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The Worldmakers

Global Imagining in Early Modern Europe

In this beautifully conceived book, Ayesha Ramachandran reconstructs the imaginative struggles of early modern artists, philosophers, and writers to make sense of something that we take for granted: the world, imagined as a whole. Once a new, exciting, and frightening concept, “the world” was transformed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. But how could one envision something that no one had ever seen in its totality?
The Worldmakers moves beyond histories of globalization to explore how “the world” itself—variously understood as an object of inquiry, a comprehensive category, and a system of order—was self-consciously shaped by human agents. Gathering an international cast of characters, from Dutch cartographers and French philosophers to Portuguese and English poets, Ramachandran describes a history of firsts: the first world atlas, the first global epic, the first modern attempt to develop a systematic natural philosophy—all part of an effort by early modern thinkers to capture “the world” on the page.

304 pages | 18 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2015

Geography: Cultural and Historical Geography

History: European History, History of Ideas

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature, Romance Languages


The Worldmakers is an important book for modernity. But it is also a consummate, beautiful, and original study of the Renaissance on its own terms, showing that even in canonical texts of European humanism, there is much new territory to be explored.” 

Modern Language Quarterly

“The book’s impressive payoff lies in its new and often thrilling readings of a wide range of well-loved and much-studied early modern texts. Attending to metaphysics rather than mechanics, Ramachandran argues that early moderns turned to the imagination to meet the challenge of conceiving the newly available world as a whole rather than a motley collection of parts.”

Modern Philology

The Worldmakers is a lucid, elegant addition to our understanding of the genealogy of our attitudes to the globe and to our picture of the history of the geographical and intellectual culture of the Renaissance.”

Journal of Historical Geography

“Anything Ayesha Ramachandran writes is worth reading for her rich intellectual responses to her topics, for her learning, and for the elegance of her prose. The Worldmakers is a fruitful, masterful book.”

Spenser Review

The Worldmakers demonstrates how scientific advances in the early modern period shaped European concepts of God, nation and self. It provides a fresh perspective from which to evaluate the motivations behind the worldmaking project, and its ensuing implications for the epistemology of the modern age. Those interested in the impact of early modern science on literature and philosophy will find it a stimulating read.”

British Journal for the History of Science

"The Worldmakers is an astonishingly ambitious book."

Renaissance Quarterly

"The Worldmakers makes a powerful intervention into the early modern literary study of epic poetry and essayistic and philosophical prose; into conceptions of 'world' within those genres as well as in the Western history of ideas; into conceptions of modernity governing Western science, philosophy, literature, and ethics; and, not least, into the postcolonial project of decentering European culture through a globalized view of the world. Among recent books on these topics, it joins the fine company of such works as Roland Greene's Five Words and Timothy Hampton's Fictions of Embassy. Ramachandran approaches the task from her own distinctive perspective, based in fine-grained literary analysis with a firm grasp of cultural and intellectual history and the theoretical consequences that follow from juxtaposing texts against the history."

William J. Kennedy, Cornell University

"The Worldmakers is an impressive, wide-ranging, beautifully researched book with a skillfully articulated argument about a momentous shift in 'global imaginings' in early modern thought and literature. The topic is one that could easily become vague and elusive, but Ramachandran succeeds time and time again in giving it clear focus and definition. In the process, she also makes genuinely fresh, compelling critical statements about some major, much-studied texts and authors."

Gordon Braden, University of Virginia

"Ramachandran lays out her argument and buttresses it through a series of five case histories sandwiched between a brief introduction and even shorter conclusion. As in all good sandwiches, the bread is fine but the really good stuff is in the middle....As might be expected of a work of such scope, The Worldmakers is not an easy read; it requires many readings to fully appreciate the riches it has to offer. To return to the sandwich analogy for a second, a single bite may feel like too much, more than one can comfortably chew. But with each layer offering a completely different dimension of flavour and texture, one really does need to read all the parts lest they miss certain elements altogether."

British Society for Literature and Science Reviews

"The Worldmakers sets an important conceptual standard for future work by examining just how important and how difficult it was for early modern thinkers to imagine such a thing as 'the globe' in the first place."

Studies in English Literature 1500-1900

"Ramachandran is still able to find interesting and sparkling insights in reading a largely familiar corpus."

Journal of Modern HIstory


Yale MacMillan Center: Gaddis Smith International Book Prize

Modern Language Association: MLA Scaglione Prize for Comparative Literary Studies

Sixteenth Century Society and Conference: SCSC Founders Prize

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