Tag Archives: Martin Waldseemüller

Ink-Jet Wonders and Other Printed Curiosities

The appeal that was exercised by a newly discovered set of gores that arrived at Christie’s announced was considerable.  The map constituted one of the first mappings to show the place of America on the globe–and indeed to map the globe as a globe.  The considerable attention that the gores slated to go to auction in mid-December attracted must have lain not only in their rarity, but the cult of priority of the naming of place.  The gores exemplified the declarative role of mapping to designate place, as well as a geometric organization of global continuity shortly after the discovery of the new world, but it was hard to imagine that the appeal of the gores in our increasingly pixelated, pointillistic, and fragmented mediated sense of space was not in the solidity with which they seemed to embody “America,” both on the map and on a globe.

The gores were highly valued as the first image that mapped America–and assigned it a name–whose almost cultic prestige had grown allowed viewers view a watery western hemisphere, since described by antiquarians as the “birth certificate” of America, in an ahistorical but nineteenth-century fashion, for bestowing the name of the European navigator Vespucci on the continent that he had described in a set of letters that widely circulated in Europe from 1503, and provided a written account that oriented readers to to the New World, describing a vicarious sort of witnessing the unknown that expanded the demand for global maps as they were widely reprinted.   Amerigo Vespucci described the long shorelines of a New World  that allowed a distinctively modern way to view a rapidly expanded image of the inhabited world, and allowed Waldseemüller–even if the humanist cosmographer who had trained as a theologian rarely travelled beyond his town of St. Die, near Strasbourg, but exploited the printing press to reconcile Vespucci’s findings with precepts of map projection derived from cutting edge cartographic tools.  And when he adopted the format of the mathematician Apian to render the world on gores, he used the graphic techniques of projection to lend solidity to the first narrations of the New World.  So it was quite surprising that the forged copy of gores that almost made it to auction in 2017 belonged to the same visual culture of online images–the culture of image capture and digital reproductions–as what seemed a worm-eaten sheet of printed paper was found to be created by tools of digital photographic reproduction, with little human trace of an engraver’s hand, although they seemed strikingly similar to the long unknown image of a material rendering of the post-Colomban world.

 

MUNICH WALDSEEMULER in Peckham, 1504:1510pngUniversity Library of Munich, ULM Cim. 107#2. Courtesy of University Library of Munich

Indeed, the similarity between the online diffusion of the image and the reproduction of the fake seems a modern rewriting of the intense attention that Waldseemüller and his circle of geographers in St. Die embraced the tools of early modern engraving to design multiple woodcut maps in the first decades of the sixteenth century, in order to meet a fast-growing market for globes that lent legibility to the world.  But the new forms of legibility that the online reproductions prized–so distinct from the printed images of the early sixteenth century–seem something like a moral fable of the different levels of spatial legibility of different ages, if not two period eyes.  The gores that cosmographer Martin Waldseemüller and his St. Die circle had designed were printed in 1507 had been long prized as the earliest example of an identification of the New World as America, in honor of Vespucci.  In an elegant description of the entire surface of an earth as yet not fully known, but able to be mapped in a woodblock form, the gores adopt and incorporate aspects of recent engraved maps and nautical charts in a synoptic visual digest.  The gores form part of a distinctly cosmographic project of rendering the world on a graticule of parallels and meridians, and vaunting the adoption of an ancient global geometry for transposing the curvature of the inhabited surface of the globe to a sectional globe of two dimensions, despite their limited toponymy, and balance their comprehensive coverage with the treatment of the map as a canvas to advertise the new naming of America, expanding the map’s surface far beyond the manuscript tradition of Ptolemaic maps and orienting viewers to the predominantly watery surface of the world.

 

800px-Claudius_Ptolemy-_The_World

 

The single sheet that seemed early modern map gores for a short bit of time seemed to belong to the first records naming the continent after the navigator, and clearly gained their value as such as a piece of paper:  the announcement of a new discovery of the sectional rendering of the world’s surface by regular intervals of thirty degrees appeared to offer an early geographic primer modernizing Ptoleamic geography, based on the first nautical charts of the new world.  The attempt to chart global space for Renaissance readers who remained in Europe were long associated with the cosmographer Martin Waldseemüller, the mathematically-trained theologian and cartographer known for creating several global maps, and for writing one of the first treatises of cosmography to adopt Ptolemaic principles to explain and describe the principles for mapping the New World.  By announcing the adoption of a new set of tools as a new descriptive framework in a manner similar to his 1507 cosmographic wall-map, which unified the nautical charts of America Vespucci with a Ptolemaic framework of world-mapping; the sheet of map gores supersede traditional nautical charts in a form of world-making.

Indeed, the single sheet seemed to seek to promote universal geometric tools to unify an expanded global expanse:  the new sense of the “cumene” would not be recognized by Ptolemy or ancient mappers, and gave an expansive portion of its surface to oceanic expanse, registering a new conception of a terraqueous world.  The graphic image following Ptolemaic principles of projection incorporated Vespucci’s accounts and nautical maps in a new model of cosmographic knowledge, inviting readers to experience vicariously his travels to the New World, and to understand the greater value that he attributed to maps and cosmographical knowledge to arrive at this site across the ocean in another world:  much as Carlos Fuentes has recently offered an indelible picture of the epistemic paralysis of the monarch Don Felipe, a barely disguised version of Philip II, as a semi- autistic ruler doubting the existence of a new world that was not comprehended in the palace to which he has withdrawn in Terra Nostra (1975), a massive novel whose literary structure mirrored the tripartite structure of the palace Philip II commissioned to include maps of all the Spanish possessions, the embodiment of the globe on a set of twelve elegant map gores would condense and rebut such the imperial stance of utter disregard to the new world that possessed Fuentes in his novel.  The careful construction of the globe’s surface onto indices offer a global purview that might be called the first age of globalism.

