Friday, October 19th, 2018

The New North Atlantic

Posted on November 12, 2016 in Arts & Culture
By USM Free Press

By Kelly Scrima, Free Press staff

“I understand nature to be made by us, and we made by nature. In other words we don’t exist separate from nature,” said Dr. John Gillis, renowned historian, following his talk entitled The New North Atlantic. “We are constantly projecting on nature both our fears and our dreams, and nature is shaping us in the way we express that, and develop that,” Gillis remarked. The lecture was held on Wednesday, Sept. 28, in the Glickman Library and was hosted by the Osher Map Library Smith Center for Cartographic Education.

Andrew Cook, a student of Jan Piribeck, spoke of the emergence of trade routes in Iceland due to rising sea levels, and states that he is “interested to learn more about what that entails.” On the subject of study abroad programs between USM and Iceland and the North Atlantic region, Cook said that he would be “interested in it.” As for the influence of living coastal, he says, “I’m actually from a military family, so I’ve always lived on the coast. I’ve never not had access to water and beaches which I’ve spent a lot of time in my life. I’ve gone there to work on art and just to kinda hang out. It’s had an influence on me just the kind of environment a place like that provides.”

Arhma Ali, a student aiding John Muthyala in his research, spoke of her interest not only in the study abroad possibilities, but also of Gillis’ work and the subject of blue humanities. “I am wishing that things do end up progressing, in terms of things not settling with this lecture and other events,” said Ali, and she hopes to see this initiative work its way into a “broader spectrum.”

Dr. Libby Bischof, Associate Professor of History and Director, Center for Collaboration and Development (USM), opened up the talk, and highlighted the importance of the humanities in relation to this initiative. She spoke to various progressions made on the topic of local relations with the North Atlantic region. Bischof brought to light the work of the artist Justin Levesque, whose work has deep ties to the subject at hand and is on display currently at USM. Levesque is a USM alumni, holding a BA in Photography.

John Muthyala, professor of English (USM) and principal investigator of Digital Maine, set the stage for the prominent talking points of the night. Gillis took the stage and brought the audience through a journey across time and culture. He began with the metamorphosis of the boundaries of what was, and is, known as the North Atlantic. He spoke in great depth on coastal lands, its peoples and how the two interact. A major point made by Gillis is the subject of toponyms, or the act of naming places, and how oceanic boundaries came into fruition from human perception.

Gillis believes that the “momentum of this shore project, coastal project is immense, and there is so much more to be done.” Gillis stresses the importance of what he calls the “blue humanities,” which he says is the process of “trying to understand people’s connection to the sea in terms of meaning, in terms of cultural value, and so on.” He went on to say, “I see an enthusiasm here on both sides that looks very promising, and isn’t going to get overwhelmed.”

USM has a direct role in the budding initiative, as does the state of Maine. A highlight of the work done under this initiative is the new partnership between USM and Reykjavik University, pioneered by USM President Glenn Cummings. This fall kicks off a series of talks and events relating to the initiative.

Jan Piribeck, professor of Digital Art and Foundations, said of the lecture, “It’s really relevant to our particular location, and Maine is the new portal to the U.S. for the North Atlantic, so we are in a really unique position right now. In terms of education and our role as an institution of higher learning, we, USM in particular is a portal itself educationally, culturally in forging relationships. And so it’s really relevant in thinking about how human beings relate to one another.” For more information on this institutional initiative visit:

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