Charlotta Forss

Charlotta Forss


Visa sidan på svenska
Works at Department of History
Visiting address Universitetsvägen 10 D, plan 9
Room D 800
Postal address Historia 106 91 Stockholm


Research interests

  • Worldviews and identity
  • History of cartography
  • History of science and knowledge, especially relating to geography and medicine
  • Travel, colonialism and diplomacy
  • Early modern history, ca 1500–1800
  • Methodology and theory, with a focus on conceptual history and the history of knowledge

My research explores how people in the past have conceptualized the world and their place in it. At the intersection between cultural history and the history of science, I research how people have valued and legitimated information about what the world looked like. I work with a broad range of sources, from historical cartography and scholarship to travel diaries, letters and court records. The primary focus of my research is the early modern period, and especially the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The material I work with stem mostly from the Northern hemisphere: Sweden, Northern Europe and America.

I am bibliographical editor for Imago Mundi: The International Journal for the History of Cartography. I am grateful for all recommendations of new publications within the academic field of history of cartography.

Geographical concepts and the history of cartography

I am fascinated by how people at different points in time and parts of the world have conceptualised their physical surroundings. What geographical concepts were used to describe the world in different settings? What was the relationship between concepts such as the mythical Magellanica and the North Pole? Where was the border between Europe and Asia thought to be? Questions such as these highlight how humans historically have collected, reasoned about and valued different forms of knowledge. Equally, questions about geographical worldviews lay bare power relations, politics and religion. Conceptions about borders and belonging are closely intertwined with conceptions about place – and the character of a world map is closely intertwined with how a society values information.

My doctoral thesis, defended in March 2018, investigates the meaning of the continents and the making of geographical knowledge in seventeenth-century Sweden. I am currently pursuing a book project about the idea of the North in cartography and travel writing, ca 500 to 1850. During 2018 to 2019 I am Associate Researcher at the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, where I work on a research project about the fascinating cartography of the seventeenth-century savant Olof Rudbeck.

Health and morality in early modern saunas

How people have understood their surroundings is also closely related to how different kinds of knowledge has been tied to ideas about right and wrong, what is healthy and what is not. I explore this aspect of knowledge making through a study of changing notions of health and morality in relation to sauna going in Sweden, ca 1600 to 1800.

As people entered the sauna, tensions about health regimens and moral behaviour came to the fore. The state tried to control frivolous undress and sumptuous bath feasts, yet sauna going continued. And while authorities worried about the spread of disease, the sauna was also central for practicing medicine. This tension makes the Swedish sauna an ideal framework for analyzing the transformative early modern developments in the fields of health and morality.

This three year research project about health and morality in the early modern sauna is funded by the Swedish Research Council and placed at Stockholm University, University of Turku, University of Cambridge and University of Oxford.


Last updated: March 18, 2019

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