A seventeenth-century anatomist with a yellow flower

Atlantis in Sweden

Atlantis in Sweden
A grey stone in an autumn landscape

Reaching for Atlantis

Reaching for Atlantis
Deities carved onto an ancient artifact

The Team

The Team

Reaching for Atlantis

What we do

Think of this platform as a virtual wunderkammer.

When Olof Rudbeck published his Atlantica 350 years ago, he set out to prove Sweden to be the origin of ancient mythology. Its four volumes appeared with hundreds of illustrations. Many of them showed objects and landscapes the author had never seen, copied from antiquarian books or expedition drawings.

Across thousands of pages, Rudbeck embedded them in a complex web of interpretations. Using the medium of its time – the illustrated book – the four volumes of his Atlantica created a universe of meaning. In it, each illustration became a piece in a gigantic puzzle – a mosaic reflecting the flattering light in which he let his home shine.

The world thus became a cosmos inscribed with meaning – and the work Rudbeck published a virtual museum of objects.

Double page with depictions of antiquities
Double page from the Atlantica's volume of plates (1679), depicting objects RfA-ID 64 to 89.

350 years later, we once again embark into these worlds.

Reaching for Atlantis is a research project based in the field of Public History. When we wrote the application for this project back in 2016, we were fascinated by the Rudbeck universe (and rest assured: we still are).

To a 21st-century audience, however, the Atlantica has effectively become unreadable. With this project we set out on a mission to translate Rudbeck's virtual wunderkammer into the media of the 21st-century.

Wouldn't it be cool, we initially thought, if we could make each illustration an entry point to explore the intricate web of meaning he spun around his world?

Using objects as our point of departure and inspired by the concept of the 'cultural biographies of objects', we embarked on the idea of Reaching for Atlantis.

Since then, a lot has happened.

In the rearview mirror

In early 2022, we went online with the nucleus of our object database 'Peek into Atlantis'. It is a tool to start exploring the Rudbeck Universe, and very much a work in progress.

In the coming months, we will continue to add entries and new background stories of selected objects. These stories will show how Rudbeck constructed meaning from the illustrations in his Atlantica.

From this growing basis, we keep on exploring .

As a Freigeist-project ('Free Spirit'), we have the privilege to work with the trust of the largest and one of the most risk-friendly private funders of sciences. This has allowed us to operate with the agility and flexibility required to lead a project that is not exactly conventional – and to embrace the inspiration that journeys and new encounters bring.

A central (and early) development was widening our scope on 'objects' in the classical sense of antiquarianism – e.g. amulets, coins, gems – to include landscapes.

A historic mountain panorama
Panorama view of the mountains in the Jämtland-Härjedalen region. See RfA-ID 146.
With the maps and panoramas illustrating his Atlantica, Rudbeck made the mountains and rivers of his homeland speak of our earliest myths.

What we did was simply stop and listen.

As travelers between the outdoors and the library, we also became more interested in storytelling. We believe that a personal voice is key to communicating what we are passionate about.

Wouldn't it be cool, we thought, to create a platform for stories that tell our own encounters with objects and landscapes as we explore Rudbeck's universe in our century?

In summer 2021, Too long, didn't read went online.

TLDR is dedicated to illustrated long-reads, located somewhere between historic essay, travel writing, photography, and nature writing. It is a platform to explore the kind of stories we like to tell – personal stories on our quest into Rudbeck's universe and beyond.

The next big thing

At Reaching for Atlantis, we see it as our mission to explore how to best communicate what we find at heart of this project.

For this reason, we re-located into the field of Public History at Hamburg University in 2021. We are committed to formats and initiatives that reach out to an audience beyond the university.

Since 2021, we have built a multinational team operating between Sweden and Germany. Together with videographers, geomedia-experts and mountain guides, we progress from text and images to lead even more visual pathways into the world of mythical landscapes, ancient manuscripts, and enigmatic rune stones up north from which Rudbeck constructed his universe.

Wouldn't it be cool, we thought, to re-shape his Scandinavia into a navigable universe of meaning, with all the stories we have to tell located right at your fingertips?

Two men watching a screen
3D-artist Tobi Wüstefeld (right) and Bernhard from the Reaching for Atlantis team during a brainstorming session.

Together with 3D-artists, developers and animation geniuses, we are now embarking on our latest project. Inspired by Rudbeck's maps of ancient myth, our 'Storyverse' will open up a gateway into the stories behind objects and landscapes of the north.

Stay tuned for a world of glaciers and snow-clad mountains, of mythical antiquities, of riverbanks lit by the midnight sun and vortices raging on the Atlantic coast.

Stay tuned for an entire universe of meaning unfolding from something as microscopic as the crystals of a snowflake.

Stay tuned for Frozen Atlantis!

Acknowledgments

This project is made possible through a Freigeist-Fellowship awarded by the Volkswagen Foundation. It builds on previous work carried out as part of the DFG project Transformations of Antiquity (Freie Universität Berlin, 2013–2016).

Many people have contributed to the process of turning the vision of Reaching for Atlantis into reality. Personal thanks for feedback, inspiration, and collaboration go to Daniel Burckhardt, Alex Franklin, Annika Goldenbaum, Ylva Haidenthaller, Amy Lee, Tyrone Martinsson, Dominik Maschek, Martin Mulsow, Markus Neuschäfer, Carl-Gösta Ojala Christian Peters, Libby Rohovit, Bernd Roling, Moritz Schepp, Peter Sjökvist.