Verheissungsvolle Berichte und suggestive Karten: Die englischen und niederländischen Nordostpassagen-Expeditionen des 16. Jahrhunderts zwischen Erfolg und Scheitern


  • Sonia Calvi



From a modern perspective, the English and Dutch expeditions into the northern seas in the 16th century that set out to discover new shipping routes from Europe to Asia have thoroughly failed: Neither of them ever reached their goal. All the alluring expectations of exotic goods and spices that would be easily imported into England and the Netherlands – thus winning the competition in global commerce against Spain and Portugal – were shattered in the perennial ice of the Arctic Sea. Nevertheless these expeditions resulted in travel reports that tell stories of threatening ice, sea monsters, and barbaric peoples. The documents though, also assure the reader of a successful crossing of the Arctic in a near future, highlight the enormous achievement and endurance of the ships’ crews and emphasize the increase in knowledge due to the expeditions, mainly the mapping of northern coastlines. These aspects of historical ‘reality’, imaginations and wishful thinking are also juxtaposed in a couple of extraordinary maps accompanying the reports. This essay will analyse how the travel narratives and their visualization in the maps blur our neat distinction between failure and success and how especially maps became the piece of evidence for every single fragment of achievement.