure which places two (or more) languages facing each other, divided by punctuation marks, or by the empty space in their respective columns. As Laura J. Murray has argued in what is still one of the most informative contribution on this topic, the visual appearance of the page suggests the existence of two different codes, between which semantic equivalence (or the lack of it) is recorded.[18] Of course, what might be more revealing is what lies in the blank spaces between the columns.

Along with the first-hand observations by writers lamenting the difficulties involved in collecting and transcribing samples of languages, historical linguistics has shown how vocabularies and lists of terms and expressions are produced through a cultural and linguistic contact, often unwittingly documenting the finding of some common linguistic ground, including the birth and development of trade jargons and pidgins.[19]


[1]  Murray, ‘Vocabularies’, pp. 593 and 617, note 4.

[2] Bruce G. Trigger (ed.), Handbook of North American Indians, vol. XV, Northeast (Washington, DC, 1978), pp. 334–343. On Cartier: Fernand Braudel (ed.), Le monde de Jacques Cartier: L’aventure au XVIe siècle (Montréal et Paris, 1984); Bruce G. Trigger, Children of Aataentsic: A History of the Huron People to 1660 (Kingston and Montreal, 1976), pp. 177–207; on linguistic issues and for a comparison with later sources: Marius Barbeau, The Language of Canada in the Voyages of Jacques Cartier (1534-1538) (part of National Museum of Canada, Bulletin 173, pp. 108–229, Ottawa, 1959).

[3] Jacques Cartier, Relations (Montréal, 1986), p. 224.

[4] Entries in Italian according to Ramusio’s version reproduced in Cartier, Relations, pp. 225–226.

[5] Murray, ‘Vocabularies’, p. 598. On translation and religion during the Seventeenth and the Eighteenth centuries: Kim, Strange Names of God; Martin Mulsow, ‘An “Our Father” for the Hottentots: Religion, Language, and the Consensus Gentium’, in Carlo Ginzburg, Lucio Biasiori (eds), A Historical Approach to Casuistry: Norms and Exceptions in a Comparative Perspective (London and New York, 2019), pp. 239–261, esp. pp. 246–247 on the question de la raison and the consensus gentium. On the connection between the ability to use language, the ability to reason, and civil society: Pagden, The Fall, 15–16; Pocock, Savages and Empires, pp. 2–3, 158–171; Landucci, I filosofi e i selvaggi, p. 4.

[6] Gabriel Sagard, Le Grand voyage du pays des Hurons suivi du Dictionaire de la langue huronne (Montréal, QC, 1998); Dictionary of Canadian Biography, I, 1000-1700 (Toronto, 1966), electronic ed. 2019, <>, s.v. ‘Sagard, Gabriel’, by Jean de la Croix Rioux. On proto-ethnography: Rolando Minuti, ‘L’anthropologie dans l’Encyclopédie méthodique: Les sauvages de Jean-Nicolas Démeunier’, in Martine Groult and Luigi Delia (eds), Panckoucke et l’Encyclopédie méthodique: Ordre de matières et transversalité (Paris, 2019), pp. 367–381, esp. pp. 367–369. See also Christopher Fox, Roy Porter, and Robert Wokler (eds), Inventing Human Science: Eighteenth-Century Domains (Berkley, Los Angeles, 1995).

[7] For a discussion of Sagard’s Dictionaire from a linguistic standpoint: John L. Steckley, ‘Trade goods and nations in Sagard’s Dictionary: A St. Lawrence Iroquoian perspective’, Ontario History, 104/2 (2012), pp. 139–154. It is probably the title-page that causes the Dictionaire to be sometimes listed as an autonomous work, but the reference to it in the Voyage’s main title leaves no doubt as to it being the author’s intention to include it in the account. See Thomas W. Field, An Essay towards an Indian Bibliography (New York, 1873), p. 342.

[8] Sagard, Le Grand voyage, p. 346, translations by the author.

[9] Sagard, Le Grand voyage, pp. 347, 148.

[10] Sagard, Le Grand voyage, p. 345.

[11] Sagard, Le Grand voyage, pp. 199–200 and 233–234. On the ‘well-established sixteenth-century literary genre, which traced the resemblances between a modern language and an ancient to prove the nobility of the former’, see Carlo Ginzburg, ‘Provincializing the world: Europeans, Indians, Jews (1704)’, Postcolonial Studies, 14/2 (2011), pp. 135–150; quote on page 136.

[12] Samuel de Champlain, Œuvres complètes de Champlain (Québec, 2019) 2 vols; Marc Lescarbot, Histoire de la Nouvelle France, édition augmentée (Paris, 1617). For a discussion of de Champlain and Lescarbot in Sagard see the notes by Jack Warwick in the above-mentioned editionSagard, Le Grand voyage, and the footnotes by Ugo Piscopo in Gabriel Sagard, Grande viaggio nel paese degli Uroni 1623-1624 (Milan, 1972). On Sagard’s Voyage as the attainment of a collective experience: Jack Warwick, ‘Introduction’, in Sagard, Le Grand voyage, pp. 7–72, see pp. 35–40. For the dictionary, the existence of unpublished sources cannot be ruled out, but as of today this remains a hypothesis, and possible sources have not yet been identified.

[13] See Mulsow, ‘An “Our Father” for the Hottentots’.

[14] Anthony Pagden, European Encounters in the New World (New Haven and London, 1993), p. 120.

[15] Peter Simon Pallas [Hartwig L. C. Bacmeister, and Christian G. Arndt], Linguarum totius orbis vocabularia comparativa (Petropoli, 1786); Harriet E. Manelis Klein and Herbert S. Klein, ‘The “Russian collection” of Amerindian languages in Spanish archives’, International Journal of American Linguistics, 44/2 (1978), pp. 137–144.

[16] Sarah Rivett, Unscripted America: Indigenous Languages and the Origins of a Literary Nation (Oxford, 2017), esp. pp. 182, 223. Jefferson’s project is dealt with in the following pages in connection with the Lewis and Clark expedition.

[17] Antonello Gerbi, La disputa del nuovo mondo: Storia di una polemica: 1750-1900 (new ed., Milan, 2000); Regna Darnell, ‘Language typology and ethnology in nineteenth-century North America: Gallantin, Brinton, Powell’, in Sylvain Auroux, E. F. K. Koerner, Hans-Josef Niederehe, and Kees Versteegh (eds), History of the Language Sciences / Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaften (Berlin and New York, 2001), II, pp. 1443–1452; Regna Darnell, ‘Anthropological linguistics: Early history in North America’, in William Frawley (ed.), International Encyclopaedia of Linguistics (2nd ed., Oxford, 2003), I, AAVE-Esperanto, pp. 95–98. See also Sean P. Harvey, ‘“Must not their languages be savage and barbarous like them?” Philology, Indian removal, and race science’, Journal of the Early Republic, 30/4 (2010), pp. 505–532.

[18] Murray, ‘Vocabularies’, p. 600.

[19] Goddard, ‘The use of pidgin’, p. 62.

This post is adapted from: Giulia Iannuzzi, “‘Qu’il est question d’une langue sauvage’: Phrasebooks for European Travellers in Eighteenth-Century North America”, History (2021).

Access the full text in open access on the publisher’s website at this EXTERNAL LINK.

Contact me if you wish to receive a pdf.

