TRAVELSCAPES – “Landscape perception and unknown environments exploration”
Compte-rendu du séminaire du 2 juin 2016
Par Cristina Corsi (University of Cassino), résidente IMéRA-LabexMed 2015-2016
TRAVELSCAPES – Landscape perception and unknown environments exploration: New perspectives into Classical and Medieval journey
The workshop “Travelscapes” offered a programme that assembled experts from a broad range of disciplines, including archaeologists, geographers, cultural anthropologists, architects, sociologists, historians and experts of travel literature. It was indeed designed to implement the interdisciplinary approach that was the ‘pillar’ of the project that Cristina Corsi submitted at IMéRA. This interdisciplinary approach aimed also at fulfilling the main mission of the institution that fostered the project.
Upon suggestion of the scientific staff at IMéRA, even the “Arts” were included, with the participation of Hendrick Sturm, an “artist marcheur-sculpteur d’espace”.
Such diversified programme was clustered around the three main concepts which underpinned the workshop: the road, the journey, the space.
Each one of these targets was presented from different points of view, addressed with methodologies and tools of different disciplines.
It was a choice of the organiser to exclude the factor of “time”, and specialists working on different chronological periods, from Antiquity to contemporary, were invited to the workshop. This original approach, which stresses once more how essential is the interdisciplinary interaction, is due to the fact that, with very few exceptions, most interesting and innovative research has been conducted for chronological spans other than Late Antiquity or the Middle Ages, that are Corsi’s current fields of interest.
The workshop was opened with a welcome addresses by Amine Asselah, representing IMéRA, and by Nicolas Faucherre, director of the LA3M (Aix-Marseille Université, CNRS, MMSH). M. Faucherre also chaired the morning session, while the afternoon session has been chaired by Marie-Adeline Le Guennec (EFR, ENS Lyon), who coordinates the project HospitAm, centred around hospitality in Antiquity in the Mediterranean.
Cristina Corsi, organiser of the event, briefly presented the workshop and the scientific topics related with the complex theme of “travel”.
Ray Laurence (University of Kent, Department of Classical and Archaeological Studies) discussed the theoretical framework which he has developed for the study of connectivity in Antiquity. He observed that, even if the importance of the creation and maintenance of such an extraordinary web of communication networks is since ever acknowledged as one of the most important achievements of the Roman empire, in the past decades we have learned more about the implication of “movement” through the Empire, and how “travel” played a role in creating and stabilising an essential part of the “Roman Identity”. He argued that it is time to shift the focus of our reading of the ancient world towards mobility and connectivity, moving away from studying ancient roads only from the technological or military point of view, and to stretch our understanding to the role that roads played in the creation of a structured state, like the Roman Empire.
Elisabetta De Minicis (University of Tuscia, DISTU) presented a paper centred around the methodology for studying ancient, and specifically Medieval roads. In several occasions she called for the need to consider roads as ‘living beings’. The road is presented as artifact in its topographical context, and therefore as part of a landscape, in its interaction with settlement patterns, as element of connectivity, as instrument of power.
The materiality of roads, paths and pathways is linked to their stopping places, to street villages, and therefore to Travel, with its modalities, its routine, its practice, and its motivation.
In this context, the presentation by Eleonora Destefanis (University of Eastern Piedmont; Projet HospitAM) focussed on several aspects of hospitality in Medieval monasteries, from the materiality of the hosting sectors that we can individuate in the plan of monastic complexes, to the role of nodes that these infrastructures played in the construction of a “paysage routier” between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages.
The rich field of studies of ‘odoeporics’ has been touched upon by Christine Gadrat (Aix-Marseille Université, CNRS, LA3M, MMSH), who commented on a series of travel narratives from the end of the Middle Ages to Early Modern phases, mainly connected with the first accounts of explorations of the Far East.
The feeling and the narrative of travelling is connected to the journey of the mind and ultimately to experience.
Noel Salazar (KU Leuven, Cultural Mobilities Research – CuMoRe) presented some reflections, based on an anthropological analysis of some statistical data of travel and movement in the contemporary world, about the motivations of travel.
Experience and cognition are at the base of the analysis of space that was offered by Giacomo Landeschi (Lund University, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History). Innovative studies of how surrounding space is perceived not only by sight but also by other senses are being carried out in built urban environments. The experiments performed with advanced digital technologies in some domus of Pompeii were used as case-study to show the potentials of such a methodology.
Rowin Van Lanen (Utrecht University, Department of Physical Geography; Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands) talked about mathematical and quantitative methods applied to landscape archaeology, stressing the difference between ‘routes’ and ‘roads’, how and why route networks fundamentally differ from road networks. He also discussed the very innovative concept of ‘persistence’ of Medieval roads. This concept replaces the traditional definition of ‘continuity’ that, amply used in archaeological studies, turned to be asphyxiated and unproductive. The methods that can be adopted to study dynamic landscapes were also presented.
Fréderic Audard (Aix-Marseille Université, CNRS, UMR 7300 ESPACE), a social geographer, presented the methodologies that are used to analyse and model communication networks in contemporary society. The case-studies which he discussed, mainly from contemporary France, showed how many different mathematical-statistical formulas can be used to define and identify parameters (such as ‘zoning’) and trends.
The interesting discussion that followed this presentation was centred around the radical differences between the datasets that can be used to analyse movement in past and contemporary societies.
Samuel Carpentier (Aix-Marseille University, CNRS, ESPACE UMR 7300), discussing spatial behaviours in urban areas, showed how sociodemographic characteristics are indirectly related to these behaviours even if they do not play a determinant role in the models. Instead, geographic determinants (place of residence, accessibility…) are highly significant to explain mobility behaviours.
To come full circle, the concept of movement in space drove the attendees back to the themes of routes and travel, until the extraordinary journey guided by Hendrick Sturm (Ecole supérieure d’art et de design Toulon) in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris: he showed how a walk of only a few hundreds of meters can lead to the exploration of hidden recesses, where elements telling countless stories can be picked up.
The discussion was chaired by Cristina Corsi and targeted three main topics:
1) In the light of what was presented about the relationship between connectivity and identity in the Roman world, it is very challenging to attempt the understanding of what “travel” meant to Medieval people, since the Middle Ages were characterised by the fall of a centralised force that empowered the creation and constant growth of such a system of communication. In other words: once the agency fades, is the creation of an identity following different mechanisms, obeying to different inputs?
2) the need to define more clearly the terminology and the concepts that are used when we discuss matters related to travel and mobility, in different chronological and geographical contexts, but most of all when we adopt an interdisciplinary approach.
3) the specialists gathered in Marseille, on the 2nd of June 2016, representatives of a wide range of disciplines, are clearly ready to undertake the “mobility turn”, definable as the theoretical framework that explores the movement of people, ideas and things, as well as the broader social implications of those movements. But what about the other colleagues? Will this meeting and the publications and actions that may follow (such as the drafting of a proposal for participating to the next European COST Action call) be enough seminal?
Summarising the many inspiring presentations of the workshop, we can underline how phenomenological, epistemological, geographical and topographical, historical and anthropological, sociological and architectural, proxemical and cognitive approaches were all applied and tested.
Oxymoronic expressions and chiasm like mobility and cultural change vs mobility and change of culture, or “Se déplacer pour se situer” featured often in the speeches, to testimony that perspectives can be overturned, for the good sake of the advancement of knowledge.