Monsters, Myths and Methods

Research project
Early Modern History

A Global Book Biography and the Englightenment Reception of Erik Pontoppidan's Det forste Forsog paa Norges naturlige Historie (1752-3) [and Versuch einer naturlichen Historie von Norwegen (1753-4) and The Natural History of Norway (1755)]

Bishop Erik Pontoppidan published his Det første Forsøg paa Norges naturlige Historie in 1752-3. It was translated into German and published, also in Copenhagen, a year later. A year after that the work was translated into English and published in two grand folio volumes in London as Natural History of Norway. The size and format of these richly illustrated editions are very different and together they offer a unique, multi-dimensional subject for a ‘book biography’ tracing on a global scale the many facets and legacies of its materially and linguistically different forms of production and its intellectually varying popularity and reception across the world. The book was sought by instituiotns and readers all round the globe. By examining archival notes, reviews and annotated surviving copies, including those bought by Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia, by the Maharajah of Tangore in India, and by scholars, writers, clerics and institutions in St Petersburg, Hesse, Kraków, Glasgow, Oxford, Westminster, Charleston and many dozen more, we can determine how Pontoppidan’s pioneering scientific and historical ‘verification’ methods were received and the part played by different languages, translations, typographies, engraved images and material book forms. But there is also a significant twist to this history of writing, production, circulation and reception. Pontoppidan, for all his insistence on verifiability included long sections on the sightings of kraken, or sea monsters, with notes on contemporary observations and images of the creatures (many drawn from earlier works on Scandinavian myth, such as Olaus Magnus and repeated by great early modern naturalists), As a result, this book biography also investigates why his observations of  mermaids and mythic creatures gained credibility within Enlightenment natural science (even applauded a century later in Moby Dick and remembered, with direct reference to Pontoppidan in later sightings of sea monsters reported in newspapers, diaries and various publications in Ireland, Italy, the Unites States, India, Singapore and many more besides).