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Sand to Land

Sand to land is the title of the panel I organized for the Babel Working Group Biennale, at the University of California, Santa Barbara [1]. My fellow co-panelists were Simone Pinet (Cornell University), Bruno Bosteels (Cornell University), and Seth Kimmel (Columbia University). Our session was scheduled for October 17th, 2014, 11:30-12:30.

Each intervention needs to be rather short. I will be talking about “Wandering Islands”, which is an image inspired from the myriad islands that seem to be floating Eastwards in Jafudá and Abraham Cresques’s Atlas Català of 1375 [2]. This image allows me to interrogate another important treatise on islands, Bartolo de Sassoferrato’s De Insula. In this treatise, he discusses a legal consideration from Digest 41, 1, 7, 3-4 about the emergence of new islands either in the middle of the sea (quod raro accidit) or in the middle of a river (quod frequenter accidit) [3].

Bartolo includes this treatise in the company of others that deal with fluid deposits, alluvium, or rivers. He suggests a new way to look at the whole question, based on mathematics (in particular geometry and trigonometry), thus acting as a quite original political idiot. It is evident that the relevance of this question is not only related to Bartolo’s 14th Century, but also extremely important for the discussions in the escuela de Salamanca during the early 16th century, for those other included in the 1555 edition of the Siete Partidas and all the subsequent editions, or for those raised by early modern political scientists like Grotius in his 1609 Mare Liberum.

I will engage in a conversation with different scholars and theorist, but mainly with scholars who are friends, like Simone Pinet, Seth Kimmel, or Dan Nemser.

Finally, what I intend to do is to delve into the processes whereby emerging sand becomes land, and what are the cultural and political consequences of these processes [4].


  1. The encounter took place on October 16-18, 2014. You can find more information at the Babel Working Group website.
  2. The Atlas is now preserved at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and fully accessible through Gallica. There are many internet resources with images of the Atlas, and some exclusively about the Atlas. I would like to mention Juan Ceva’s site, The Cresques Project, in which he –an aeronautical engineer by training– gathers and translates different materials about the Atlas, and in particular some works by Gabriel Llompart and Jaume Riera.
  3. This chapter of the New Digest is about processes leading to the acquisition of new properties and new jurisdictions.
  4. This paper is part of my book-length project called Dead Voice

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