Living the Free Spirit

Transforming Humanities

Frozen Atlantis is a vision developed by Reaching for Atlantis, a research project based in the field of Public History at the University of Hamburg.

What we present here is the next step in an exciting journey. For the past three years, we have enjoyed support through the freest scholarship there may be – the Freigeist-scheme by the VolkswagenFoundation (no connection with the car builder).

This story began in 2016 with the application for ‚Reaching for Atlantis. The cultural biographies of objects under the Swedish Empire and beyond‘Our initial plan was to explore digital ways to tell stories of and from the objects that Olof Rudbeck made carriers of meaning in his Atlantica.

Since then, a lot has happened. 

We have widened our interests towards the landscapes and nature of Scandinavia that Rudbeck, too, charged with mythological meaning. Storytelling, Travel Writing, and Environmental Humanities have become more prominent in our work. And so did our orientation towards the general public as our main audience. 

As an academic project, we firmly believe that we have to live the change we want to see. We venture out to connect the outdoors and the library, the public and the academic sphere. Our mission has been successful if the ways in which we reach out and what we create can inspire others to see the worlds at their doorsteps in a new light.

In the Rear Mirror

What we created

Reaching for Atlantis

In spring 2022 we launched our project platform Reaching for Atlantis. The cultural biographies of biographies under the Swedish Empire and beyond.

The visual interface Peek into Atlantis allows you to explore more than 500 illustrations from the context of the Atlantica. Delve into the meaning that depictions of objects or landscapes took 350 years ago, the time when Olof Rudbeck inserted them as mythically charged puzzle stones in the intellectual building he and his followers constructed. 

In the storytelling section The backstories, we offer illustrated readings and video documentaries that focus in-depth on some of the most fascinating stories behind pieces from this pool.

 

Too long, didn’t read

Three years into the Freigeist-project, the story we have to tell is one of transformation – of an adventurous journey towards resonance, the public, and issues we sense as relevant in the 21st century. 

Since an early point, we have begun developing a second platform that now complements Reaching for Atlantis

In 2021, Too long, didn’t read. Stories of Sustenance (TLDR) went online as a platform to tell stories that resonated with us on our ways.

TLDR ventures beyond established narratives of academic writingUp-close and personal, it grants space to the individual as well as its impressions and feelings, telling stories of wonder and awe, of search and dead-ends, and encounters that transformed us. 

 

Three years a Freigeist

The Storyline

May 2018
Summer 2019
Sept 2019–Aug 2020
Autumn 2020
November 2020
June 2021
18 Sept 2021
November 2021
December 2021
Spring 2022
2022–2023
Project Start
At the Gotha Research Centre of the University Erfurt our project made its first steps.

At an excellent place for studies of Early Modern History, we took our early bearings for the years to come!
Sweden, Act I
Extensive research stays in the homeland of the Atlantica have proven essential to consult original material and to expand networks.

Being a guest at the Dept for the History of Ideas at Uppsala provided an ideal surrounding to get in touch with the worlds that inspired Olof Rudbeck.
Oxford
A year at one of England's most classical universities was formative and encouraging to explore new formats of public outreach.

Since Oxford, storytelling is a label and a craft we have started to use with more confidence as an academic project.
Sweden, Act 2
Having experienced the lockdowns during the early pandemic in England, travelling in Sweden and returning to open libraries meant a fresh boost of inspiration.

Near the Norwegian border, we began travelling on the traces of Rudbeck's expeditions, and started our first experiments flying drones.

Staying at a writers' colony in the middle of a forest in Uppland provided great inspiration to explore new ways of digesting this material.
HAMBURG & Hibernation
Chance encounters are what transformed this project.

On a train ride in back in 2019, Bernhard learned about the field of Public History through a podcast with Thorsten Logge. They met little later in Hamburg.

The conversation was long, the resonance immense – a seed was planted! In 2020, we decided to reframe our Freigeist-project at Hamburg University for its second half.

Autumn that year, we went into a winter break as the project transfer began.
Public History
In June 2021, the project restarted at Hamburg University, in the young and vibrant field of Public History.

