WISH YOU WERE HERE: Souvenirs from a journey around the world (LS-ME-534)

“We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.” T. S. Eliot

This LS is a call for our inner sea wolf, Captain Ahab and Marco Polo: students will discover the exotic adventure of the sailing frigate Novara, from the unusual point of view of a painter and a gardener. In this online activity the educator will show the class a digital presentation with images, paintings, photos and will ask opinions, ideas and interpretations to the students.
Some important questions will may find an answer: traveling with no camera, how can we even remember things without photographs? Traveling a very long and dangerous journey, in a big ship, using no fuel and wind only, is it possible? Traveling and searching for unknown plants: can gardening be considered an adventurous job?
At the end of the LS every partecipant can take part in a simple Lab activity, drawing and decorating a blank postcard with the destination of their dreams.

Across the centuries, many ships had sailed around the globe, discovering all sorts of things and finding – literally – new worlds. Adventurous sailors and intrepid scientists explored uncharted waters, recording their impressions and their experiences.
The Novara’s world circumnavigtion is not one of the most famous but it’s the first: it is the first scientific expedition on the sea held by the Austrian Empire. It is also epic: the Novara frigate’s findings contributed to several scientific discoveries. The ship was very beautiful, majestic, a floating castle, and even had a dedicated room in a real castle (now) in Italy (then Austria), home of the Archduke Maximilian of Habsburg, brother to the emperor Franz Joseph, a proud patron to the expedition.
And it is the last: it has been one of the last big journeys of a sailing ship, using wind only. The steam technology was ready to take its place.

Joseph Selleny, Fregatte Novara vor Rio, 1857, Weltmuseum Wien

Thanks to the Europeana archive and treasures, the discovery of two evocative paintings and a dry simple plant in a herbarium will present us real, “material” traces of the Novara’s journey.

We will not focus our attention on the most prominent scientists and higher officers onboard. We will have the poetic chance to identify with a gardener and a painter, Anton Jelinek and Joseph Selleny. Their work will give perfect details to the tale of this special circumnavigation of the globe.

The educator will show images to the students, engaging with them with questions to discover together the digital resources found in Europeana about the Novara’s journey. It is a precious treasure of original paintings, real plants and prints, traces and hints all around Europe, in different Museums and Archives. The engagement with a work of art, an old map or a dryed plant is just the beginning: image after image the students will go beyond telling the single story of the Novara, sharing observations, speculations and ideas about nature, ecology and their personal aspirations.

Joseph Selleny, The island of St. Paul in the Indian Ocean, Österreichische Galerie Belvedere

There’s an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, St. Paul’s Island, very remote and far away. Nobody lives there, nature is its master. We can really feel its atmosphere in 1857, through the eyes of Joseph Selleny, the official painter of the Novara expedition.
How did he felt far away from home, exploring such an unknown, dangerous place? What is his message for us in his beautiful drawings and paintings? Does his art still speak to us?

Now that we have the location we can imagine a man. He is not a famous botanist or scientist, he is a gardener, determined and deeply in love with beauty and nature – and with big mustaches. He is walking and sweating, around the island, searching for special plants and flowers. We have material proof of his findings 160 years later: fragile and precious dried plants are kept safe, and elegant handwriting took note of his name and his contribution to science.
What are we passionate about? What is our strongest interest? To follow our dreams can take us on a journey to the top of the world?

And finally, at the end of the adventure, we will go back home and maybe a poem will come to our mind:
“We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.”
We can take the advice of the poet: the treasures that you discover traveling will give you a new, unexpected and important meaning to your life back home.

Joseph Selleny, Nautical from “Journey of the Austrian frigate Novara around the earth in the years 1857-1859 under the orders of Commodore B. von Wüllerstorf-Urbair, 1861,
The British Library

I think it’s both a metaphorical and actual speech, as Archduke Maximilian understood. He did not had the chance to take part to the expedition but he tried to travel anyway reading books, looking at sketches and paintings and listening to travel stories.
If you take a walk today in the park around his beautiful castle, curated by the sailor gardener Jelinek, you will find palm trees and rare plants, living souvenirs from the Novara frigate’s expedition. An exotic panorama in the domestic backyard, a beauty display and an open horizon can help us pursuing the ever lasting and consoling idea that there will always be an altrove somewhere waiting for us and a different way to see our home.

Would you like to know more about this learning scenario? You can download it below:

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CC BY-SA 4.0: the featured image used to illustrate this article has been found on Europeana and has been provided by Österreichische Galerie Belvedere.

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