Uncovering the modern mind in two 16th-century maps

| August 2, 2013 | 0 Comments

seeingtheworldThe Library of Congress and Levenger Press have partnered to publish a collector-edition book on two Renaissance maps that fundamentally changed the way the world was viewed. Seeing the World Anew: The Radical Vision of Martin Waldseemüller’s 1507 & 1516 World Maps spotlights two of the Library’s cartographic treasures and reproduces them in the largest full-color formats ever authorized.

In Seeing the World Anew, two leading authorities tell the stories of these maps, placing them in context of both the 16th century and the 21st. John W. Hessler, a Senior Cartographic Librarian at the Library of Congress and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, provides the narrative for the 1507 map. Chet Van Duzer, an Invited Research Scholar at the John Carter Brown Library who has published extensively on medieval and Renaissance maps, provides the narrative for the 1516 map.

The 1507 World Map, purchased at a cost of $10 million and part of the Library’s permanent display, is the first to feature the name “America.” Just as memorable is the map’s depiction of the Americas as “an island…surrounded on all sides by sea,” to quote Waldseemüller.

This was an observation that even Columbus, who’d been to this part of the world, hadn’t figured out. How did Waldseemüller—who lived in a small French village, far from the centers of knowledge and navigation—come to know of the ocean to the west of the Americas, six years before Balboa purportedly discovered the Pacific?

Waldseemüller’s 1516 map, called the Carta marina (“sea chart”), was equally as groundbreaking, essentially discarding the ancient map models of Ptolemy for a more modern vision. Another million-dollar map, the Carta marina is replete with iconography, lists of exotic spices, and creatures both real (a rhinoceros) and fanciful (men with the heads of dogs).

Both these maps disappeared soon after they were published and were lost to history until their rediscovery in 1901. The Library of Congress now owns the only extant copies.

Hessler and Van Duzer also parse each sheet of the two maps, both of which were originally constructed in twelve sheets. In addition, composites of the two maps have been created that measure approximately 4 feet wide by 2 feet long. These are folded as loose inserts into pockets inside the book.

The book features some of the hyperspectral imagery that members of the Library staff performed on the 1507 map, as a way to ascertain digitally exactly how, when and where the map was constructed.

“This book is very much the work of two eminent and engaged scholars, but John and Chet have succeeded in making 16th-century history relevant to the 21st-century reader,” says Ralph Eubanks, Director of Publishing for the Library of Congress.

Seeing the World Anew is for anyone interested in history, or enjoys old maps, or wishes to learn more about the trajectory that knowledge has taken over the centuries. The book, which is printed on archival paper and has a long-lasting Smythe-sewn binding, is available beginning October 2012 exclusively through Levenger (levenger.com) and in the Library of Congress gift shop.

The book will also be featured at the National Book Festival on September 22 and will be the subject of a presentation by Hessler and Van Duzer that Saturday.


Mim Harrison


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