 

1. Waldseemüller’s single sheet map condensed the cosmographic principles the he had followed in series of elegant wall-maps that foregrounded the artifice and difficulty of the composition of the world map.   Waldseemüller and his circle had actively promoted standards of global legibility, using Ptolemaic precepts in a triumphal manner to celebrate the power of naming, charting, and mapping new lands for European audiences that invited ways of telling, describing and narrating Europeans’ spatial relation to a new world.  The large wall-maps that he produced in over a thousand copies promoted modes of reading globalist relations  facilitated by copious textual cartouches and inventive decoration, that underscore its cosmographical nature as a product of writing, drawing, and design to affirm the growth of oceanic expanse that defined the continents.  The wall map was hardly free of what Edward Tufte might call “chart junk” on its exuberant margins, but conveyed tthe excitement of heralding a new graphic synthesis of a global map over which Vespucci presided in one lunette, adding continents of a new hemisphere to the known globe, offered a cartographic solution to a problem of ordering terrestrial space.

 

Vespucii On Map

Waldseemuller-Map-631Martin Waldseemüller, Universalis Cosmographia secundum Ptolomei Traditionem . . . . / Library of Congress

 

 

The image is no less than celebration of the new status of cosmographical arts that elevate the medium of engraved images to tools of global description.  If the twelve-sheet c wall maps Waldseemüller’s school composed, designed, and whose engraving they closely supervised set a new standard for the elevation of cartographical skill from a technical craft to a new model of knowing and seeing–and a way of making epistemological claims, as much as using transmitted forms, in ways that linked the art of mapping as a scribal technology to cultures of telling, describing, and demonstration, the wall maps invite viewer’s eyes to comprehend space outside a situated position.

 

Waldseemuller_map_2Martin Waldseemüller, Universalis Cosmographia secundum Ptolomei Traditionem . . . . / Library of Congress

 

In a counterpart to the large wall maps that he designed and sold, Waldseemüller expounded the modern precepts to orient one in space and synthesize global knowledge by parallels and meridians in his Introduction to Cosmography (1507).   The slim volume,  the basis for his identification with the unsigned gores, seven as a manifesto for the twelve-sheet engraved global wall map, over which preside busts of Ptolemy, the ancient geographer who formulated the mathematical precepts of terrestrial projection on a graticule, with America Vespucci, combined the modern experience of navigation with the ancient precepts of learning and naming place.   Waldseemüller himself never travelled far beyond his native Strasbourg, but invested the map with authority to communicate geographical knowledge as a token of modernity of embodying a global geographical knowledge, albeit a modernity now displaced by the grid.  Waldsemüller’s projection has the energetic displacement of the authority of a nautical chart, echoing how Vespucci declared his competency in his letter to arrive at the New World even “without the knowledge of sea charts” prized by navigators, being “more expert in navigation than all the pilots of the world.”   The gores staked a similar model of expertise of reckoning and calculating distance and place by a new matrix of latitude and longitude that they embody:  the preeminence of the graticule as an epistemological tools of global geography that expanded the scope and nature of geographical knowledge lasted some four hundred and eighty years until it being displaced by grids.  Indeed, the value that the map was readily assigned suggests its survival in a distinctly post-scribal culture of mapping.

Did the value that the auctioneers assigned the map gores reflect these grandiose knowledge claims?  The gores elegantly translated knowledge of the earth’s newly discovered hemisphere to indices the viewer could readily process and digest, foregrounding the new name that it proposed for the continent named after the Italian navigator.  But they assumed a new status in the age of digitized maps, and Google Earth images of global interconnectivity, which may have been paradoxically elevated by the newly antiquated image they acquired.  Rather than being sold as emblems of knowledge, the new image of the gores that Christie’s claimed to bring to public auction had gained an immeasurable status after the earlier auctioning of similar gores for above a million dollars, not to mention the unprecedented price that the United States Library of Congress agreed to pay in 2003 of $10 million for the sole surviving edition of the large wall map Waldseemüller had engraved, the one copy of the thousand-odd he had printed, of which it was something of the poorer cousin, but which had been widely touted as the “birth certificate” of America, and the map on which Waldseemüller had proposed using the name of the Florentine navigator Vespucci who had described the long coastlines of the New World in his printed letters.

The set of map gores, a complementary spherical map that Waldseemüller had described making, provided an early image of global totality that gave a similar dominance to the line–indeed, the geometrically determined line–to orient viewers to a global surface.  When the late historians of cartography David Woodward and J.B. Harley tersely defined the map in “purposely broad” terms, at the outset of the monumental History of Cartography, an extremely elegant series since expanded over multiple volumes, as “graphic representations that facilitate spatial understanding of the world of things, concepts, conditions, processes, or events in the human world,” they may have been thinking of the graphic lines of the gores as such a facilitation of spatial understanding.  For the gores process the encounter with the New world, the travels of the navigator, and the recovery of Ptolemaic precepts of world-mapping, and the naming of the newly discovered continents in the western hemisphere on a clearly graphic construction.  Woodward and Harley’s emphasis on “graphic representations” recuperated the ancient Claudius Ptolemy’s use the Greek verb  γράφειν (graphein), or “to write,” and Waldseemüller’s assimilation of that verb of the act of writing to engraving tools; it caused much revision, even by Woodward himself, of its lack of allowance for cross-cultural comparisons, but suggests a significance of writing systems as a mode of ordering space.  Waldseemüller appropriated the authority of the verb in print, giving the engraved line a deictic sense of displaying space–

 

Single Sheet UNM

Waldseemüller-Globus.jpg

Waldseemüller School, 1507 Globe Gores/Badische Landesbibliothek

 

–in a map of globular design of the sort that Woodward idealized as the culmination and embodiment of cartographical principles, in a globular map of the sort that was more readily defined in a more familiar globular form by 1583, here shown in two images of the same year in “universal rendering of the newly discovered parts of the world,” printed in Italian, or discovered parts of the world, which emphasize nautical travel as the basis for the incorporation of place on the globe, and reveal the increased scope of geographical exploration in the intervening eighty years.