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Should the readers become traveller themselves," in Geographies of Time, 20/07/2021,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Savage Languages

Introducing a series on eighteenth-century vocabularies of Native American languages, between proto-ethnographical curiosity, temporal conceptualisations, and colonial exploitation

This post inaugurates a series on vocabularies of Native American languages published as part of the travel accounts written by explorers, traders and colonial policymakers in North America over the eighteenth century.

Ever since their first contacts with the peoples of North America, the accounts of European travellers included vocabularies, dictionaries, and lists of words and/or phrases of common use as sections within the text, or as appendixes.[1] Whether they were explorers, missionaries, traders, colonial administrators, surveyors or policymakers, from Jacques Cartier’s Relations (published from 1545) and Gabriel Sagard’s Grand Voyage (1632), the habit of including in travelogues a vocabulary of ‘savage languages’ was continued in following centuries.[2]

Eighteenth-century examples include Lahontan’s Nouveau Voyages (1703), John Lawson’s New Voyage (1709), Cadwallader Colden’s History of the Five Indian Nations (1727), Jonathan Carver’s Three Years Travels (1778), to the account of James Cook’s third voyage (1784), George Dixon’s A voyage round the world (1789) and John Long’s Voyages and Travels (1791). These lists of French or English words, with their respective translations in languages such as Huron, Iroquois, Tuscarora or Woccon, under a typographic presentation designed to project an idea of objective registration, eloquently reveal the cultural attitudes with which European observers perceived and portrayed their Native American interlocutors.

The primary aim of this series is to consider what these compilations tell us about the nature of European encounters with individuals and societies seen as less civilised than the writers’, presenting a fascinating Other that could encourage the observer to problematise his own culture. The choices that our writers made to include or exclude specific terms and semantic spheres, work as epiphenomena of a conception of historical time in which societies were hierarchised.

New ideas of time emerging in the eighteenth-century European mind led to the ‘savage’ being considered as an example of a universal humanity, though distinct from the more refined, ‘civilised’ European. This series will analyse the temporal conceptualisations underpinning vocabularies of ‘savage languages’, looking at time both in terms of a frame in which historical and diachronic gaps and differences were located, and as a cultural construct framing human experience.

Especially when phrases and expressions accompany the list of words, these vocabularies offer insights into communicative exchanges which are less mediated than the ones presented by narrative accounts, where a more conscious thematisation of the writer’s subjectivity and a more controlled self-representation are usually to be found. Furthermore, they throw light on translation practices and cultural mediation processes, whereas in accounts and letters the good interpreter is usually invisible.[3]

The focus will be on a selection of texts written in English by colonial administrators and policy makers, explorers and traders in eighteenth-century North America, against a cultural backdrop in which secondary sources written in other languages, such as Lahontan’s Nouveau Voyages, were widely known to (and sometimes borrowed by) British and American-British writers, in the original versions or through English translations. The source base is shaped by a primary interest towards a secularised culture, considered as a vantage point from which to observe the functioning of ideas of historical time increasingly far from Biblical eschatological and parousistic perspectives.[4]

By placing at centre stage the relationships between travel relations and linguistic compilations, and devoting specific attention to intertextual genealogies and connections, eighteenth-century testimonies will offer a rich case study to foreground the interaction between pre-existent cultural notions and first-hand observations, allowing for a better understanding of how ideas about history and time work in cultural practices different from antiquarian-historical and philosophical-historical writing.

Linguistic and traductological aspects lie at the intersection of a multitude of issues characterising European contact with North America since its early stages. Scholars have called attention to the role of interpreters as cultural brokers, have traced the debates regarding the problematic translation of Christian faith and doctrine in cultural-linguistic contexts far from the European one, and have highlighted the gradual exclusion of Central and Meso-American languages by the Castilian and Portuguese monarchic authorities.[5] Along with studies interested in language and rhetoric in relation to the construction and projection of imperial power, the linguistic aspects of the European encounter with the New World have been subject of inquiry especially as regards the historical debates surrounding the admissibility of native languages and systems for tracing and registering the past – e.g. Inca quipus, and logogrammatic-syllabic writing systems or systems based on glyphs – as legitimate tools for transmitting knowledge of the past and of the ‘new’ continent’s inhabitants, and for evangelising.[6]

The relationship between language and civilisation processes, as well as conjectural histories of languages, and the role played by languages in disputes over the origins of humanity in America have also received much scholarly attention in recent years.[7] Existing studies have investigated how travel accounts were used in treatises about the origins of language by Rousseau and Lord Monboddo, or in John Locke’s natural history of man. The vocabularies, however, have received far less consideration.[8] Historical linguistics has produced some useful analysis of these lists of words and expressions, regarded not so much as trustworthy samples of the languages they were supposed to be recording, but as testimonies of contacts, often documenting borrowings, trade jargons, pidgins, and short-term accommodations.[9]

Complex negotiations often took place in journals and travel accounts between empirical observation and pre-existing cultural categories and stereotypes, between experience and written sources of knowledge, and between scientific ambitions, and colonial and imperial cultural agencies interacting in a specific political-geographical context. The close reading of a number of ‘savage vocabularies’ scarcely considered by existing scholarship will take place against this backdrop.[10]

The next post in this series will offer some elements for a periodisation of vocabularies compiled between the seventeenth and the eighteenth century.


[1] For general background on European cultural encounters with the ‘new world’: Guido Abbattista, ‘European Encounters in the Age of Expansion’, in EGO – European History Online, <>; Guido Abbattista (ed.), Encountering Otherness: Diversities and Transcultural Experiences in Early Modern European Culture (Trieste, 2011); John Elliott, The Old World and the New: 1491-1650 (1970; Cambridge, 1992); Anthony Pagden, The Fall of Natural Man: The American Indian and the Origins of Comparative Ethnology, second ed. (London and New York, 1986); Joan-Pau Rubiés, ‘Texts, images, and the perception of “savages” in Early Modern Europe: what we can learn from White and Harriot’, in Kim Sloan (ed.), European Visions: American Voices (London, 2009), pp. 120–130; Tzvetan Todorov, The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other, foreword by Anthony Pagden (Norman, OK, 2005).

[2] Terms such as ‘savage’, as well as exonyms used later in this essay and characteristic of colonial practices are used to conform to primary sources. In so doing, I will retain a historical perspective and challenge the cultural agencies and categories they imply. On the linguistic and conceptual history of the ‘savage’: Sergio Landucci, I filosofi e i selvaggi (Turin, 2014); J.G.A. Pocock, Barbarism and Religion (Cambridge, 1999–2015, 6 vols.), vol. 4: Barbarians, Savages and Empires (2005), pp. 2–3, 157–228; Pagden, The Fall; Silvia Sebastiani, The Scottish Enlightenment: Race, Gender, and the Limits of Progress (New York, 2013). On the linguistic confusion in Anglophone and Francophone sources as regards Canadian nations see: Michèle Duchet, Anthropologie et histoire au siècle des Lumières (Paris, 1995), pp. 26–29.

[3] James Merrell, Into the American Woods: Negotiations on the Pennsylvania Frontier (New York, 2000), especially pp. 27–32; Lawrence Venuti, The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation (London and New York, 1995); William F. Hanks and Carlo Severi, ‘Translating worlds: The epistemological space of translation’, Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 4/2 (2014), pp. 1–16.

