Mentalities

Programme Line: History of Mentalities – Key concept: Perception of Nature
(William Barton, Martin Korenjak, Johanna Luggin, Anna Novokhatko)

Mentalities can be defined as basic attitudes towards fundamental aspects of human existence such as time, the body or death. These attitudes are usually experienced as the natural and even the only possible way of seeing things by the people who hold them. In reality, however, they are highly culturally determined and can change radically over time. 

The Early Modern age was, indeed, an age of such dramatic mentality changes: The European mind-set was, broadly speaking, transformed from medieval to modern. One important strand within this complex process concerned the idea of nature: While in earlier times nature tended to be seen as something potentially dangerous and hostile, to be either domesticated or avoided, modernity experiences it as a necessary complement to human culture and as a source of joy and satisfaction. Neo-Latin literature played an essential role in the transition between these mentalities. This role is, however, largely neglected in previous research on the topic, which results in a distorted picture of the whole process; among other things, changes whose roots actually lie in the time around 1500 are often post-dated to the 18th century.

Within the topic just sketched, the mentalities line undertakes two projects, to be carried out in the years 2011–2014 and 2015–2017 respectively: The first one, already well underway, is entitled “The Discovery of Mountains”, while the second is concerned with “The Invention of Landscape”.

The history of mountain perception is usually constructed as a fairly linear evolution from “mountain gloom” to “mountain glory” – to cite a classic in the field – and the turning point is usually positioned in the 18th century. Our focus on Neo-Latin, instead of vernacular, texts not only allowed us to push this date back by some 250 years, but also showed that the whole process is in fact less linear and much more complex than has been suspected until then. The sources of a new interest in, and finally a new appreciation of mountains include a diverse range of ideas, discourses and practices: from ethnological theory to royal self-representation, from patriotism to theology (and even demonology), from dietetics to the rise of the Sublime, from the flowering of the sciences such as botanics, geology, vulcanology and glaciology to the beginnings of tourism. In addition, these strands also transect and interact in many different ways, resulting in an even more variegated picture. Our project gave special prominence to the issues of aesthetics and tourism, which were treated in book-length studies by William Barton and Johanna Luggin respectively. A broad range of other aspects has been covered in talks and articles.

Now, from 2015–2017, we are widening our focus from one specific landscape, mountains, to landscape in general. Taking Neo-Latin sources into account, the invention of landscape can be predated in a similar way to the discovery of mountains. Four aspects receive special attention: the Latin prehistory of the concept of landscape, the invention of ‘national landscapes’ (that is, landscapes seen as typical for certain political entities), early forms of landscape tourism and landscape as an object of contemplation.

For various small projects of the Mentalities line, see http://neolatin.lbg.ac.at/tags/repository