Committing even more to the public as our main audience, we began building our team accordingly. Since Hamburg, our former student assistant Bastienne Karg is now fully supporting us as project assistant!
Too long, didn't read
Our firstborn.

On 18 September 2021, we launched our platform TLDR with a story departing from a copy of Rudbeck's Atlantica kept in the library of Dag Hammarskjöld.

This way, we commemorated the 60th anniversary of the plane crash killing the man who shaped the young United Nations.
Visual Communication
Since autumn that year we feel somewhat unique: We are now one of the few projects having an art director on board.

With Lutz Lindemann, we made a professional with long experience in visual communication part of our team – an essential step in our mission towards the public!
Sweden, Act 3
With our options as a Public History project significantly limited, we chose Sweden as pivot to conduct prototypes of our outreach initiatives.

Operating from Östersund, we are now within eyeshot of the historic panoramas that are at the centre of our interest.

With the nature that inspired Rudbeck at our fingertips, we explore new ways to bring the stories 'at your doorstep' to a wider audience.
Reaching for Atlantis
A core product of our Freigeist-project!

After three years of careful planning, designing, developing, adapting and preparing, our virtual wunderkammer goes online.

Explore the more than 500 illustrations from the Atlantica and delve into the stories behind!
Frozen Atlantis
Our next big thing.

'Frozen Atlantis' is the name of the vision we will realise in the coming two years of the project.

Expect a new dimension of visual storytelling and outreach activities – a master plan leading together the many strands we had the freedom to explore over the past years.

The magnificent mr Rudbeck

Atlantis at your fingertips

More than 350 years ago, a professor of anatomy at Uppsala embarked on an enterprise that changed his vision of home. 

In 1679, Olof Rudbeck published the Atlantica, a monumental work that presented Scandinavia as the land the Greek philosopher Plato had described as Atlantis. It was the first of four volumes (1679–1702) – and Atlantis just the tip of an iceberg.

Over three decades, Rudbeck would skim the entire body of ancient mythology – the oldest stories told by Egyptians, Greek, Norse or Romans –, always revealing the north, its traditions and nature at their core. 

Among the keys unlocking that true meaning in mythology, Rudbeck referenced known antiquities or had new ones dug out from grave mounds, mapped the nation’s oldest buildings or sent out expeditions to the lesser known parts of the kingdom, with the task to draw and measure the highest peaks of Sweden. 

All this material became pieces in a gigantic puzzle Rudbeck assembled over thousands of pages. In more than 500 woodcuts and engravings, the Atlantica presented mountain panoramas, maps, antiquities, plants, and many other objects, carefully woven into a dizzying line of argument.

 

Frontispiece (opening engraving) of the volume of plates that accompanied the first volume of Rudbeck's Atlantica (1679).

In his dialogues Timaeus and Critias, the Greek philosopher Plato introduces the legendary civilisation of Atlantis, a naval superpower once located beyond the Pillars of Hercules.

 

Was Atlantis simply an invention – an idealised civilisation Plato used as a backdrop to reflect on democracy in Athens? Or was it inspired by a real place?

 

For millennia, Plato's dialogues kept humanists on the watch, always eager to revisit the ancient texts about Atlantis as our knowledge about our world increased.

The ancient man identified by the winged hourglass and the scythe (clipped in this image) is Saturn or Chronos, the god of time.

 

He stands for time that eventually reveals all truth.

In the classical tradition, Orpheus was the bard on board the Argo, the ship on which the Argonauts set out on their quest for the Golden Fleece.

An epos attributed to Orpheus tells of their adventures – a journey whose route Rudbeck traced up to the Baltic Sea and around the Scandinavian Peninsula.

Medicine was Olof Rudbeck's (1630–1702) first profession.

Having risen to be the leading anatomist of his country (and discovered the lymphatic cycle), he dedicated the last three decades of his life to the quest of declaring Sweden the site from which all mythology originated.

Scalpel in hand, Rudbeck the anatomist dissects the northern hemisphere. 

 

Slicing through Sweden (lat. Svecia), he reveals the layers of earlier traditions beneath that pointed to Scandinavia as insula deorum – the Island of Gods.