[4] Anthony Grafton, ‘Joseph Scaliger and historical chronology: The rise and fall of a discipline’, History and Theory, 14/2 (1975), pp.  156–185; Paolo Rossi, I segni del tempo: Storia della terra e storia delle nazioni da Hooke a Vico (Milano, 1979); Edoardo Tortarolo, ‘L’eutanasia della cronologia biblica’, in Camilla Hermanin and Luisa Simonutti(eds), La centralità del dubbio: Un progetto di Antonio Rotondò, tome I.III, Scritture, ragione e storia (Florence, 2010), pp. 339–359.

[5] Nancy L. Hagedorn, ‘“A friend to go between them”: The interpreter as cultural broker during Anglo-Iroquois councils, 1740-70’, Ethnohistory, 35/1, (1988), pp. 60–80; Milton W. Hamilton, ‘Sir William Johnson: Interpreter of the Iroquois’, Ethnohistory, 10/3, (1963), pp. 270–286; Eric Cheyfitz, The Poetics of Imperialism: Translation and Colonization from The Tempest to Tarzan (New York, 1991); Pagden, The Fall, pp. 127–128, 183–192, 202–209; Todorov, The Conquest; on translation and/of the Christian doctrine, see Sangkeun Kim, Strange Names of God: The Missionary Translation of the Divine Name and the Chinese Responses to Matteo Ricci’s Shangti in Late Ming China, 1583-1644 (New York, 2004); Victor Egon Hanzeli, Missionary Linguistics in New France: A Study of Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-century Descriptions of American Indian Languages (The Hague and Paris, 1969).

[6] Peter Burke, ‘America and the rewriting of world history’, in Karen Ordahl Kupperman (ed.), America in European Consciousness (Chapel Hill and London, 1995), pp. 33–51; Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, How to Write the History of the New World: Histories, Epistemologies and Identities in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World (Stanford, 2001), pp. 60–129; Peter Mason, The Lives of Images (London, 2001) on Mexican codices in Europe p. 101, and in general chapters 4 and 5; Giuseppe Marcocci, Indios, cinesi, falsari: Le storie del mondo nel Rinascimento (Rome-Bari, 2016), pp. 38–46.

[7] Saul Jarcho, ‘Origin of the American Indian as suggested by fray Joseph De Acosta (1589)’, Isis, 50/4, (1959), pp. 430–438; Rüdiger Schreyer, ‘“Savage” languages in the eighteenth-century theoretical history of language’, in Edward G. Gray and Norman Fiering (eds), The Language Encounter in the Americas, 1492-1800: A Collection of Essays (New York and Oxford, 2000), pp. 310–326.

[8] On Gabriel Sagard’s account in Monboddo: Rüdiger Schreyer, ‘Gabriel Sagard’s ‘Dictionary of the Huron tongue’ (1632)’, inElke Nowak (ed.), Languages Different in All Their Sounds… Descriptive Approaches to Indigenous Languages of America 1500 to 1800 (Münster, 1999), pp. 101–115; on Locke: Daniel Carey, Locke, Shaftesbury, and Hutcheson: Contesting Diversity in the Enlightenment and Beyond (Cambridge, 2006), especially 17, 88.

[9] Gray and Fiering (eds), The Language Encounter, here especially Ives Goddard, ‘The use of pidgins and jargons on the East Coast of North America’, pp. 61–80; Michael Silverstein, ‘Dynamics of linguistic contact’, in Ives Goddard (ed.), Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 17, Languages (Washington, DC, 1996), pp. 117–136; Agnete Nesse, ‘Trade and language: How did traders communicate across language borders?’, in Wim Blockmans, Mikhail Krom, Justyna (eds), The Routledge Handbook of Maritime Trade around Europe 1300-1600 (London and New York, 2017), pp. 86–100, see pp. 92–93.

[10] Some noteworthy exceptions are: Laura J. Murray, ‘Vocabularies of native American languages: A literary and historical approach to an elusive genre’, American Quarterly, 53/4 (2001), pp. 590–623. H. Christoph Wolfart, ‘The beginnings of Algonquian lexicography’, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 132/1 (1988), pp. 119–127; Schreyer, ‘Gabriel Sagard’s “Dictionary”’.

This post is adapted from: Giulia Iannuzzi, “‘Qu’il est question d’une langue sauvage’: Phrasebooks for European Travellers in Eighteenth-Century North America”, History (2021).

Access the full text in open access on the publisher’s website at this EXTERNAL LINK.

Contact me if you wish to receive a pdf.

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Savage Languages," in Geographies of Time, 15/06/2021,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Qu’il est question d’une langue sauvage

Phrasebooks for European travellers in eighteenth-century North America and the cultural construction of a global Europeanness.

This article explores the vocabularies of Native American languages published as part of the travel accounts written by explorers, traders and colonial policymakers in North America over the eighteenth century. Starting with the renowned Voyages by the Baron de Lahontan, the analysis takes as its endpoint the journals of the famous expedition led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The aim of this study is to foreground what these lexicographic compilations reveal about European encounters with societies categorised as radically different from – and less civilised than – the traveller’s own: an ‘otherness’ sometimes exploited as a mirror and term of comparison that challenged the observer’s ethnocentrism. Drawing on existing scholarship about the cultural history of Euro-American encounters in the modern age, this study puts forward an original analysis of the temporal conceptualisations underpinning vocabularies of ‘savage languages’, in terms of both historical diachronicity and time as a culturally constructed frame of human experience.

This focus on the lists of words and phrases included in travel accounts, journals and relations makes it possible to question the relationship between the recording of linguistic evidence and travel narratives, and explore the complex negotiations between empirical observation and pre-existing cultural categories and stereotypes. A close reading of these often-neglected primary sources helps us to identify recurrent conceptual tropes and assign a central role to the historicisation of the Amerindian within wider processes of cultural construction of a global Europeanness.

Giulia Iannuzzi, “‘Qu’il est question d’une langue sauvage’: Phrasebooks for European Travellers in Eighteenth-Century North America”, History (2021).

Access the full text in open access on the publisher’s website:

Contact me if you wish to receive a pdf.

Lawson, A New Voyage (1709), page 225
John Lawson, A New Voyage North Carolina: Containing the Exact Description and Natural History of that Country (London, 1709), 225. In his Voyage, Lawson inserted a brief vocabulary giving the English translation of words in Tuskeruro (Tuscarora), Pampticough (Pamlico) and Woccon. Copy at John Carter Brown Library.

How Europe Used Time to Rule the World

Imperial Times. How Europe Used Time to Rule the World (XVIII-XIX Centuries) – introducing History of Historiography 77 (2020)

Aim of the introduction to the monographic issue Imperial Times. How Europe Used Time to Rule the World (XVIII-XIX Centuries) is to throw into relief current debates demonstrating the need for greater academic research into imperial times.

The question that underlies the contributions to the special issue is how to synchronise the study of history in a postcolonial age; how to navigate history while accounting for the traditional uses of concepts like the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and Modernity.

This introduction critically distances the logic underpinning periodisations by challenging the uncritical use of a given interval of time as the basis of a neutral partitioning, and takes stock of how postcolonial studies and global historians have drawn attention, in recent years, to the contingent and political origins of these timeframes.

It contends that, for all the talk about a “temporal” and an “imperial turn”, time and empire still appear, at times, to be largely undertheorized in relation to each other. It highlights new conceptualisations brought to the study of temporality in relation to empire by the history of emotions, and of material cultures, put forward by the study of gendered subjectivities, and stimulated by the attention to long-term shifts favoured by novel methodology of environmental history. It takes stock of Reinhart Koselleck’s influence on these historiographical turns, and of recent re-evaluations of his work on time and concepts.