 

Globular Italian Map Parte del Mondo Ritrovato 1583

 

 

Globe_terrestre_de_Jacques_Vau_de_Claye_(1583)

 

More broadly, however, “graphein” might be understood as the trace of the human that orients themselves to the world, hand-drawn or manually rendered.  These were soon shown to be absent from the gores:  indeed, the blurring of the very lines of the gores that went to auction suggest that they belong to a new visual culture of scanned images and photographic reproduction.  The very traces of graphical operations were permuted and erased in new ways, as is the sense of a human presence, in ways that suggest the distance of our own visual culture from Waldseemüller’s world, in ways that the forger never intended.

In their groundbreaking History of Cartography, David Woodward and Brian Harley had celebrated the line as the means of graphical orientation, in what now seems an elegy to the art of printing.  An unforgettable image remains clear in my head of David Woodward in his basement, in Madison, WI, running maps off a letterpress printer, and hanging them to dry on strings by clothespins, and his love of the ink applied to the engraved plate to present a precise rendering of space.  But the fake set of gores that reached auction were not printed or drawn, let alone in the Renaissance or during Waldseemüller’s life, but probably printed some five hundred years later, from a scan of the map in the James Ford Bell Library’s website.

The gores that arrived at auction this December suggest far less of a clear trace of a human hand, and perhaps belong to a different visual culture of online images.  Indeed, the astronomical value that the single sheet was invested may be a symptom of our entrance into a different visual culture of mapping–indeed, the sheet that seemed to be valued at more than a sheet of gold of the same size suggests the fetishization of the paper map in an era of web-based mapping, and mobile GPS.  The fake gores suggestedthe translation of Ptolemaic terms to a visual culture that privileges the dot and the grid as a basis for orientation, rather than the engraved line, but where the aura of the writing of space persists, and the paper map fetishized in a world that increasingly relies exclusively on mediated digitized images.  The set o fraudulent gores is itself something of a post-modern artifact,–less concerned with the authorities of narratives of discovery, but able to admit the false authority of the map as objective, and almost ready to accept the value of its aura even if it was only an image grab printed on old paper.

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Filed under fake maps, globalism, globalization, Mapping the New World, media studies

Mapping New Worlds on Eggshells: Adventures in the Artifice of Renaissance Map-Making

We have learned to expect to pause as Google Maps draw boundary lines, extending to new tiles which soon take forms bounded by in clearcut lines across uniformly flatly colored quite static blocks, as data streams materialize forms from blurs that delineate highways, city blocks, state boundaries, and mountains in gray, green, tan, or light blue–a poor surrogate reality that strongly contrasts to the vivid ways we experience space in early modern maps and globes.

 The convincing nature of the watery globe was far more pronounced in an era when the ocean provided the only medium for global travel, to be sure, and the immediacy of rendering oceanic space far more of a concern of global mapmaking.  (Indeed, for a more extensive consideration of map authorship and the concerns of its representation of oceans, see my post on its mapping of ocean waters.)  The  medium of the woodcut presented unique challenges of mapping the circumambient oceans, not defined by clear routes or itineraries, but as a unique medium of travel. The curving lines that lapped the shores of inhabited lands in an early map of northern Europe, reprinted as the endpaper to a universal history, the Liber chronicarum, ad derived from a map of northern Europe before the “discovery” of the New World, that set places and regions in northern Europe apart from a wavy sea–

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The northern seas are denoted by individual lines echo a global bifold map the same 1491 Liber Chronicarum, just predating the discovery of the New World, a detail of a crudely engraved world map in which one sees swirling waters that encircle the island of England and indeed all of Europe–and make one think of the difficulties of reconciling and bridging different registers of mapping land and sea for readers in the late fifteenth century.

Ocean curves.png

Unlike the on-screen conjuring of a demarcated space, the design of early modern maps invites detailed examination.   This undated miniature globe, engraved with considerable care on a two conjoined halves of two ostrich eggs, the size of a grapefruit, invites viewers to sail on the seas that swirl around a record global totality as something like a surrogate for actual world travel, its carefully worked details leave a clear trace of the hand, if not betraying the new phenomenological properties of the surface of engraved maps.

Although maps are often though of as paper constructions, the new properties of synthesizing land and sea in Ptolemaic maps are quite similarly approached in the very unique surface of this strikingly tactile engraved map–joining rounded halves of ostrich eggs–

Ostrich Egg Globe (1504)

–invites a distinctive attention to similar circumambient waters, which flow about the continents on whose surface we can see clearly engraved and legible toponyms: the seas are far more murky, as if they land had been the only legible area that was raised from their depth. The raised nature of the terrestrial surfaces on this globe–where the oceans are literally scratched away form its surface, as are the chains of mountains, coastlines, capital letters indicating terrestrial regions, and limited toponymy, suggest a marvel as much as a terrestrial map, and remind us of the interlinked discourses of maps and marvels, and the collection of curios as vehicles and mediums of geographic knowledge.

