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Our Increasingly Overlit Night Skies

In the year 2025, a seven year old girl looks up at stars against the “deep, black” night-time sky, remembering that her stepmother as a child could once not see their “cool, pale, glinting light.  Octavia Butler sets the scene for her cautionary tale, Parable of the Sower, with the child’s stepmother uttering two words–“‘city lights‘”–unable to conjure the historical changes of nocturnal luminescence during her life when stars have become unable to be seen in the night sky.  “‘Lights, progress, growth, all those things we’re too hot and too poor to bother with anymore,’” is all she was able to haltingly explain.

The notion of a “star-gazing station” that pops up along the highway may seem an improbability today.  But driving an hour and a half north from Toronto, just north of Napanee, one passes a Dark Sky Viewing Area, that offers the chance for volunteer-led star-gazing, where knowledge about viewing night skies are eagerly passed down, as if out of Fahrenheit 451, offering opportunities for amateur astronomical observation of geminoid meteor showers at the “most southerly dark sky site in Ontario,” where increased stellar visibility confirms that one has moved sufficiently away from the hyper-luminescent United States to “natural brightness” to view the Milky Way in all its glory.  The designation of “natural brightness”–or darkness–suggests a growing need to reckon with the geographical limits of night-time illumination.  North Frontenac, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada   assures, offers surroundings suitably dark in fifteen km in all directions to be designated a “Dark Sky Preserve Status” for viewing night-time skies as they once looked.  The Star Gazing Pad invites all with telescopes in what seems a throwback to the popular astronomical observations of Victorian England, but responds to fears of the unprecedented skyglow and the augmented illumination of night time skies.


Dark Sky Viewing Area.png


Driving north from the border today, one arrives on the 401 in “dark sky country,” as if a definitive passing of the border, north of Kingston and Lake Ontario, removed from the nocturnal glow of city lights, which promises to provide the “night sky experience very similar to what was available more than 100 years ago,” promising visitors the chance to “witness–perhaps for the first time [in their lives]–how the night sky is meant to be seen.”

N Frontenac

North Frontenac Dark Sky Preserve


Dark Sky.pngLennox & Addington County Dark Sky Viewing Area


Again, the question of the geographical boundaries of “natural brightness” and “natural light” are called into question by sites of such “Dark Sky Viewing Stations,” which have grown rapidly in Canada as preserves to “save the stars from light pollution.”  The United States was the foremost model for Butler’s cautionary tale of a post-apocalyptic future, when stellar visibility had only just returned, but only did after the decline of a world in which increasing artificial luminosity had long removed the stars from increasing portions of mankind.   The vignette helped situate readers in a time just after a global collapse, where villages and cities are walled from roving gangs of drug-crazed marauders, and any semblance of security or infrastructure is gone from memory, and has faded into a past that few save the old can recall.  Lauren protests to her stepmother “there are city lights now” which don’t “hide the stars,” but the older woman is only able to shake her head in response, trying to summon earlier skyscape, and describe the changes that set the scene for the dystopia they now inhabit:  “There aren’t anywhere near as many as there were.  Kids have no idea what a blaze of lights cities used to be–and not long ago.” Lauren tries to recuperate an even earlier sill of reading the stars by an astronomy book that once belonged to her grandmother that allows her to decipher constellations she is now able to trace, and are newly visible in the night-time sky, using its maps as the sole means to be able to glimpse the stellar order seen in the night-time skies of bygone eras.

In ways that give a new sense to “dark data,” techniques for mapping of the absence of light from an increasing share of the world suggest a new understanding of “place” that commands attention in multiple ways.  The Bay Area where I live can already be seen from the sky from the International Space Station, as photographed by astronaut Randy Bresnick photographed it in one of his final trips about the planet, that bear shocking witness to the expanse of populated lands that illuminate the growth of streetlights in the Bay Area, where intense luminosity stretches from San Jose to the Carquinez Bridge:


DQ45lruUMAAQUQW.jpg-largeRandy Bresnick/@AstroKomrade


The experience of the extreme intensity of urban blazing is echoed in the quite timely appearance of an atlas of night-time space.  The use of satellite maps to chart the extent to which artificial light has come to compromise the night-time sky over the past fifteen years.  For it reveals the global scale at which the growing impact of light pollution on the diminished darkness of the night-time sky not only around once sacred areas, like Stonehenge, but stands to change our sensitivity to the perception of starlight, and experience of a non-illuminated world.   At one time, the definition of astrological constellations provided a basis to organize time, space, and prognostication, they offered natural guideposts for maritime navigation–as the girl in Parable of the Sower seems to suspect, even as she struggles with the absence of many clear keys for their interpretation.  If Butler suggested the dark future of no stars in an alternate world of the future sometime shortly before 2024, by which time the dark sky has returned, we see little point of turning back in the maps of the over-illuminated world presented in the first-ever global atlas of light pollution atlas.

The atlas suggests we won’t so easily return to an unlit world–or at least won’t return save after a similar apocalyptic massive destruction of the over-industrialized world.  The recession of stellar visibility is only beginning to be fully mapped in full, but the ever-narrowing window of night-time perception of stellar visibility seems quite timely.  The global spread of man-made light pollution is the direct consequence of living in what historian Mathew Beaumont first described as “post-circadian capitalism” back in 2005– a condition where work-time is no longer governed by a clock, or biological rhythms of sleep, but both flexible employment and 24-7 economies have effectively expanded the working day to a continuous job, often enabled by continuous illumination. If Beaumont, following Jonathan Crary, has seen the sleep-deprived working worlds of the globalized world that denies the value of rest–or allows one to deny it–the attempt to process the global absence of darkness demands to be grasped as evocatively as Butler began. And one is pusehd to do so by a recent collection of the diminished global levels of starlight and stellar visibility, which invites us to try to survey what a sky without stars would be.


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June 18, 2016 · 12:26 pm

Mapping the Material Surplus along the US-Mexico Border

When running for President of the United States, Donald J. Trump already betrayed a shaky knowledge of the territory. He didn’t want you to think that a wall had already been built along the southwestern boundary of the United States.  Now occupying the Oval Office, he seeks to convince the nation that it is in fact being built, and that the need for a permanent, impassible “wall” exist, despite Congress’s refusal to allocate new funds for a “border wall.”

But the massive show of force of cyclone fencing, regular patrols, and bullet-proof barriers set a precedent of border fencing since the 1990s, and something like a precedent for redrawing the nation in ways that are designed to resist changes in a globalized world. In ways that Trump has put on steroids as a racist divide between outsiders and “Americans,” and used as a vehicle for an “America First” agenda, as filling a need to remap strong divide between nations that would replace an “open border,” able to protect the nation, the “border wall” has become fetishized as a paradigm of the unilateral mapping of global space–in terms of actual sovereign bounds, and as a way to remap the nation’s involvement in the world and shuns international responsibilities. If the rhetorical role of the “border wall” has replaced its actuality, and mapped the proximity of the nation to the border in both duplicitous and quite dangerously simplified ways, only by returning to the border, and viewing the existing scars on its lived landscape and the traces of the migrants who have crossed it, can we unmapped the mental mapping of the border.

The effectiveness of the current complex of bollard fencing, barbed wire, steel fencing, cyclone fence, prison-wall like bars, and other obstacles has become one of the largest collections of military surplus in the United States, an accumulation of military materiel that appears designed to remind those who see it of their absence of rights.  As much as a defense against globalization or immigration, the border wall stands as a fiction.  Although some Americans lend credence to the idea that a barrier along the border could prevent “unlawful” entry of the country, whether such entry is in face unlawful–and what sort of balance of justice would be reinstated–is unclear.  The frontier is constructed as site for denying justice, and a denial of human rights, both embodied in the a massive build-up of military material and show of force in its regime.  

The construction of the border as a region that denies civil and legal rights–a “negative space” of sovereignty and liberty–has redefined its relation to the state.  While the project of a wall seems to mirror the lines of a map that would separate two countries, the simple division of national zones and spatial division more of a fiction in the transborder region.  The compulsion to create a map that was present on the earth–a sort of scar between two regimes–depends on defining a space outside of either state, overseen by someone who has no interest in securing rights of its inhabitants.