A special emphasis on the eighteenth century seeks to contribute new perspectives on overlooked imperial dynamics that influenced the politics of time during that period.  Industrialisation; modern timekeeping; the growth of the novel; the combination of the antiquarian’s methods and philosophical history, all were once said to have changed the experience of time in eighteenth-century Europe.

Drawing on the hypothesis that conceptions of the future are crucial to our understanding of ideas and practices of time, tradition, history, and change, this introduction also discusses our conception of the history of utopian times, and the specific ties the future has to the history of imperial conceptions and projects.

The concluding section is devoted to present the methodological purpose behind the special issue: to set out four case studies to trace new pathways for the study of the imperial legacies in the making of a global history of time.

I am very grateful to the other contributors of Imperial Times for the productive discussions we had while working together on this project.

Full bibliographical data:

Matilde Cazzola, Edward Jones Corredera, Giulia Iannuzzi, and Guido G. Beduschi, Introduction. Imperial Times. Towards a History of Imperial Uses of Time
pp. 11-23, DOI: 10.19272/202011501001

Histoire de l’Historiographie · History of Historiography · Geschichte der Geschichtsschreibung

Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa – Roma
77, 2020/1

Full text is available on the publisher’s website and via the Torrossa platform

Contact me at giannuzzi <at> if you wish to receive a pre-print version for research and teaching purposes.

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "How Europe Used Time to Rule the World," in Geographies of Time, 05/05/2021,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Imperial Times

How Europe Used Time to Rule the World (XVIII-XIX Centuries)

History of Historiography monographic issue: towards a history of imperial uses of time.

Histoire de l’Historiographie · History of Historiography · Geschichte der Geschichtsschreibung

Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa – Roma
77, 2020/1
here on the publisher website

Matilde Cazzola, Edward Jones Corredera, Giulia Iannuzzi, and Guido G. Beduschi
Introduction. Imperial Times. Towards a History of Imperial Uses of Time
pp. 11-23, DOI: 10.19272/202011501001
Guido G. Beduschi
“To Imitate the Ancients, Having Adopted the Corrections of the Moderns”. Scipione Maffei’s Consiglio politico
pp. 27-52, DOI: 10.19272/202011501002
Giulia Iannuzzi
“This New and Unexampled Way of Writing the History of Future Times”. The Rise and Fall of Empires and the Acceleration of History in Samuel Madden’s Eighteenth-Century Memoirs from the Future
pp. 53-88, DOI: 10.19272/202011501003
Edward Jones Corredera
Investing in the Enlightenment. The Financial Revolution and the Global Origins of the Enlightenment in the Spanish Empire
pp. 89-111, DOI: 10.19272/202011501004
Matilde Cazzola
“Sometimes, the Past is the Present”. Electoral Reforms, the Working Classes, and the British Empire
pp. 113-148, DOI: 10.19272/202011501005

I am very grateful to the other contributors of Imperial Times for the productive discussions we had while working together on this project.

Full text is available on the publisher’s website and via the Torrossa platform

Contact me at giannuzzi <at> if you wish to receive a pre-print version for research and teaching purposes.

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Imperial Times," in Geographies of Time, 24/04/2021,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Phrasebooks for European Travellers in Eighteenth-Century North America

at Eighteenth-Century Research Seminars – 2021 Programme

The interpreters are eloquently placed at the centre of an illustration depicting Fort Frontenac, where the governor of Nouvelle France, La Barre, negotiated a peace with the Iroquois following a military expedition by the French in 1684.
From Lahontan, Nouveaux voyages, I, “Lettre VII” (1703).
Copy at Bibliothèque nationale de France via Gallica. Non known restriction for scholarly use.

This paper explores the vocabularies of Native American languages published as part of the travel accounts written by explorers, traders, and colonial policy-makers in North America, in the course of the eighteenth century.

Starting with the renowned Voyages by the Baron de Lahontan, the aim of this paper is to foreground what these lexicographic compilations reveal about European encounters with societies categorised as radically different from – and less civilised than – the traveller’s own: an ‘otherness’ sometimes exploited as a mirror and term of comparison that challenges the observer’s ethnocentrism.

Drawing on existing scholarship about the cultural history of Euro-American encounters in the modern age, this study puts forward an original analysis of the temporal conceptualisations underpinning vocabularies of ‘savage languages’, both in terms of historical diachronicity and of time as a culturally constructed frame of human experience.

The focus on the lists of words and phrases included in travel accounts, journals and relations makes it possible to question the relationship between the recording of linguistic evidence and travel narratives, and explore the complex negotiations between empirical observation and pre-existing cultural categories and stereotypes.

A close reading of these often understudied primary sources contributes to identify recurrent conceptual tropes and assign a central role to the historicisation of Native Americans within wider processes of cultural construction of a global Europeanness.

This presentation is part of

Eighteenth-Century Research Seminars
2021 Programme

The Eighteenth-Century Research Seminars take place throughout semester 2 and are open to all.

All meetings will be held online, using Collaborate, from 4:30–5:30pm UK time. (Follow the link to the programme above to sign up via Eventbrite)

10 February
Regis Coursin (Montreal) ‘Against Despotism: Approaching the Republican Atlantic, c.1769–1791’

Giulia Iannuzzi (Trieste) ‘Phrasebooks for European Travellers in Eighteenth-Century North America’

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Phrasebooks for European Travellers in Eighteenth-Century North America," in Geographies of Time, 27/01/2021,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Commemorating the Future

The Reign of George VI and an eighteenth-century twentieth century. – Winner of the Committee award for a particularly interdisciplinary paper / which pioneers a new area of study,
assigned by the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies at its annual conference, 2021.

2021 will mark the centennial of the establishment of the city of Stanley, in Rutland, as the new British cultural capital, thanks to George VI’s initiatives in 1921.

Stanley’s renaissance took place after the monarch’s heroic decision to oppose a Russian invasion force in 1900, which brought to England’s military successes over France, Russia, and Spain, and to the final coronation of George the VI as King of France at Rheims, in 1920. The rise of Russia, and the oppressive influence exerted by Charles X of France over the continent were ended by British power. After these crucial military achievements, during 1921 the Bolingbrokeian king devoted his energy to the building of what I. F. Clarke has defined a new “Hanoverian harmony”, with its cultural barycentre in the Midlands. Stanley became home to a new Chancery, a Cathedral of St. John the massive proportions of which overshadow St. Peter in Rome, and to the Academy of Polite Learning, at the forefront in “promoting literature in all its branches”.

Commemorating the Future, a slide on the history and geography of Stanley. Image: visualisation with Nodegoat, detail @ Giulia Iannuzzi personal research domain. Copyright Giulia Iannuzzi

If we lift our eyes from the pages of The Reign of George VI. 1900-1925: A Forecast Written in the Year 1763, published in London in 1763, we may reason on the future depicted – and celebrated ex ante – in this anonymous novel, through an extrapolation which exploits both prescriptive-utopian and prophetic imaginative strands.