The engraving of a newly imagined expanse reported in marine charts created quite distinct operations of visualizing a newly materialized space–it displays one of the first maps to be printed that showed the New World’s form and recalls  the earliest printed images of North America.  The islands of “Spagnola [Hispaniola]” and “Isabella”, barely balanced with the huge area that it assigns to the Land of Brazil, or “Terra Sanctae Crucis” in something like an antipodal balancing act of continents around the equator, opposed in counterpoint to the Eurasian expanse. The coverage of the watery surface in the globe–which is in fact mostly covered by water–is even more pronounced in this apparently unique globe, composed of joined shell-like structures, treating the durable surface of the shell to create a luxury globe, which cannot, in its own way, but recall the famous apocryphal story of Christopher Columbus displaying the invention that was widely associated with cartographic modes for displaying the New World in flat maps, by challenging “lay a wager with any of you, that you will not make this egg stand up as I will, naked and without anything at all,” related in Girolamo Benzoni’s 1565 Historia del Mondo Nuovo [History of the New World], to compare the achievement of his discovery of the New World from “great men clever in cosmography and literature,” by the act of forcing the egg to stand on a table by allowing one end to be placed on a table as a support.

The eggshell map has no broken ends, but in its newly discovered form indeed stands on a table, allowing the observer to view to ponder the entire spherical surface of a globe, engraved on two ends of an ostrich eggshell, perhaps originating from a princely zoo, that lent itself to offer an exotic surface of cartographic demonstration to its privileged owners, quite unlike the manuscript or printed maps that are associated with early maps o the New World in the materiality with which it suggests the long voyage across oceanic expanse to reach a geographically enlarged (and now clearly out of scale) image of the New World islands, north of a creative rendition of a newly discovered South American coast, identified as the Terra Sancta Crucis, as if to retain the Christian eschatology even in the revelation of a world whose form seems foreign to whatever geographic knowledge is revealed in the Bible: the new islands of Isabel and Spagnuola are themselves court creations of Columbus’ royal patrons, and inscribe claims to sovereignty to these new lands, but the invention of the ostrich globe, recently discovered over four centuries after the discovery of the Americas,

Did the discovery of this inventive form of globe-making, unprecedented in the literature, link inventively, artifice, mapping and eggs that afforded a basis for Benzoni’s apocryphal claim?

New World in Ostrich_egg_globe

If the opposition of these continents in the ostrich-egg globe betrays significant cosmographical learning, the map itself reflects curiosity in the first mapped images of the New World, and a particular care to the definition of the coastlines of the newly found land masses we now call continents.  The exquisite care and delicate relief of the globe’s surface in this delicate construction made from two ostrich eggs has been recently dated to 1504 by its shell-density, based on a CT-Scan.  If the date can be ever established conclusively, the globe is one of the first images of the New World to have migrated from Portuguese marine charts to a particularly skilled level of craftsmanship, predating some of the known bronze globes of terrestrial expanse it resembles;  the image of Europe, Asia, Africa and the Land of Brazil could be scanned in analogously crisp detail to known early sixteenth-century globes and printed map-gores.  Indeed, the range of graphic tools engravers developed for embellishing the surface of maps set something of a standard for scanning land and sea, as their exquisite tones of shading increased the persuasive range of graphic forms that the anonymous artisan who made this eggshell map exploited to delineate the inhabited world.

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Filed under early modern globes, histories of discoveries, Mapping the New World, New World, Renaissance Discoveries

Drawing Hypotheses on a Newly Mapped World

At the same time as maps offer guides to spatially orient their readers, they collect a record of known space for viewers to occupy, collecting and displaying relationships that allow viewers to draw hypotheses about their relation to a totality otherwise not able to be seen.  The format of all maps provide tools to understand and collate relations over an expanse otherwise not evident.  The possibilities or potentiality for such comprehension–or the experience of the knowable–is encoded in the directions that any map provides to better navigate space by ship, car, train, or plane, but its syntax is also an invitation to inhabit space to formulate a hypothesis about expanse; early modern maps are especially conscious about how they mediated a record of the inhabited world.

My interest in how maps make these relations evident in multiple ways has been a theme of earlier posts; I have elsewhere blogged about the spaces Google Maps present for viewers, and the limited frameworks they offer to occupy space.  Once might do well to gauge the productivity of how maps generate hypotheses about an individual relation to expanse by the unity by their  representational surfaces–although the pictorial aspects of maps are too readily categorized as qualitative additions, held in contrast to their quantitative construction or collation of precise measurements of terrestrial position.

Early modern cartographers in the Dieppe school, like Nicolas Desliens, adopted modern practices in the hand-drawn maps, typified by the below 1566 world map, based on Portuguese nautical charts.  The maps retained the format of projection, but offered a new way to inhabit the expanding world map for elite audiences–here by displaying a new region of the earth, Java la Grande, a mythical island that described by Marco Polo and perpetuated by the cartographers based in Normandy:  the green swirls on Java recall the engraved illustrations in works of early modern botany or natural history that Sachiko Kusukawa has argued constituted material evidence from the natural world.

800px- Globe by Nicolas_Desliens_Map_(1566)

Java la Grande is prominently labeled, and the undoubted centerpiece of this world-map by Desliens, even though it is not at  its center:  it is, rather, introduced as a new area of inhabitation, whose verdant interior is a seat of spices and potential wealth, as well as lying, cosmographically speaking, in a sense as a complementary counterpart to the Americas, echoing the harmonious balancing of landmasses from ancient geography.  But the map also advertises the region’s potential wealth to potential backers of voyages.  There are, however, limited use of formal codes to structure the map’s surface, despite its notation of tropics echoes of the formal structure of world projections, or other conventions that lend order by structuring the map’s surface for its viewer.