In this sense, Donald Trump is the perfect messenger of a circumscription of personal rights. When Trump urges the nation that no choice exists save a wall– “We really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier”–citing that any agreement with Congress for “a fair deal” to be far off, he invokes a notion of fairness and justice that he argues it would create a sense of security–and promote a sense of national security as well as personal security–but relies on evoking the sense of fear and vulnerability that “open borders” conjure.  Without any clear statistics or evidence for its value, save the magnification of border security, the need for a border wall is only a fantasy, based on an imagined. As someone who defines himself outside the political classes, and apart from an interest in preserving civil rights–or a sense of the role of government in the preservation of the nation’s liberties–Trump is perfectly suited to define himself in terms of the border wall, which he seems to be set on developing as a property.

1. The sense of justice or security is altogether absent from the landscape of the wall, and from its already heavily militarized region.  The absence of place along the border is particularly striking as the accumulation of increasing obstacles to cross-border transit seem designed to preserve a sense of the integrity of the nation–and the safety of our own sense of place–in a world increasingly defined outside of the nation-state as a category, where “states” have decreasing presence or meaning for many American citizens, and most inhabitants of the globe.

In an era of the continuous extent of global space, where borders of nations are to a large extent rendered arbitrary in the virtual space of the meridians of the widely adopted Universal Transverse Mercator coordinate system–

–there seems an urgency that is more easily created of the need to define a boundary line, and to believe that the ideal border line of a national map can conjure the antiquated entity of the “nation”and defend it against the danger of migrating threats.  Invoking the fear of the dangers of cross-border movements  are so often epeated by the America First movement–“bad hombres,” rapists, murderers, or criminal networks, drug cartels, and multi-nationals that go beyond the current systems of state-based law enforcement, that seem designed to suggest threats that only a clear partition of territories can stop,

Migratory Routes of White Pelicans in the United States Originating from the Gulf of Mexico

Historical and Current Sites of American Black Bear in Mexico

In  ways that echo the growth of border walls world-wide–only fifteen existed in 1990; there are beyond seventy–the US-Mexican border barriers already constitute one of the most massive investments in wall-building–and the most massive project of wall-building that exists.  Rather than offer a spatial division that can serve to protect the nation, or reassure us of the possibility of law enforcement, the complex created around the militarized complex serves only to suspend individual rights, as much as to guarantee the law.  Ie exists in an atmosphere of compromised legality, if not  lawlessness, in the name of security.  

Rather than see to create a secure spatial division, the border has been transformed into a deeply hostile landscape, a site seeking to erase or obliterate any sense of individuality, however much the wall is identified with justice or national protection against the threat of criminal elements.  The rhetoric of wall-building that invokes justice indeed obscures the utter injustice of its construction.  The 2,500 mile barbed wire fence that India is building to separates itself from Bangladesh, the US-Mexico border wall would be by far the longest such wall in the globe, as if a bald rebuttal to globalization and a declaration of American self-interest:  if intended to illustrate American strength against the specter of the threat of the cross-border movement of workers, criminals, or lawlessness, it claims the ability to remove surgically the territorial United States from the dangers globalization has wrought.  

In this sense, the project of wall-building is a promise to protect the sense of “place” of the nation.  At the same time as our sense of the nation and our sense of place has dramatically altered for reasons beyond any individual nation, the wall reified the nation as an entity, even as the distinct nature of the nation is unclear.   John Berger observed grimly, but surprisingly presciently, toward the end of his life, after touring the Occupied Territories in the Middle East, that “The present period of history is one of the Wall,” shortly after 9/11, he foretold the policing of border-crossings and humanity, ” . . . concrete, bureaucratic surveillance, security, racist walls.”  The new definition of walls that are defined to separate hoary categories of race or ethnicity are increasingly evident in all too frequent attempts to create barriers of regional protection.  They are based on the sense that national survival depends urgently on such massive projects of enclosure, as if such projects could be isolated from their huge effects and psychological consequences for those who might confront them on the ground.