This paper aims at fostering a better understanding of a future conceived as a dimension pliable by human action, against the backdrop of the crisis of the European temporal mind that took place during the late-modern era. The case study of The Reign of George VI – a fascinating early futuristic fiction with a very specific interest in (future) history – is placed within the cultural history of time, tracing back the conceptualization of a secularized future to the emergence of new ideas and sensibilities towards historical time, which matured gradually during the eighteenth century.

The Reign proposes a historical chronicle of the future starting in 1900, mimicking the structure and tone of a short treaty, with an introduction devoted to a didactic summary of British history from 1660 to the end of the nineteenth century. A roman-à-thèse-reading with clear reference to British current affairs is suggested transparently, while the projection of causal mechanisms into the future offers an imaginary laboratory to demonstrate and celebrate the successes of an ideal Bolingbrokeian monarch, and portray a European and global future seen from British eyes.

The Reign of George VI, 1763 edition.
Copy at John Carter Brown library via Internet Archive.
No known restriction for scholarly use.

To explore the novel’s chronotope and its depiction of a global space-time of the future I developed a Nodegoat project on my personal research domain. I presented some visualisations while giving my paper at:

Anniversaries, Jubilees, Commemorations, 50th Annual Conference British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, 6-8 January 2021.

At this link the conference website

At this link the conference programme

Commemorating the Future is part of session 1, panel 2: Military commemoration
Host: Phil Connell
Chair: Matthew McCormack
Speakers: Conrad Brunstrom “Bravely suspending War, and daring not to Fight”: 1713, and the Poetic Imagining of World Peace.
Samuel Dodson Courage, Honour and Phlegm: An investigation into military intellectual’s opinions on the psychology of combat in the eighteenth century.
Giulia Iannuzzi Commemorating the Future: The Reign of George VI and an eighteenth-century twentieth century

Commemorating the Future, presentation title slide. Copyright Giulia Iannuzzi

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Commemorating the Future," in Geographies of Time, 06/01/2021,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license


Imagined conflicts-to-come between the nineteenth century and the eve of WWI

By the beginning of the Twentieth century, the imagery related to future wars already had precedents, having been a topic touched upon in future-set narratives across different textual genres since the Seventeenth century. Early examples had used ominous depictions of future invasions and scenarios of armed conflict to argue in favour of specific political options in texts whose primary aim was to influence the political debates of the day.

Argaud de Barges, La Thiloriere ou Descente en Angleterre: Projet d’une Montgolfiere capable d’enlever 3.000 Hommes et qui ne coutera que 300.000 Francs [etc.], etching and pointillé gravure (Paris: Chez Boulard, 1803), Bibliothèque nationale de France, accessed via Gallica, identifier: ark:/12148/btv1b8509550q.

During the first years of the nineteenth century, however, future-war literary fictions were few in number, while war technologies were of course object of fantastic representations also unrelated to future settings, a notable example being Baron Munchausen’s adventures on battle fields and on cannonballs becoming means of transport across Earthly territories and even to the moon.[1] Future settings were also exploited by prophetic novels imagining remote futures for humanity or one subject as the sole survivor of a catastrophe indebted to Romantic inspiration (e.g. Restif de la Bretonne’s Les Posthumes in 1802, Jean-Baptiste Cousin de Grainville’s Le Dernier homme in 1805, Félix Bodin, Le Roman de l’avenir in 1834).[2] While important milestones were reached in later decades by Louis Geoffroy’s alternative history Napoleon et la conquête du monde 1812-1832: Histoire de la Monarchie universelle (1836),[3] and by the American Civil War imagined by two American authors, Nathaniel B. Tucker (The Partisan Leader, 1836) and Edmund Ruffin (Anticipations of the Future, 1860), future-war narratives did not become a codified sub-genre until the 1870s.[4]

By then, the presence of intertextual references to similar texts, a shared encyclopaedia of recurring motives and topoi, and textual devices implying a recognition of existing readers’ expectations had gradually led to the sub-genre taking shape, helped by the emergence of a mass market for magazines and books, a rich breeding ground for popular publishing formulas.

Particular attention has been paid by recent scholarship to the seminal role of George T. Chesney’s The Battle of Dorking (1871), given the innovative nature of a setting located in a very near future, and the public debate that followed its publication in England, originating sequels, editions, and translations over a number of European countries and the US. Designed to encourage reform and modernisation in the British army, Chesney’s book was written after the Franco-Prussian War, and envisaged a scenario in which Germany had taken France’s place as the invader able to cross the English Channel.[5] According to Mike Ashley, “Chesney’s alarmist story had catapulted the genre of future-war fiction into the public arena.”[6]

The ensuing decades saw waves of imagined conflicts-to-come especially notable in England and Germany, in the short-story form as well as in serialized long narratives and volume-length novels. Depicted conflicts were consumed between European powers, as well as on a global scale (such as Robida’s La guerre au vingtième siècle, and Giffard and Robida’s La guerre infernale). Invasions from the east were relevant to the codification of the Yellow Peril theme (e.g. M. P. Shiel’s The Yellow Danger, 1898), and threats from mad scientists and terrorist organizations were also imagined (e.g. George Griffith’s The Angel of the Revolution, 1893).

In H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds (1898), the novelty of having extraterrestrials as invaders made explicit the relationship between ideas of progress and the recourse to the future as an imaginative device for conducting hypothetical experiments, informed by conceptualisations of historical time as characterised by a unidirectional flow. As John Rieder has argued, “… Wells asks his English readers to compare the Martian invasion of Earth with the Europeans’ genocidal invasion of the Tasmanians, thus demanding that the colonisers imagine themselves as the colonised, or the about-to-be-colonised. …  the analogy rests on the logic prevalent in contemporary anthropology that the indigenous, primitive other’s present is the colonizer’s own past … The confrontation of humans and Martians is thus a kind of anachronism, an incongruous co-habitation of the same moment by people and artefacts from different times.”[7]

In the years immediately preceding World War I, future wars became part of a proto-science fiction repertoire, in works written, published and read as entertainment.[8] Notable cases include William LeQueux’s bestseller The Invasion of 1910 (1906), and Saki [Hector H. Munro]’s When William Came: A Story of London Under the Hohenzollerns (1913), apt examples of the coeval Germanophobia caused in England by the perception of an increasing Teutonic menace.[9] Imagined conflicts became a fairly well-established subgenre, in which technology supplied a spectacular element, while being a focal point for anxieties related to the increasing speed of technological progress and world connections, as well as of international relations characterised by instability and/or by the emergence of non-Western actors such as Japan and China, with their economic and demographic power.

The next post will aim to understand and critically assess the wave(s) of future-war narratives that characterized European illustrated periodicals and book markets before 1914.


[1]  [Rudolf Erich Raspe], Gulliver revived, or The vice of lying properly exposed. … Also an account of a voyage into the moon and Dog-Star; with many extraordinary particulars relative to the cooking animal in those planets, which are there called the human species (London: Printed for C. and G. Kearsley, 1793).

[2]  Marc Angenot, “Science Fiction in France before Verne,” Science Fiction Studies 5, no. 14 (1978): 58-76.

[3]  Published anonymously until 1841; Pierre Versins, Encyclopédie de l’utopie, des voyages extraordinaires & de la science-fiction (Lausanne: L’âge d’homme, 1972), ad vocem.