The circumscribed role of America in Desliens’ map is perhaps also striking to modern viewers because it minimizes the expanse of the Americas in a somewhat marginal manner, probably recalling the thin crescent of coastal archipelago in the multi-sheet wall chart the humanist Martin Waldseemüller designed, which did not even name “America,” and gave far greater place to South America

Waldseemuller-Map-631

–though Waldsemüller did name the region on the slightly later set of printed gores that he engraved for purchasers to use to assemble their own globes:

Wertvolle Waldseem¸ller-Karte entdeckt

Waldsemüller exploited the expansive wall map of twelve sheets as more compendious and expansive record than a globe.  The limited employment of conventions to structure their graphic surface might be explained to some extent by the use of map signs to comprehend a range of toponymic content and limited authority of map signs to structure their surface.

These images synthesize nautical charts in a comprehensive system of knowledge are at a remove from the ways that information is displayed about America–if still an empty land-mass– in later explicitly political maps that placed the Americas as an appendage of royal sovereign space, or as an area of self-government.  In an instance of the first case, Georg Bickham invited viewers of his 1748 “Chorographical Description of All the Dominions Subject to the King of Great Britain” to process their relations to its disparate dominions in a coherent ways as nothing less than a political space.  The conflation of a chorography of the national community with a global map is a classic conceit of empire:  but the below engraving suggests a wonderfully compelling way of reasoning across two hemispheres.

The map, engraved and printed in London for audiences far more familiar with maps, shows continents as unpopulated landmasses, but the relations of whose inhabitants were subject to the royal rule of George II, in a somewhat magniloquent statement of royal rule for its viewers to scan.  If the map reveals the expanse of Great Britain’s “Dominions in Europe, Africa, and America,” it is an optimistic knitting together of regions geographically removed, but subservient to the royal crown whose cartouche still occupied center stage.

Chorographical England 1748

To be sure, this image processes something of a cognitive map of the royal subject’s relation to the vast terrestrial rule of George II as a totality that spans no less than three continents.  The map is straightforwardly political, but conjures a land of royal unity that was geographically dispersed, and linked symbolically only in the map.  Indeed, the cartouche in which Bickham inscribed the “Lord Majesty” in relation to its subjects has greater prominence or centrality in the map than any place-name or region that is represented on its surface, as well as considerably more ornate a subject of Bickham’s burin in the acanthus-like flourishes and drapery:

Crest as Cartouche

The obedience by which the royal subject inscribed the expanse of the map is more prominent than its geographic content because the map is quite distinct from a geographic record.  The regions of North America are in fact rarely mapped in much detail aside from their shorelines; greater detail is accorded The Banks, shoals famously dangerous for nautical approaches, than other areas, and the ties to Britain confirmed more by toponymy than by qualitative detail or the density of its inhabitation, and other than its coasts is largely blank, suggesting greater habituation with nautical travel:

Upper Canada--1748

Curiously, in this map of British global possessions, boundary lines among the colonies are noted but seem almost notional than juridical, and far less fixed in space than the rivers with which they intersect, dotted lines that extend into an unknown interior before they peter out into a vast unmapped continent, as if inviting viewers into blank unmapped regions.

trailing boundary lines of political division

The map illustrates the invisible ties of power that united these regions, far-flung as they were, as an image of royal authority.  If maps were advertisements of power and illustrations of authority in the early modern period and Enlightenment, this map serves to create a set of fictive ties that united and oriented its viewers to a sense of disconnected space, which the cartographical content of the map was not in itself sufficient to process.

The map complements a written printed chorographical description, as much as it offers a strictly cartographical record, the symbolic use of whose conventions allows us to connect geographically removed regions in its pictorial space.

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Filed under Dieppe School, Georg Bickham, George II, Java La Grande, Martin Waldseemüller, Nicolas Desliens, pictorial space, Sovereign Maps

A Well-Drawn Map: the Aura of the Projection

All maps are simplifications.  Cautionary words of the section on “Map Data” in the introduction to a 1986 edition of the near-canonic Goode’s World Atlas advise cartographers to find some way to best select objects or information worthy of representing, evaluate their relative importance, and “find some way to simplify their form.”  The statement acknowledges the risks in any mapping, of which Goode himself was aware, and aims the mapmaker toward crafting a disinterested map.   Then comes the barbed disclaimer:  “Because a well-drawn map creates an aura of truth and exactness, the cartographer should caution the reader against interpreting the generalized data too literally,” cautions the  introduction.  The problem was the distortions that maps created; in the first atlas that he printed, Goode had questioned the format of straight parallels and meridians that intersected perpendicularly for compromised its relative accuracy, or for presenting an untrustworthy image of terrestrial relations.

The American geographer John Paul Goode (1862-1933) directed considerably attention to the failure of the reliance on perpendicular parallels and meridians in Mercator’s projection, and the distortions of relative national size and, more broadly, geographic interest this created:  Goode’s attack on the geometric distortion of the map was a recurrent theme of his public lectures, and when he decided to organize a new educational atlas from 1908, he designed his work to offer a new sort of educational tool for encouraging interest in geography.  His hostility to the Mercator projection, despite its considerable artifice, was a basis for  designing the world map for this atlas:  in promising to introduce a new format of terrestrial projection before the congress of American Geographers’ Association that year, he condemned the Flemish cartographer’s 1569 cylindrical projection as “evil”  and promised a new format of terrestrial projection be used in American schools to train students in world geography in ways that he felt were inadequately served by the many distortions created by “mapping” the earth onto an imaginary cylinder around the earth, as  Mercator had proposed in the most famous of the several world maps he designed.

