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Terra Incognita

This exhibit features early printed accounts of exploration and cultural encounters between what is known as the Old World or Europe and the New World or the Americas. The people on both sides of these encounters viewed the people they met through the screen of their culture and how they perceived the world, including their myths, legends, and religious beliefs. Both sides often had to reconfigure and rebuild their idea of the world with this new knowledge. The results yielded much knowledge and discovery but also misunderstanding, fear and violent attempts to control various groups.

Throughout the accounts there is the theme of the tendency of all people to view others as somehow not human, either as a godlike emissary, or alternatively as savage or monstrous. Europeans tended to view Native Americans as either innocents living in a paradise before the fall, or not human at all, as savages who weren’t civilized. In fact the people they encountered were part of highly developed cultural systems spanning a diverse range of societies from hunter-gatherers to agricultural based groups.

Curated by Alison Carrick, Special Collections Assistant