How should we think about islands and archipelagoes? “Island” is a concept that seems easily defined, as the island itself is defined by its shore. However, the more attention one pays to the idea of the island, the more one realizes its multifarious, complicated meaning. Most of the locations we identify as “islands,” as Godfrey Baldacchino notes, are in fact archipelagos, with interconnected relations that draw them into a network. This hidden engagement in the physical world is mimicked on the abstract level, where insularity connotes isolation and provincialism, an association that the island both encourages and defies. No man is an island, but then, neither are most islands. This indeterminacy makes islands are powerful yet supple metaphors that illuminate and obfuscate in turn. They can be land surrounded by water, but also unique habitats isolated by their surroundings, distinct cultures in a sea of homogeneity. What defines them ultimately is boundary, but a boundary that ultimately can be crossed.
A more complex conception of islands, therefore, enables us to gain a deeper understanding the cultures and relationships they foster. Island and archipelago theory is a growing field, yet one that has done much of its development outside of the realm of medieval studies. The lab “Unexpected Islands” introduces participants to important methodological works and leads discussion in how we can apply these concepts to medieval seascapes. Readings will draw from geographical considerations of insularity, as well as contributions from island cultures outside of the medieval era. We will examine how this wider view can facilitate a fuller understanding of the island and archipelagic dynamic in the Middle Ages.
Participants in the lab will also be able to attend other events at the conference whose times do not conflict. If interested in participating, send a short abstract describing your interest (for the purposes of building a curriculum) and CV to JeremyDeAngelo@gmail.com. For further information on the conference, see http://www.sfu.ca/english/iona/.