The current emptying of words–emergency; invasion; criminality; violence; human-trafficking–make them tags to activate the border within the political imaginary, but conceal the actuality of the borderlands where the military is already present, and the lands are already quite secure–and quite vacant of habitation.

2.  The place of the amassing of materials and military materiel along the US-Mexico border seems designed to create a new experience of the border, and to make it scarily real for those who might seek to move across it or to regard it as part of a zone of permeability.  The exquisite photographs portraits of the wall by west coast photographer Richard Misrach has worked to document  the extent to which border barriers have changed experience of the border crossing.  

The barriers progressively built on the southern border of the United States reveals a new heights of the costs of bureaucratic surveillance in the name of border security.  As if in a second episode of his classic Desert Cantos, begun in the 1970s, which, Geoff Dyer noted, “record the residue of human activity inscribed in these apparently uninhabited lands,” in an attempt to explore “the multiplicity of meanings in the idea of desertness.”  The residue of the human is even more haunting in Misrach’s new project, and the photographs that result of human traces on the border, because they are emblems of the disenfranchisement of the borderlands that hauntingly parallel their military build-up. One might even say Misrach interrogates the landscape in his work–if the word didn’t tragically resonate so closely with the state-security apparatus on the US-Mexico border. Misrach dwells on human traces that lie around the militarization of the borer regions–from the cultural detritus left by cross-border travelers, left on migrations, the security apparatus encountered at border, and the hollow loneliness of the massive redesign of its landscape capture the expanded military-defensive complex at the border.

This evacuated land is the region that Donald Trump has come to champion as a basis for defense from national emergencies. The argument that the border is understaffed erases the rewriting of the transborder landscape that has already occurred. Misrach’s contemplation of magnificent vistas, broad traces of the inscription of authority at the border, and the reduction of the human, are truly Kafkaesque in their nightmarish reduction of the individual before the inscription of authority in its landscape.

Fence on Mexican Border.png

Near Campo, CA. ©2008 Michael Dear

3.  For since the definition of the US-Mexico borderline as a line of passage monitored by the border patrol back in 1924, the expansion and militarization of increasing sections of border wall is in part a spectacle of state.  Their growth reflects increasing concern not only with the border, but the militarization of a border zone.  But increasingly, such a zone seems sealed off form much of the country, and is rarely fully comprehended or seen, but rather invoked as a specter that needs to be expanded to establish national safety and economic security, even if its expansion has already occurred in a hypertrophic fashion, long before Donald proposed to build a “beautiful wall” to prevent crossing the US-Mexican border. If the expression reveals a lack of compassion, its problematic nature is even deeper: it reveals Trump’s peculiar identification with an apparatus of border protection, and of human containment, and the removal in his eyes of that apparatus from a discourse of rights.

Trump has celebrated the wall as if it were a new hotel and building project–asserting that he has the needed expertise to build and design it.  Trump presented himself to the American press that he was perfectly suited to such a task, since building is what “I do best in life.”  “I’m a great builder,” he assured his audiences, with considerable self-satisfaction, to suggest his suitability to the position as chief executive, despite his lack of political experience; defining himself apart from other political candidates in the vision of the nation that he supported, Trump added with evident satisfaction, “Isn’t it nice to have a builder?”  

Precisely because he came from outside the political sphere, and outside the government that preserves and respects individual rights, he has been presented as a perfect fit for a region that lies and has developed as outside the securing of individual rights.  By having a “builder” of the nation and the nation’s identity, he suggested, rather than a politician, he could guarantee the increased presence of the military along the nation’s southwestern border, and indeed promised to dedicate an increased amount of the national budget to the defense of this borderland.  Precisely because Trump lacks interest in guaranteeing or preserving the rights of migrants, or rights of asylum to the nation, he is a perfect custodian and symbol of this over-militarized zone without rights.  As a man without military experience, but cowed by military authority, he has become, as President, the perfect surrogate for the stripping of rights for people who try to cross the border.