413px-Usgs_map_mercator

“Frequently,” Denis Wood enjoined readers,”[cartographers] do not mean what they say, they rarely practice what they preach, and have managed to order their maps to preserve to preserve the implications of transparency for the general reference section,” as if suggesting that half of the game was to persuade readers.  Mercator did not try to assert transparency for his projection, but provided extensive explanations of both its mathematical construction and distortions of the poles in framed legends, if he did not admit that the map became untrustworthy beyond 70 degrees on each side of the equator line.

When Goode tilted his lance against Mercator‘s 1569 projection, he objected to the misleading viewers by organizing parallels and meridians in perpendicular relation to one another.  The map effectively expanded northern regions of the world, as the then-iced-over Greenland and Antarctica as a result.  The cylindrical projection rectilinear graticule of parallels and meridians resembled a geometric grid–a notion, while clearly flawed, provided a compelling basis for Mercator to straighten the rhumb lines of nautical maps, and integrate information from nautical cartography to a world map.  The flaws in the projection were known:  even ancient geographers had debated the uses of such a rectilinear grid, and found it discounted terrestrial curvature.  Mercator however returned to this ancient form as a way to map straight lines of nautical travel on the map’s surface, adjusting its form to accommodate nautical maps by allowing distances between lines of latitude to increase as one moved north or south from the equator.  His innovation was to maintain a perpendicular relation between meridians of longitude to parallels of latitude–as they are on the surface of the earth–at each point on this projection, which allowed local relationships to preserve accuracy.

The result did not sit well with the pragmatic ends of instruction Goode desired.  Goode vociferously attacked the faults of the Flemish cartographer’s cylindrical projection as perpetuating cartographical errors.  He believed that its idealized had long deflected criticisms of their accuracy and distortions.  Its errors lay not so much because the projection privileges the size of Europe–as was later argued–but in how it granted large territorial expanse to Greenland, and did not extend a similar bias toward America suitable for Americans to learn geography.  Despite engraving a large projection of the world in sixteen sheets, Mercator never designed his projection to serve as  wall-map, akin to those used in to American schoolrooms for geographic study.  Mercator, a printer and editor of multiple projections as well as a geographer, and was not committed to one schema of global projection alone that had become identified with his name and authorship.  (Mercator himself preferred a curved sinusoidal distribution of the earth, organized around a central meridian, to the cylindrical because of its ability to maintain accurate distances.)  But the projection epitomized an inaccuracy and distortion often recognized–as by Goode–to be the cost of any world map.  To devise a more legitimate and pedagogic projection for the classroom setting, that  school atlases would use as educational tools, Goode fused Homolographic and Sinusoidal projections in a Homolosine Projection in 1916, coining this term and presenting it as a more suitable projection for instruction and the basis for what became known as the “Goode’s World Atlas” for Rand McNally.

The projection not coincidentally restored North America to prominence in the first sector of its flattened orange-peel segments.

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This iconic map, prefiguring the corporate logo of Trans World Airlines, used decidedly wavy meridians to remind his readers of the equatorial bulge in the round surface of the world, and make clear its transformation of a curved world, rather than–as Mercator–transposing round surface to “spread on a plane the surface of a sphere” for readers.  The map explicitly showed students a picture that affirmed the world’s spherical nature, as if lest anyone be led to believe that it was flat.

Goode affirmed the advantages of this teaching model in many public lectures that he gave through the country.  Goode believed that despite giving the appearance of accuracy and regularity of its perpendicular parallels and meridians to readers trained in geometric graphing and Euclidean geometry, the map was pernicious.  In dedicating his career as a geographer and educator to “to making geography a simpler and more enjoyable subject to learn” he started from the map itself.  As well as a productive cartographer,  Goode was a proselytizer of the benefits of truth in mapping; as the power behind the Rand McNally Atlas, and a tireless advocate of the benefits of atlases in education, as well as the teacher of an entire generation of American geographers.

The Mercator projection did not sit well with his insistence on a pragmatic value for maps.  These concerns might be likened to John Dewey‘s interest in both transparency and logical relations.  Dewey in fact dwelled a bit on the “Mercator projection” that Goode detested briefly when he investigated the relation between a country and its map in writings on mathematical discourse.  John Dewey observed how “the similarity of the relations of the map and those of the country is the product of taking maps that have in fact been perfected through performance of regulated operations of surveying in isolation from the operations by which the map was constructed.”  “In the ordinary Mercator map,” he noted, “if the polar regions are taken to be relative . . . to the equatorial regions, “there would be misrepresentation.”  He observed with rue that “there is a morphological enlargement of polar regions in the Mercator style of map; in the cylindrical, their shape is distorted, while areas are correct . . . when the directive function of the map is left out of consideration it must be said that no map is “true,” not only because of the special ‘distortions’ mentioned but because in any case a map represents a spherical upon a plane surface.”  He was intrigued by the  system of relations constituted by a map:  “In the ordinary Mercator map, if the polar regions were taken to be relative (in the sense defined) to equatorial regions, there would be misrepresentation.”  Dewey revealed his concern with the functional relation between country and map, as well as the instrumental role of maps in “such operations as traveling, laying out routes for journeys, following movements of goods and persons,” finding the distortions in the Mercator projection made it lacking on both grounds.