[4]  Darko Suvin, “Victorian Science Fiction, 1871-85: The Rise of the Alternative History Sub-Genre,” Science-Fiction Studies 10, no. 2, (1983): 148-169; see also Brian M. Stableford, “Future War,” SFE: Science Fiction Encyclopedia, ed. John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls, Graham Sleight, 2005, last version 2018,

[5]   First published in Blackwood’s Magazine, and reprinted as a stand-alone pamphlet. A contemporary edition is in Clarke, British Future Fiction, vol. 6: 1-44; on its reception: I. F. Clarke, “Before and after ‘The Battle of Dorking,’’’ Science Fiction Studies 24, no. 1 (1997): 33-46, see 42-44; on its innovative role see also: Paul K. Alkon, Origins of Futuristic Fiction (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987), 40.

[6]   Mike Ashley, “The Fear of Invasion,” British Library, Discovering Literature: Romantics & Victorians, 15 May 2014,

[7]   John Rieder, Colonialsm and the Emergence of Science Fiction (Middletown CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2008), qt. 5.

[8]   Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), 90.

[9]   Cecil D. Eby, The Road to Armageddon: The Martial Spirit in English Popular Literature, 1870-1914 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1988), 33 and ff., 80 and ff.

This post is adapted from Giulia Iannuzzi, “The Illustrator and the Global Wars to Come: Albert Robida, La guerre infernale, and the Long History of Imagined Warfare”, Cromohs – Cyber Review of Modern Historiography22 (2019): 95-136; par. “Techno-apocalypses”, pp. 111-113. DOI: 10.13128/cromohs-11706. Full text available in open access:

See here all posts in the future-wars series

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Techno-apocalypses," in Geographies of Time, 15/11/2020,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Exhibiting Temporal Hierarchizations

Great Expositions, temporal hierarchisation, and the birth of a global consciousness

According to Darko Suvin, “the instauration of capitalist production as the dominant and finally all-pervasive way of life engendered a fundamental reorientation of human practice and imagination: a wished-for or feared future becomes the new space of the cognitive (and increasingly of the everyday) imagination.”1  The expansion of the Western powers brought about techno-driven globalisation processes at an increased speed,2 bearing remarkable consequences in the development of a globalised consciousness, and of ideas and imageries deeply rooted in new knowledge concerning remote areas of the globe and their inhabitants.

The origins of this process can in fact be traced back to the multiple availability of sources deriving from geographical explorations, to the momentum thus gained by comparative and universal history during the late-modern age, and to the growing influence of Enlightenment ideas of progress and conjectural histories, organising civilisations according to subsequent stages of development.3

Notions regarding examples of radical “otherness” from remote parts of the globe conceptualised as remains of the common human past and instances of humanity in its infancy were decisive in fostering ideas of historical time as a dimension of progressive development. Ideas of degeneration and stagnation applied to other societies implied the use of the European civilisation as a standard against which other might be evaluated, and also brought about reflections on historical time as a frame of causal relations between phenomena and human actions. In ideas of a linear and irreversible historical time lies the – insufficient but necessary – precondition for the hierarchisations of societies and humans that will characterise a mature imperialistic phase.4

During the nineteenth century, these conceptualizations informed important expressions of popular culture, such as the Great Expositions, in which a temporal dimension was touched upon by central symbolic and discursive structures.5 Through the recreation of ancient Greek and Roman monuments, medieval quarters and villages, and the living ethno-expositions of alien humans presented as embodying primitive or early stages of civilisation,6 international exhibitions effectively put on stage a temporal dimension, which culminated in sections devoted to the scientific and technological wonders of Western modernity and progress.

This temporal hierarchisation provided the ideological frame in which an increasing thematization of the future found a place, and this became central near the end of the century, with the 1889’s Eiffel Tower, Alva Edison’s pavilion of electric light, and the Hall of Machines. Conflating ideas of history and images of the globe7 in limited urban areas – or even in single attractions, such as George Wyld’s Great Globe in Leicester Square during the London Great Exhibition of 1851 – these expositions allowed visitors to complete a tour of the world on foot in a few hours. As one of the first and most effective “laboratories for a global space-time,”8 these exhibits made a decisive contribution to the elaboration of a science-fictional mind-set.9

The technological sublime, which became typical of early speculative-fiction literature and illustration, has the same cultural backdrop as Expos and Fairs, and is partly indebted to the exhibitionary strategies of those early pavilions. Expos embodied a growing interest in science and technology, helped to visualise their future effects on human society and the global environment, and put forward a use of technology not strictly utilitarian, but rather aimed at fostering a sense of wonder in its spectators. As early as 1905 on Coney Island, with the dark ride A Trip to the Moon designed by Frederick Thompson, visitors could physically travel through scenic illusions, which staged a whole series of early science fiction tropes, from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (patented in 1903) to the North Pole, to a War of Worlds.10 The latter – which despite the similar title was not inspired by H. G. Wells’ novel of 1897 – enacted an attack on New York by (small-scale) European navies. This attraction was heir to the naumachias that, since the Roman world and throughout modern Europe, had constituted a form of entertainment and public spectacle,11 while also tapping into an“early-twentieth century frenzy for disaster spectacles, science fiction and ‘you are there’ adventure journeys.”12

It will come as no surprise that three years before publishing Vingt mille lieues sous les mers: Tour du monde sous-marin, Jules Verne visited the 1867 Paris Universal Exposition. Here Joseph-Martin Cabirol’s diving suit (an innovative version of Augustus Siebe’s creation) received a prize, and model of the 1863 submarine Le plongeur was on display, which became sources of inspiration along with the other latest literary and current events.13 By the turn of the century, the diorama and panorama attractions in the “Tour du Monde” pavilion at Paris 1900 had a distinctive Vernian twist, being a miniature version of his namesake 1872 novel,14 designed by Alexandre Marcel, with the collaboration of Louis Doumoulin, already known as the “Jules Verne du pinceau.”15

The “Tour du Monde” with its Arabian, Japanese, Chinese and Indian sections among others, compressed geographical distances and summarized global space through the juxtaposition of remote cultures. A 1900 report on the Expo by the French Ministère du commerce, de l’industrie, des postes et des télégraphes highlighted that the attraction was home to various dioramas and an “exotic theatre” with 300 seats, devoted to the “most curious countries” serviced by the French Compagnie des messageries maritimes. Here living “natives” demonstrated for the public everyday activities or traditional dances,16 albums illustrated with lavish photos documented the mises en scènes and became tokens of the Fair for visitors to collect, and to enjoy (again) the aesthetic marvels and visits of important personalities.17

Another section of Paris 1900, the “Vieux Paris” designed by journalist, illustrator and novelist Albert Robida, condensed historical time from the Middle Ages to the Eighteenth century into one attraction.18 The official report mentioned above described Robida’s attraction and documented it with numerous photos: “Le Vieux Paris se divisait en trois groupes principaux: quartier du moyen âge, s’étendant de la porte Saint-Michel (face au pont de l’Alma) à l’église Saint-Julien-des-Ménétriers; quartier des Halles au XVIIIème siècle; groupe formé par le Châtelet et le pont au Change (XVIIème siècle), la rue de la Foire Saint-Laurent (XVIIIème siècle) et le Palais (Renaissance).”19 The report highlighted the many leisures and attractions that animated the area, which included “a small battalion of figurants in costumes”: “Des établissements de spectacle, des restaurants, des cafés, de nombreuses boutiques pour la vente d’objets-souvenirs étaient installés dans le Vieux Paris et contribuaient à son animation. Un petit bataillon de figurants en costumes anciens peuplait la concession.”20 Among the dioramas described in the report, the exoticism of a Kremlin with special snow effects, was to be found alongside the techno-wonder of New York’s elevated railway.