Trump’s promise is that the continuous wall, to be payed for only upon completion, would remove deep worries about border security.  Widespread national concern about cross-border movement since the 1990s have led to the investment to making the border more physically and symbolically present to potential migrants than it ever was–no doubt reflecting an inflated fear of illegal immigration and the dangers of their immigration by fortifying what was once an open area of transit and rendering it a no-man’s land.  The number of US Agents stationed along the border has almost tripled from 1992 to 2004,  according to The Atlantic, and doubled yet again by 2011, even as the number of US federal employees shrunk.  Investing in the border by allocating over $4 billion each year created a concept in our spatial imaginaries we have not fully digested or mapped, or assessed in terms of its human impact, despite increasing appeal of calls for its expansion and further consolidation–even as the further consolidation of the border zone has made migrants depend on drug smugglers and other illicit trade in hopes for guarantees of cross-border passage.  And in an era when a large portion of Americans seem to interact with government through the TSATransportation Security Administration–or NTSB–National Transportation Safety Board–the fear of external threats to the public safety seem incredibly real.  

The inspired gesture of a monumental wall to be built across our Southern Border with Mexico, if a sign of weakness far more than one of strength, obliterating hope for the promise of a future, as Berger noted, intended to overwhelm and oppress as a monument to decadence and American insularity.  Outfitted with not only walls, fences, and obstacles but checkpoints and surveillance cameras, the US-Mexican border has become a pure hypostatization of state power.  And although Trump’s promises to build a “beautiful, impenetrable wall”–“He’s going to make America great, build a wall and create jobs,” folks repeated on the campaign, as if these were causally linked to one another–the massive construction project has been revised, as the “great, great wall” promised at rallies was scaled back to a fence and confined to “certain areas”–with the odd reassurance that “I’m very good at this, it’s called construction,” while acknowledging that the wall was “more appropriate” only in “certain areas.”  

Does Trump have any sense of the massive investment of capital that already exists on the border.  The promise of dedicating as much as $26 billion–even $30 billion–to such a soaring, precast concrete monument along the border, standing as high as fifty feet, was a mental fantasy, and election promise, but filled a need for ending perceptions of its permeability grew so great that his advisers see the need to warn folks “it’s gonna take a while,” but promising the ability to do so by fiat and executive order and reallocating funds for immigration services; others demur, “it was a great campaign device.”


Mark Potter/NBC News

At the same time as deporting hundreds of thousands of immigrants now deemed “illegal,” the Department of Homeland Security has effectively rendered the border a militarized zone, interrupting what had been as late as the 1980s was a relatively porous transit zone on which both countries’ economies had depended:  the accumulation of capital on the border has expanded what was once a simple line to create obstacles to human movement challenging for viewers to process from a distance, or to map as a lived experience.  Of course, the existence of the wall has created a blossoming of illegal trafficking, as migrants are forced to depend on smugglers to help them in their quest to cross the imposing border, augmenting the illegal activity that occurs along its path, under the eyes of the many employees that guard the expanded border zone, in a far cry from the border patrol of years past.

The accumulation of obstacles for human transit contrast sharply to the old border fences that they have long rendered obsolete. The growth of the border zone dates from 1986, when granting of “legal” status to Mexican immigrants in the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) had the consequence of redefining Mexican migrants as “illegal.”  The investment in increased construction of the border over thirty years to  the “illegal” immigrants who were surveilled by the U.S. Border Patrol at the highly monitored militarized border, designed to thwart unregistered immigration.  The argument that the old border fence is now outdated, and contiains gaps–


AP/Gregory Bull:  Border Agent Jerry Conlin looks out over Tijuana beside old border fence 

–has been demonstrated repeatedly in maps.  And since the Customs and Border Protection agency dedicated to “securing the nation’s borders” has come to expand the border between the United States and Mexico to prevent any possibility of human transit, reifying frontiers in ways that are nicely stated in one side of the pin worn by the very officials tasked to secure the border by regulating cross-border movement.  The mandate for U.S. Customs and Border Protection–“Securing America’s Border and the Global Flow of People and Goods”–is fulfilled by a range of devices of detection, surveillance and apprehension–attack dogs; choppers; drones; visual surveillance; horseback; speedboats; binoculars–that seem to expand an impression of total mastery over space in ways that are oddly ignore the human targets of the Agency.