As Goode dedicated his efforts to restore pleasure to studying geography, his attack on the “aura of truth and exactness” of maps hints at the deeply seated nature of Goode’s criticisms of retaining the equiangular projection associated with Gerard Mercator in schools as a guide to world geography–not only did its limited preservation of global accuracy rendered it practically unusable at latitudes above 70˚ but the map provided little relation to an existing political geography or an amenable geopolitical image of terrestrial geography.  Mercator’s aim in his 1569 sixteen-sheet map was to present straight lines of sea-travel, or nautical course, rather than preserving terrestrial proportion, transforming  East-West travel so that meridians and parallels were perpendicular, and “linear scale” was equal at any point–although uniform scale not maintained.  The resulting distortions of “expanse” at latitudes significantly above the equator are clear to observers who noted its perpendicular intersections of meridians of longitude and parallels of latitude:

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These distortions are increasingly accurate with the regional surveying of the globe dramatically expanded; Goode would have none of its expansion of Greenland to the size of Africa by the early twentieth century–a result of the projection schema transmitted by applying Mercator’s procedures, more than of Mercator’s original map, whose intent was less directed to terrestrial coverage than reconciling previously opposed standards of nautical and terrestrial cartography.

The harsh condemnation of the misleading “aura of truth and exactness” in maps such as Mercator’s projection is telling, and although it wasn’t written by Goode, continued his cartographical crusade.  Although Goode’s deep concern with the use of the projection and geography’s acceptance in school curriculum is understandable, it is curious that the work of a geographer closely associated with the printed maps as Goode sharply condemned the “aura” of truth in maps so sharply.  “Aura” here meant the misleading nature of its authority, but also suggested the staying power of the map as an art form, and the way that the artifice of map-making persuaded viewers of an appearance of accuracy and accurate inter-relationships.  But it can’t help but recall how Walter Benjamin discussed the lack of aura in printed works of art.

The editor of Goode’s atlas who condemned the “aura” of maps as the Mercator projection was probably unaware of how Benjamin discussed  the loss of “aura” of art in an age of mechanical reproduction.  For Benjamin, mechanical reproduction had the cost of removing the work of art from a ritual context, and artworks in reproduced form contained a diminished sense of the trace of the hand or the materials of their original construction.  This was not entirely a negative process, but an acknowledgment of a fait accompli, for Benjamin.  The aura to which Goode’s editor objects might lie, for Mercator’s work, both in the authority of its iconic form that was uncritically transmitted and in Mercator’s hand-engraving of the image–in which he not only combined the most recent nautical cartography.  Although we now distinguish Mercator’s projection as a mathematical solution for preserving the Euclidean form of a map and reconciling navigational courses with compass bearings, Mercator’s artifice lay in his practice as a map engraver.  His map was fundamentally a description, misunderstood as a mathematical equation, which uniquely synthesized charts and projection and elegantly described both the mathematics of his projection which he pioneered with maps of both poles that the projection did not allow.  It created a new “aura” for the printed map, as it were, to allow it to compete with the appearance of discoveries on recent nautical charts.

The map he created echoed a tradition of learned humanistic geography, removed from nautical practice, to be sure, but eager to incorporate its practical results, much as the earlier map of the humanist Martin Waldseemüller of Strasbourg, who in 1507 combined recent nautical results from sailors with his considerable geographic learning to treat the map as a medium and forum for illustrating geographic knowledge–boasting that his woodcuts demonstrated the discoveries in Indies and Americas “more truthfully and exactly” than existing maps or charts.  The comparison to Waldseemüller’s 1516 Carta Marina is perhaps more telling, since it clearly seems to adopt the growing aura and appeal of manuscript nautical “portolan” charts as bearers of new information; the Carta Marina, distinguishing itself from his global projection, included place-names identical to those that appear in charts executed by the fifteenth-century nautical mapper of the African coast, Grazioso Benincasa of Ancona.  It also follows the form of map projection that we associate with Mercator, who likely emulated this map:

Waldseemuller 1516 carta nautica

Both the cartographer who never left Strassburg, Waldseemüller, and Mercator responded to the growing fashion for nautical charts, and acknowledged their derivation from the genre of nautical mapping to attract new readers.  The “aura” of Mercator’s map lies in the revealing role of his hand in synthesizing maps, combining geographic texts, and combining the conventions of noting direction on rhumb lines with the measured spacing of parallels and meridians.  Both create a similar engraved image bound by an elegant frame:  rather than give prominence to notches that correspond to lines of latitude and longitude, Mercator also painstakingly ‘framed’ the map in an ornate manner, dedicating attention to an elegant banded frame, and including many panels of geographic texts that would reward the sort of careful study that its large form allowed.

Benjamin’s  point wasn’t limited to the Luddite’s antipathy to the mechanic.  It has continued to provoke new claims of the role of art in an age of reproduction and of reproduced art, indeed, and at least in part came out of his interest in film as a medium:  but his observation that printed reproductions of art lacked the “aura” of use-value specific to a work of art was closely tied to the very “aura” that Goode’s editor sought to distinguish his maps from, and of which Mercator was very much a part.  For Goode seemed to distance cartography from “artistic” aspects of engraved maps of Mercator’s day, and to assert what might be called the more “logographic” function of map making.  Mercator’s projection is not often thought of as aesthetic or artistic, and maps are not often considered works of art.  In the manner that it uniformly straightened its bearings to approximate a satisfying equiangular graticule, and is a bit of an esthetic creation of itself:  its frame is far more conspicuous than its measured indices.