Verne was among the authors featured in the Gazette du Vieux Paris: rédigée par une société d’écrivains des Annales politiques et littéraires, which Albert Robida designed to accompany the Vieux Paris section of the expo. The Gazette devoted fourteen four-page monographic issues to different moments in French history, and constituted a visual pendant of the recreation of pasts that was staged by architecture in the Vieux Paris section of the expo. From a first “Gallo-Roman” issue featuring Verne on “The Origin of Paris,” through a second “Merovingian” issue a third “Carolingian,” and so on, the Gazette was meant both as a guide to and souvenir from the exhibition. While contents celebrated French national spirit and its role in the birth of modern democracy, every issue embodied the era to which it was devoted, being printed on a different kind of paper, imitating fonts and illustration style of the period represented.21

Gazette du Vieux Paris. Rédigéè par une société d’écrivains des Annales Politiques et Litteraires, n. 1 – Numero Gallo-Romain, 15 Avril 1900, first page. Copy at the British Library. Photo: Giulia Iannuzzi.
Gazette du Vieux Paris. Rédigéè par une société d’écrivains des Annales Politiques et Litteraires, n. 1 – Numero Gallo-Romain, 15 Avril 1900, cover. Copy at the British Library. Photo: Giulia Iannuzzi.

In other works by Robida, the Great Expos is a central source of inspiration: Le vingtième siècle (1883), set in 1952, gives account of future society constructed around the inventions on show at the Paris 1881 Exposition Internationale d’Électricité. “Jadis chez aujourd’hui” (published in Le petit français illustré between 10 May and 14 June 1890) presents a time-travel fantasy featuring a scientist who resuscitates Molière and other literary figures and accompanies them to visit the Paris 1889 Exposition Universelle.22 The same ideas underpinning the design of the 1900 Vieux Paris are at work in such projections of a future Paris. Scenarios depicted in La guerre au vingtième siècle (1887)23 and La guerre infernale (1908) are logically extrapolated from the present as a consequence of historical processes, of an irreversible time flow and causal mechanisms. Ideas of progress informed these fictions, as well as, on occasion, the terrible awareness of the potential consequences of using new technologies to develop weapons and military hardware.


1 Darko Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979), 115-116.

2 Daniel R. Headrick, Power over People: Technology, Environments, and Western Imperialism, 1400 to the Present (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2012).

3 Guido Abbattista, “The Historical Thought of the French Philosophes,” in The Oxford History of Historical Writing, ed. José Rabasa, Masayuki Sato, Edoardo Tortarolo, and Daniel Woolf, vol. 3, 1400-1800 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 406-427; Georg G. Iggers and Q. Edward Wang, with contributions from Supriya Mukherjee, A Global History of Modern Historiography (London and New York: Routledge, 2013), 19-32; Daniel Woolf, A Global History of History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), esp. 280-343.

4 On temporal hierarchization from a cultural history perspective: Chris Lorenz and Berber Bevernage, eds., Breaking up Time: Negotiating the Borders between Present, Past and Future (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013).

5 Guido Abbattista, Giulia Iannuzzi, “World Expositions as Time Machines: Two Views of the Visual Construction of Time between Anthropology and Futurama,” World History Connected 13, no. 3 (2016), doi: 10.5281/zenodo.2652723.

6 Guido Abbattista, ‘Concepts and Categories in the History of World Expositions: Introductory Remarks,” in Abbattista, ed., Moving Bodies, Displaying Nations: National Cultures, Race and Gender in World Expositions Nineteenth to Twenty-First Century (Trieste: EUT, 2014), 7-20; and Abbattista, Umanità in mostra: Esposizioni etniche e invenzioni esotiche in Italia (1880–1940) (Trieste: EUT, 2014), esp. 32-36.

7 Alexander C. T. Geppert, “True Copies: Time and Space Travels at British Imperial Exhibitions, 1880-1930,” in The Making of Modern Tourism: The Cultural History of the British Experience, 1600-2000, ed. Hartmut Berghoff Barbara Korte, Christopher Harvie, Ralph Schneider (Basingstoke-New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 223-248.

8 Roger Luckhurst, “Laboratories for Global Space-Time: Science-Fictionality and the World’s Fairs, 1851-1939,” Science Fiction Studies 39, no. 118 (2012): 385-400.

9 Brooks Landon, “SF Tourism,” in The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction, ed. Mark Bould, Andrew M. Butler, Adam Roberts, and Sherryl Vint (London and New York: Routledge, 2009), 32-41.

10 Woody Register, The Kid of Coney Island: Fred Thompson and the Rise of American Amusements (Oxford-New York: Oxford University Press, 2001): electronic edition, par. “The Crying Need for Novelty.”

11 Martha Pollak, Cities at War in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 284-286; Ignacio Ramos Gay, “Naumachias, the Ancient World and Liquid Theatrical Bodies on the Early 19th Century English Stage,” Miranda 11 (2015): 1-15, doi: 10.4000/miranda.6745.

12 John S. Berman, Coney Island (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2003), 34; see also William J. Phalen, Coney Island: 150 Years of Rides, Fires, Floods, the Rich, the Poor and Finally Robert Moses (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2016), 114.

13 William Butcher, “Introduction” and “Appendix: Sources of Ideas on Submarine Navigation,” in Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas, trans. William Butcher (1870; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), ix-xxxi, 382-384, see xiv and 383; Smithsonian Libraries, Fantastic Worlds: Science and Fiction 1780-1910, “Sea Changes,” website of the exhibition, July 1, 2015 – February 26, 2017,

14 Roger Benjamin, Orientalist Aesthetics: Art, Colonialism, and French North Africa, 1880-1930 (Berkley-Los Angeles-London: University of California Press, 2003), 114.

15 Julien Béal, “Le Japon dans la collection photographique du peintre Louis-Jules Dumoulin (1860-1924) ,” Hal – Archives ouvertes 2017, hal-01517490v1: see 3 and note 9.

16 Alfred Picard (Ministère du commerce, de l’industrie, des postes et des télégraphes), Exposition universelle internationale de 1900 à Paris. Rapport général administratif et technique (Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1902-1903), 8 vols., vol. 7, 226; accessed via Bibliothèque numérique en histoire des sciences et des techniques,

17 Le Panorama. Exposition universelle 1900, sous la direction de René Baschet, avec les photographies de Neurdein frères et Maurice Baschet Publisher (Paris: Ludovic Baschet éd., 1900).

18 Exposition Universelle de 1900. Le Vieux Paris: guide historique, pittoresque et anecdotique (Paris: Ménard et Chaufour, 1900), booklet, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Gallica, ark:/12148/bpt6k201257n; see here, xviii-xiv for Robida as “maistre de l’oeuvre” and a list of his main collaborators. See also Elizabeth Emery and Laura Morowitz, Consuming the Past: The Medieval Revival in fin-de-siècle France (Burlington: Ashgate, 2003), esp. ch. 7 “Feasts, fools and festivals: the popular Middle Ages,” 171-208; Robida, créateur du Vieux Paris à l’Exposition Universelle de 1900, thematic issue of Le Téléphonoscope. Bulletin des amis d’Albert Robida 9 (2002), esp. Jean-Claude Viche, “Bibliographie sommaire sur «le Vieux Paris» de Robida,” 2.

