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Venetians in America: Nicolò Zen and the Virtual Exploration of the New World*

  • Elizabeth Horodowich (a1)


In 1558, the Venetian patrician Nicolò Zen published Dello scoprimento, a text that suggested that his Venetian ancestors had made landfall in the Americas before Columbus. Generations of scholars have pored over Zen’s text and accompanying map with the hopes of determining whether or not this voyage took place. Zen’s text, however, cannot be classified as either history or fiction; like many other early modern travel accounts, it was a combination of both. Shifting the focus about what is significant from the text’s truthfulness to its tactics, from the historicity of the voyage to the mechanics of the composition, reveals a series of fascinating textual strategies surrounding the European production of knowledge about the New World. Specifically, Zen followed well-established patterns for European travel writing, playing with quotation, pastiche, and temporality in order to depict his fellow Venetians as experts on the Americas and as viable contestants in the race to New World empire.

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Earlier versions of this paper were presented at Harvard University’s Villa I Tatti (November 2010), the Renaissance Society of America Annual Meeting in Washington, DC (March 2012), and the University of Oregon (April 2013); it benefited from the comments of all of these audiences. The author would also like to thank Timothy McCall, Alexander Nagel, Monika Schmitter, and the two anonymous readers for their helpful suggestions. All translations are the author’s, except where otherwise noted.



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