The artifice of preserving the angles of incidence in the terrestrial graticule, if not the size of land mass framed the world in the form of a framed picture, after all, albeit in engraved form.  Although Benjamin’s “aura” seems to exist in the relationship between observers and a work of art.  the art of mapping had so dramatically expanded in the world of sixteenth-century engraving that his map was a cognitive achievement of the mathematics of re-distributing space along straightened parallels and uniform meridians.  In straightening bearings to recall an equiangular graticule of Euclidean form, in contrast to the curvilinear projections included in many Renaissance editions of Ptolemy’s treatise on world geography, Mercator mapped the world in a satisfying Euclidean space, preserving the angles of incidence in the terrestrial graticule, that invested a new aura in a planisphere as a readable expanse.  The projection reduced or omitted the “unknown lands” that earlier cartographers had noted; by directing attention to its indexing the “habitable world,” and limiting regions near the poles, the projection also conveniently restricted its coverage of unknown regions.  And it omitted medieval geographic constructs as the Antipodes or Sea Monsters that appeared in earlier maps.  In their stead, the projection reconciled conventions to “read” space, and refined a model for imagining and tracking travel through space–even if it was not used on ships for doing so.  Unlike a simple nautical projection or ship chart of the sort that existed in manuscript, however, it projects expanse to a indexed matrix.

The 1569 edition of the map of sixteen sheets survives in but three examples, yet was a sort of luxury product in itself when it was first sold and sold briskly in the decade after it was devised.  The noted meridians and parallels together with  the rhumb lines of portolan charts, ordering expanse both on uniform meridians and alternate modes of notating terrestrial expanse on land and water.  It lacked prominent notches on its frame, and would probably not be used to read or approximate terrestrial position.  It’s often argued Mercator devised the conformal projection for the use of sailors, who could transfer the bearings of rhumb lines on nautical charts to its graticule, since he entitled his “Orbis Terrae Descriptio ad Usum Navigantium Emendate Accomodata” [Description of the Terrestrial Globe Correctly Amended for the Use of Sailors].  The map did not lead sailors to abandon charts, although Mercator identified it as “corrected for the use of sailors.”   Its market might have been distinct from sea-goers, however, despite his acknowledgment of the benefits he gained from their findings:  the map synthesized the results of navigation through his artifice in a new comprehensive image readily read by landlubbers more than for the use of those at sea–constraints in taking accurate compass bearings at sea made it less trustworthy  at sea, Mercator would have known.  By synthesizing results from Spanish and Portuguese charts, he sought crafted another way of framing the individual reader’s relation to space, by adopting hybrid signs in his map.  Although ostensibly made for the use of sailors who could transfer bearings rhumb lines on nautical charts to its graticule, given limited abilities to secure the reliable compass bearings at sea, the map was probably easily read with the aid of a compass by those ashore in an age when compasses were valued commodities and luxury goods.  This is was the audience among whom it was most likely viewed.  (Partly because of the success as a map as a projection that preserved local scale, it is still retained on Google Earth:  it also of course fits nicely into the frame of a computer screen.)

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Mercator intended the sixteen sheet projection as a record of global knowledge, capitalizing on the increasing authority of nautical maps.  It was something of an encyclopedia, describing the origins of rivers and the world’s seas, and limiting the range of “unknown lands.”  In doing so, Mercator presented the map as an autonomous form of comprehensive geographic knowledge in revolutionary ways, framing an argument about an individual relation to space, as it were, and construing an individual relation to expanse.  Stephen S. Hall enjoined we acknowledge the relative nature of all maps recently by noting how, over time, we develop our personal geographies, or “her or his private meridians,” advising“I Mercator; you, Mercator, too”:  but Mercator provided a template for a deeply individualistic relation to the totality of known space, by bringing all resources of terrestrial description to bear on the task.

Which brings us back to its aura and artifice.  For the projection was successful as a canonic model to transcribe the indexicality of the entire globe–and affirmed a new relation of the reader to the surface of the map.  This was Goode’s problem.  The persuasiveness of encoding an accurate record of space was exactly what gave Goode suspicions, and which Goode’s editors were keen to perceive.  Mercator had in 1569 tacitly asserted his ability to transform expanse to a planisphere that could be read on both rhumb lines or parallels and meridians.  He noted that his projection delineated a new model of projection whereby to “spread on a plane the surface of a sphere in such a way that the positions of places shall correspond on all sides with each other;” even though it clearly distorted the size of Greenland and Antarctica, or diminished the expanse of South America and Africa, this was of less concern to his readers or to the readers of sixteenth-century maps:  no one was going to stake claim to these lands, for one, and the seas were of greater import than the areas near the poles.  The inaccurate presumption that these leaves were used to create a wall map–and an advertisement for global dominance–was only imagined in the late nineteenth century.  For a more proportional map of global coverage, Mercator himself preferred a sinusoidal projection.

The power of Mercator’s transformation of space is the relative absence of local distortion due to its conformal construction, giving it a staying power that has continued in different forms through Google’s maps.  The means by which it maintained its conformality were Goode’s problem, however, for he saw the map as perpetuating a geopolitical deception outdated in the modern world.  One might recall that when Brian Harley sketched the outlines for a history of mapping, he began from how “cartography was [long] primarily a form of political discourse . . . concerned with the maintenance of power.”  The staying power of Goode’s map, interestingly, can be roughly tied to the political dominance of America in the “short” twentieth century, or from 1914 to the 1960s, when the Mercator projection was revisited, not only by the German journalist Arno Peters’ equal-area projection. Peters showed sensitivity to the visual construction of maps as forms of propaganda, when he promoted the projection, noting how the map privileged one area over others.  But Mercator’s projection had already long been defunct for geographers even before 1961, when Arthur Robinson devised a global projection to map the earth’s surface as a flat image with significantly less distortion than Mercator mapped.

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