19 “The Vieux Paris is divided into three main parts: the Middle Age district, extending from Porte Saint-Michel (opposite to the Alma Bridge) to the Saint-Julien-des-Ménétriers church; the district of the XVIII century halls; a quarter formed by the Châtelet and the Change bridge (XVII century), the Foire Saint-Laurent street (XVIII century) and the Palace (Renaissance).” Picard, Exposition universelle, vol. 7, 240, see also 244, where the report specifies that the area occupied by the Vieux Paris was 1.918-square meters large, and that to this had to be added a 250-meters long and 3.900-square meters large area of corbelled constructions along the Seine.

20 “Entertainments, restaurants, cafes, and numerous souvenirs shops were installed in the Vieux Paris and contributed to its animation. A small battalion of extras in costumes from ancient eras populated the concession.” Picard, Exposition universelle, vol. 7, 244.

21 On the Gazette: Christine A. Roth, “The Narrative Promise: Redesigning History in La Gazette du Vieux Paris,” CEA Critic 78 no. 1 (March 2016): 116-128; Patrice Carré, “Paris perdu, Paris mis en pages… En feuilletant la Gazette du Vieux Paris,” Le Téléphonoscope. Bulletin des amis d’Albert Robida 9 (2002), 19-21.

22 Cf. John Clute et al., “Robida, Albert,” in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, ed. John Clute, Peter Nicholls, and David Langford, last modified January 4, 2019, accessed December 10, 2019,; Dominique Lacaze, “Albert Robida, Explorer of the Twentieth Century,” part I, “Technical Innovation” and part II, “The Invention of a Society,” Futuribles 366 (2010): 61-70, and 367 (2010): 65-76.

23 Albert Robida, La guerre au vingtième siècle (Paris: Georges Decaux, 1887), this is a short, lavishingly illustrated novel in a stand-alone 51-pages volume; under the same title – “La guerre au vingtième siècle” – Robida published also a short story in La Caricature, 27 October 1883, 337-343.

This post is adapted from Giulia Iannuzzi, “The Illustrator and the Global Wars to Come: Albert Robida, La guerre infernale, and the Long History of Imagined Warfare”, Cromohs – Cyber Review of Modern Historiography22 (2019): 95-136; par. “Exhibiting temporal hierarchizations”, pp. 105-110. Full text available in open access:

See here all posts in the future-wars series

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Exhibiting Temporal Hierarchizations," in Geographies of Time, 03/09/2020,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Historicizing the Future

… I must acquiesce, and be content with the Honour and Misfortune, of being the first among Historians (if a mere Publisher of Memoirs may deserve that Name) who leaving the beaten Tracts of writing with Malice or Flattery, the accounts of past Actions and Times, have dar’d to enter by the help of an infallible Guide, into the dark Caverns of Futurity, and discover the Secrets of Ages yet to come.

Samuel Madden,  Memoirs of the Twentieth Century (London: Printed for Messieurs Osborn and Longman, Davis, and Batley …, 1733) vol. 1, 3.

Contemporary historiography has highlighted the role played by a spatial dimension in the birth of a speculative imagination which, in modern-age Europe, exploited fantastic and philosophical motives, and was rich in theological and spiritual interests.1 The Copernican revolution opened up cosmic space as a possible home to other planets and civilisations. From Francis Godwin’s The Man in the Moon (1638) to Cyrano de Bergerac’s The Other World (1657), up to Fontenelle’s Entretiens sur la pluralités des mondes (1686), the seventeenth century reflected on the possibility of extra-terrestrial life and saw the flourishing of interplanetary voyages, explorations of the moon and more remote celestial bodies, close encounters with distant civilizations, including the possibility of being visited by extra-terrestrials beings on Earth (e.g. Charles Sorel’sL’Histoire comique de Francion, 1623, progenitor of the imaginary visits of alien humans in Europe).2

Cultural historians and scholars of speculative fiction usually locate in a late-modern period the appearance of a temporal dimension exploited as a means of dislocation from the writer’s reality, and thus as a source of cognitive estrangement.3 However, while some see in the consequences of the same Copernican revolution the crucial condition thanks to which the imagination first became able to work outside the temporal horizon of Biblical time,4 others place the shift from a spatial-based to a temporal-based speculation as late as the eighteenth century,5 or take the year 1800 as a conventional watershed.6 In his comprehensive anthology of British future fiction, I. F. Clarke identifies a turning point during the nineteenth century, but traces from the seventeenth century onwards the first developments of a temporal imagination, in consequence of which “the geographies of utopian fiction evolved into the historiographies of a new literature.”7

The conceptualization of a future intimately linked to the present and shapeable by human action can in fact be traced back to the emergence of new ideas and sensibilities towards historical time, which matured gradually during the modern age.8 Anglophone and francophone literatures offer extrapolations of near-future scenarios as early as the beginning of the seventeenth century. 

A play such as A Larum for London (published anonymously in 1602) implicitly suggests that a Spanish sack of London might replicate the horrors of 1576 Antwerp,9 John Dryden’s Annus Mirabilis (1667) imagines London reborn after the Great Fire, political prophetism nourishes works such as Aulicus his Dream of the King’s Sudden Comming to London (anonymous, 1644)10 and Jacques Guttin’s Épigone, Histoire du siècle futur (1659). The future is home to a model society towards which the English Parliament is invited to work in A Description of the Famous Kingdome of Macaria (1642) attributed to Samuel Hartlib.11 These narrations offer possible and counter-factual histories used to make a point about the politics of the day, whether through ominous predictions, practical indications, or – in the case of Guttin – as the backdrop to adventurous plots.12 Squibs, satires, or exotic romances, these texts represent a step towards a secularized history13 and conceptualizations of the future that their late-modern and early-contemporary descendants will come to embody, without yet constituting a genre, nor focusing their inventions and extrapolations on those techno-scientific wonders that would only later take centre-stage.14

As Bronisław Baczko has argued,15 the topographical dislocation exploited in early-modern imaginary voyages may serve the purpose of constructing an ideal society untouched by the same historical processes experienced by the reader’s, so that history as known by the writer and the reader constantly informs the invention as a negative presence, by its absence. Utopian societies may consequently be described as a result of different histories, and characterized by alternate calendars and time-computing methods, such as in L’histoire des Sevarambes; peuples qui habitent une partie du troisième continent, communément appelé la Terre australe by Denis Veiras (1677-1679).16 Baczko discusses also what he calls utopia-proposals, such as Étienne-Gabriel Morelly’s Code de la Nature (1755), in which the utopian project may serve the purpose of showing a different yet possible continuation of history, freeing society from its past to offer a new beginning.17

A fantastic voyage: a ship has left the sea below and is sailing among the clouds, in a nocturnal sky. The caption below reads "The ship is caught up into the skies". Illustration from Lucian's wonderland: being a translation of the 'Vera historia' by Lucian, by St J. Basil Wynne Willson; with numerous illustrations by A. Payne Garnett (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1899), p. 47. Copy via InternetArchive.
“The ship is caught up into the skies”. Lucian’s wonderland: being a translation of the ‘Vera historia’ by Lucian, by St J. Basil Wynne Willson; with numerous illustrations by A. Payne Garnett (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1899), p. 47. Copy via InternetArchive. Non known restriction for scholarly use.

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