CBP Commissioner USA-2.jpg

Badge of the Current Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (Reverse)

The division of Border Services that is dedicated to secure the US-Mexico border has attracted a level of investment that multiplied the increasingly inhumane terrifying ways, as “securing the border” has encouraged a material surplus and hypertrophic expansion of the border as militarized region that exists to obstruct human transit that is undocumented.  The border-zone assumes an increasingly prominent place within the spatial imaginary of Mexican migrants, as it has become increasingly accepted as a militarized–and naturalized as such–within the United States at considerable costs.  What are the consequences of such acceptance of the frontier as uninhabited lands?  How can one confront the consequences of its built-up construction from the perspective of the border-crosser?  How can one measure the human consequences of the expansion of this  outright militarization of a space between two countries who are not officially at war?

The separation of customs enforcement from border protection led an increased amount of resources to securing the material border, independent of the enforcement of customs, with effects that can be witnessed in the broad expansion of the border’s expansion as an uninhabited policed area needing to be secured in the abstract–independently from the human traffic that passes through it.

Misrach, Border Signs

Richard Misrach/Wall, Jacumba, California (2009)

It is difficult to process the expanse or scope of the expansion of the border or the imposing barriers to border transit that is intended to prevent unmonitored migration and indeed terrify migrants from crossing the border .  The experience of the surplus on the border is especially difficult to capture from an on the ground perspective, distinct from the abstract definition of the border on a map as a simple line.  For the investment in the border obstacles and barriers that have themselves created the terrifying idea of sealing a border to human transit, and protecting the entry of those newly classified as “illegal”–a category that was the consequence of the IRCA, and legislation that criminalized the presence of “undocumented” Mexicans in the United States, and the growth of apprehensions of migrants after the increase in the monitoring of the border after IRCA– and the later increase of border patrols from 1994, in response to the inhumane balancing of needs for Mexican workers with fears of an increased number of Mexican immigrants, as the number of “undocumented” migrants multiplied nation-wide to new levels.  The increased militarization of the border to monitor all and any cross-border transit has created a massive expansion of border fortification under the Homeland Security Dept.

The result has been to create a shocking dehumanization of border crossing as attempts to cross the border in search of a better life have grown.  And the response of Richard Misrach and Guillermo Galindo to recuperate the human experience of border crossing that is erased by most maps.  Recent explorations by Misrach has called renewed attention to the expansive construction of the border as a human experience migrants face and encounter, and the new landscape of border-crossing that has been created across a new no man’s land.  His attention to the remains humans have left along the wall–abandoned detritus and intentional markers of cross-border transit–remap the construction of the border zone so challenging to capture in a territorial map, and capture a new sense of urgency to confront the human rights abuses that have grown with the border’s senseless expansion, and the overbuilding of border barriers and borderlands as a militarized space.  

For the accumulated military surplus along border boundary is less a clear divide, than a means of creating a territory of its own within the growing border area:   Misrach’s recent photographs map intensive fieldwork of the region of the border that try to comprehend the scale of its presence for those on its other side or who traverse the border zone–an experience entirely omitted from even the most comprehensive maps of its daunting scale and expansion, which reveal the growing presence that “the border,” border area and the growing expanse of trans-border regions have already gained–a scale that can in part capture the heightened symbolic role that the debates about a border fence or barrier have gained in the 2016 United States presidential election.  The notion only a wall could fill the defensive needs of the United States must be protected from those Donald J. Trump labeled “bad hombres”–we stop the drugs, shore up the border, and get out the “bad hombres”–is laughable, but was a lynchpin to fashion himself as a strong male leader.

The grandiosity of the wall as a project of Trump’s megalomania led the architects at the  Guadalara-based Estudio 3.14 to propose a version in hot pink, stretching along the 1,954 miles of the border, based on the work of Mexican architect Luis Barragán.  The wall, including a prison to house the 11,000,000 deported, a plant to maintain its upkeep and a shopping wall, seems specially designed both to daunt migrants and offer eye-candy for Americans.


