“In the sixteenth century, and under the name ‘universal cosmography’, a system of writing and composing texts was developed which renewed the compilations inherited from the Middle Ages. In 1528 Sébastien Münster explained that descriptions should be founded upon precise observations and linked to an experience that could be called experience in the field; that they should not merely be summaries and a measurement of position and distance, but also an inventory of natural and human elements of the described regions…In Cosmographia, which [Münster] published in 1552, he claimed to put in writing all the information available about the surface of the globe as it is divided into continents, regions, or particular areas. This work has the appearance of an encyclopedia organized in order of geographical procession, as if its purpose was to imitate real movement in a described space. The linearity provides a sort of cohesion to this succession of descriptions, breaking away from the simple juxtaposition of sites. It is a listing of places on the earth’s surface in the form of an itinerary. Thus, the travelers’ texts, like those of geographers, look like itineraries; they have the same way of listing places in topographic order…. Furthermore Münster writes in Cosmographie that he wants to allow his reader to embrace and become familiar with the towns, mountains, rivers, mines, animals, plants, national traditions, customs, religions and important events, the succession of kings and princes, and the foundations of the places as if the author were leading him from country to country and was pointing everything out to him. The description that takes on the form of a trip allows the reader to carry out a journey in his mind that reproduces the first-hand experience.” –Excerpt by Isabelle Laboula from essay: Geographic Knowledge and Descriptions in the Late Eighteent Century (Account of the Land and Sea Expedition in America of the Acclaimed Deux-Ponts Regiment from 1780 to 1784. Written in Strasbourg in the year 1787 by Georg Flohr, annotated edition).
I took this passage from the text we were given for the Ex Libris exhibition as my inspiration in interpreting Georg Daniel Flohr’s narrative of his journey from France to the United States while serving in a French regiment supporting the colonists’ efforts in the American Revolution. His was a personal story embedded in the context of monumental world events. I thought about each of us engaged in our own personal unfolding story that is part of a universal whole and how all these stories interconnect.
I revisited my own journey to Strasbourg as an artist ambassador from Boston three decades ago and also the larger, earlier stories of my ancestors (including my mother) making a permanent migration across the Atlantic from central Europe (as Flohr also eventually did) and of the archetypal concepts of journey that Flohr’s written and illustrated record evoke. This notion of journey is also metaphor for the course of a life and how our life stories are shaped by place – where we leave from, where we go, and where we land.