The Making Worlds project (2015-2020) sought to develop an historical understanding that will contribute to contemporary debates about the effects that living in a transcontinental world has upon forms of creativity, identity, and practice. The five-year project was based at McGill University and was supported by an Insight Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Developing a new collaborative model of graduate and faculty research in the humanities was central to our approach. Our membership included professors and students from the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of East Anglia, the University of British Columbia and McGill. Together, we tested and explored a series of case studies and methodological propositions in collaborative research and workshops.
Early modernity witnessed a massive dislocation of people, thereby opening up new ways of understanding the world. This is a period characterized by migration, violence, and death as a result of religious conflicts, expanding trade routes, missionary activities, slavery, colonization and disease among other historical concerns. Movement across bodies of water and geographical borders offered new possibilities for interactions, for testing out identities, and for experimentation with various forms of culture. Making Worlds aimed to investigate this expanding image of the world by focusing on artistic creativity, and the ways in which imagining, digesting and translating worlds, broadly construed, have been central to their making and remaking. The focus on art—on producing and engaging with it, on self-presentation and performance—foregrounds the critical creative and imaginative processes involved in making worlds.
We aimed to develop a series of interrelated accounts of movement, migration, and invention through and within cosmopolitan spaces such as cities, ports, ships, trading posts, markets, exhibition sites, gardens, menageries, collections, inns, taverns, warehouses. These are spaces that are open to becoming something new, provisional instead of fixed in their form; they are not inherently hierarchical nor merely commercial, but inflected by global relations of power; they are spaces in which distance and presence are brought into consideration with each other. Such spaces, we contend, have much to teach us about how cross-cultural exchanges and artistic entanglements occurred in the early modern world.