Agustin Avalos/Estudio 3.14


Agustin Avalos/Estudio 3.14


 Agustin Avalos/Estudio 3.14

Indeed, such a “Prison Wall” reflects the deeply carceral function of the space of the border, whose systems of surveillance systems and technological apparatus make it less a space of transition than a site of expansive investment going far beyond the notion of border protection, both as a spectacle and expansion of territorial control.   The hot pink wall offers a good substitute surpassing the expansion of border security in recent decades.

4.  Indeed, as the transborder region has dramatically expanded with the expansion of cross-border trade since NAFTA in 2004, the expansion of the trans-border region has been widely neglected, and rarely mapped.  The attention the photographic mapping of the human experience of border crossing–evident in the abandoned detritus and remains of cross-border transit–present a ghostly counter-map to the expanded border region.  

This human map is all too often unfortunately overlooked, even with increased attention Republican presidential candidates have paid to remapping a closed border and constructing a border wall, a project that seems to erase or remove the broad area of cross-border traffic that occurs within the immense region that surrounds the physical border–whose sociological expansion is so oddly conveniently erased by any project of wall building along a region demanding to be recognized as being part of the United States.


Barajas/Sisto/Gaytán/Cantú/Hidalgo López (2014)

Most boundaries between states are regularly rendered in maps by dotted lines, as if to recall milestones–miliaria–placed at regular intervals on perimeters of lands or counties in earlier times.  But the borer strip that is embedded in an expanded border area is a site of increasing surveillance that seems to engrave itself on the land.  To map the proposed building of a fence along the 2, 428 mile border between Mexico and the United States reveals a the expansion of the policing of the national borderspace, erasing its past status as a transit zone across which people and goods easily moved.

In an age of globalization, borders are increasingly not only policed, but managed at a distance from their crossing lines–and increasingly invoked in Presidential elections as if they have become the primary charges of governmental management.  Constructed to symbolize and symbolically represent sovereign authority, the overbuilt border seems staged a spectacle to impede human movement and to monitor and erase, individual experience, and to bolster the appropriately faceless authority of the state.  Borders once the creation of shared conventions, are colonized by an apparatus designed to impose state authority on helpless people, and constructed at massive cost as artifacts that seem to exist to violently intersect with actual lived experience, confronting the cross-border motion or migration of populations, and concretizing the need for a fixed frontier as a need of the nation.


Getty Images

5.  The huge popularity of advocating construction on a continuous border wall within Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign to seal the frontier along Mexico’s sovereign territory reveals the degree to which borders become a means to assert failing claims to sovereignty–even as it is an attempt to reassert the authority of an individual nation-state by unilaterally asserting its own abilities to police its bounds.  How the border gained such broad purchase on the national imaginary is unclear, and may require another post–but the incommensurability of the alleged solution and the situation on the ground demands empirical evaluation.  Revisiting the spectacle of the border and the suffering it creates engages broad advocacy to the continuous wall advocated alike by such presidential candidates like Trump and Ted Cruz–and the explicit violence they serve by of subjecting social life of border-crossing to surveillance in the name of national security.

And so it is apt that, in Border Cantos, a recent collaboration between photographer Misrach and Mexican-born composer Guillermo Galindo, the amassing of capital on the US-Mexico border is so eloquently documented and revealed as the brutalizing landscape that it is.  More than any map is able, their collaboration bears witness to the expansion of the border’s imprint on the lives of migrants in incredibly moving ways, by asking viewers to evaluate the costs of the overbuilt structure of the fence, and assembling the artifacts and unintended traces that were found and collected about the border–traces accidentally left by actual migrants from backpacks to sneakers to books to children’s clothing and dolls to the spent shotgun shells that targeted migrants or the bicycles used to overcome border barriers–to reflect their social experience.   These remains are human traces that do not appear on any actual map, of course, but are the remains of the violence that is enacted on how national boundaries are mapped–and the continued violence of the experience of border crossing that intersects with the broad security apparatus on either side of the border fence.  As if to accompany Misrach’s photographs of the human geography of the borderlands–a largely empty space with few humans and only scattered human markers and material possessions–Galindo fashioned musical instruments whose playing is able to generate sounds in his own scores, specific to the surreal fraught space of the overbuilt borderlands, an eery score to accompany Misrach’s haunted landscapes, and remind us of the human presence that is so often necessarily absent from the images.