What Rudbeck created in decades of work was not only that deep and flattering history for which the Swedish Empire was yearning (and paid). His work opened up a gaze of deep appreciation on the place in which he lived. 

So far, the rest of the continent had ridiculed the newcomer among European powers as an uncivilised chunk of ice. The Atlantica now turned Scandinavia into the utopian lands to which ancient texts had pointed under many names. 

The vision Rudbeck unfolded over thousands of pages and hundreds of illustrations made the past and the present connect. Sweden’s rivers and mountains, the snowflakes falling on their slopes, the sun-lit nights of midsummer and the vortices on the coast became eloquent witnesses to a truth that was inscribed into the nature of the north, firmly and unchanging: 

We are living in a world filled with profound meaning if not divine harmony – a promised land that is real and at our fingertips.

The stories behind

Creating worlds of wonder

In ancient mythology, Mount Helicon was the site where the Muses dwelled, the inspiring forces behind all art and literature.

 

For Rudbeck, this throne had always had its true place in Sweden, at Mount Helags ('H H H') – here depicted as the three peaks antiquity had mentioned.

 

At Helags lies Sweden's southernmost glacier, almost gone today. 

 

Together with glaciologists and artists we will set out to this site in different seasons. With the help of 3D-models, we open up formats to reconnect this place with the stories behind. Through artistic perfomances we increase public awareness for what is being lost as the landscapes of ancient myth change irreversibly.

A journey to the stories of earliest origins!

 

In a winter expedition we plan in cooperation with Lars Larsson and National Geographic (application under review), we will set out into the southern part of Rudbeck's Jämtland panorama.

 

Entering through the area of Drommen (T), we pass the region Rudbeck linked to 'Trymheimr' as described in the Edda – the place where the giant Tiasse abducted Iduna, keeper of the golden apples, the symbol of eternal youth.

For him, the mythical apples were a symbol for letters of the first alphabet (the runes) – the only true source of immortality. And it was in the structure of snow flakes, revealing their basic letters under the microscope, where he found proof for the origin of letters in the high north.

 

The journey ends at Helags ('H H H'), the place that Rudbeck saw as throne of the Muses.

Åreskutan (1420m) is one of the most prominent peaks in the Jämtland area – and Sweden's most prominent skiing resort.

In his Atlantica, Rudbeck flirts with the idea that it was in this area where land first emerged after the biblical deluge and from where Europe was settled anew.

 

 

 

At a time that the oceans are rising again, we plan artistic performances performances in the Jämtland mountains to raise awareness for local changes such as the loss of seasons and the nature of snow and their global implications.

In autumn 2021, Lars and Bernhard of our team ventured into the margins of Rudbeck's Jämtland panorama.

 

Beginning our journey on the traces of his 1675 expedition, we climbed exposed mountain peaks to produce 360° photographs.

 

Encountering the original landscapes and using modern technology, we began to understand how the historic panorama brings together perspectives from different view points – a view impossible to behold with the natural eye.

 

Stay tuned as we explain how these single perspectives became part of a universal view into the Jämtland mountains!

In 1675, Olof Rudbeck sent out an expedition to the northern regions of Jämtland, Dalarna and Härjedalen to draw and measure their top peaks. From Rudbeck, Atlantica, volume of plates.

The illustrated book was the best medium at hand when Olof Rudbeck presented this vision 350 years ago.

What if we applied the medial possibilities of our times to make the stories behind landscapes and objects, hidden among thousands of pages in Latin and ancient Swedish, accessible to a 21st-century audience?

Imagine a virtual museum that allows you to explore Rudbeck’s illustrations and the meanings behind them (check!). 

Imagine a platform for illustrated stories, telling of our encounters with the world Rudbeck created as we travel on the traces of his quest for Atlantis (check!).

Imagine a surrounding to freely navigate episodes from this world on a 3D-map of Scandinavia, told in film or animations. 

Imagine theatre plays for children, artistic performances, public excursions and further events, all reaching out to draw you closer into the worlds we make accessible with all senses. 

This is what we are creating.