Such ephemera pale in contrast to the experience of migrants, to be sure, but offer both avenues of empathy and proofs of the brutality with which sovereign authority intersects with the mundane everyday at the border walls, in the built space that runs across the emptiness of the desert borderlands.

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March 1, 2016 · 1:06 pm

Follow the Money from the Bay Area’s Shores

When William Rankin mapped city income donuts across urban America in 2006, the radical cartographer aimed to correlate wealth distributions onto a geometry of concentric circles.  But the donuts of income distribution within the Bay Area do suggest the wedded nature of the bay’s shorelines with distinctly lower incomes, reflecting the deep historical association–outside Marin, but only partly–of the bay’s shore with heavy industry and piers.  The distribution reveals the reduced desirability of living by its often polluted shorelines before their restoration–as much as it recalls the concentric rings of the mapping of flight paths.

William Rankin's Income Donut of the Bay Area (2006)

Donut Distribution Income Scale


Inlaid map in San Francisco Airport (SFO), International Terminal

In part, this is due to the pronouncedly low-lying nature of downtown Oakland and the low density housing of the shoreline.  It also reflects how the shoreline–after being reclaimed from marshland–was rebuilt after World War II, when the shoreline of Oakland was substantially rebuilt and emerged as a center of industry.  That industrial shoreline is now fading.  But the distinct social topography it created transformed (and transmogrified) reflect the ecotonal aspects of the bay’s shore from San Jose to Richmond that have not been explored:  the transformation of the bayshore into the site of hazardous waste extended to recent times, when the reclaiming of the coastal shore became a major project of civic attention in the Bay Area–far after the projects of saving the Bay itself.  While running the risk of being too map-obsessed–a challenge, I admit, that is hard to avoid on this blog–the shaping of the shores of the bay can be traced through the avoidance of the bay, a region of intense sociability in pre-Anglo California that is only being slowly returned to in recent years.

The trend of flight from the shores was solidified by the concentration of the highest incomes at the greatest remove from the shorelines that were associated with commerce and shipping–the peninsula–the deepest red of the region, and the similar remove of the Piedmont and Oakland hills, as if to reflect the wonders of automotive transportation that allowed the wealthiest to live at the greatest remove from the urban center.  Tiburon be damned:  to withdraw to lofty peaks far away from the commerce of the shoreline seems to be the distribution of the most desirable land.  (Tiburon, if an outlier to this region, itself stands at such remove from the commercial shorelines of the bay to confirm the trend–Marin City is of course the bit closest to the bay as we know it.)  The economic panorama of the Bay Area makes some sense of region’s socioeconomic distribution and settlement that reflects its industrial past, even though that industry–with the exception of some shipping and oil reserves–is less present in the region today.  Is this a ghost or a legacy?  This mapping makes a sense of the Bay Area’s social topography:  it both clearly privileges panorama that peaks afford, but somehow doesn’t like to look directly at the bay around which it lives.

For living along and beside the bay–or beside the water that were the centers of social interaction for its native inhabitants–was historically rejected both because the waters were the sites of refuse and waste, but also as they became the site of trading, industry, naval yards and slaughterhouses in historical San Francisco and Oakland.  One can see the same income distribution echoed in the map of those buildings in San Francisco whose residents were recently cleared by legalized evictions, based on the Ellis Act that permits landlords to issue legal eviction notices to the tenants of multi-unit buildings, very few of whom lived–or rented–residences that faced or were even near to the East Bay, as one can see in this less elegant–and far more crowded–real estate map, which shows the less desirable nature of properties from the piers to Mission Bay to Hunter’s Point, and the relative clustering of valued homes from the commercial or industrial shoreline:

Ellis Act Evictions

Bill Rankin’s elegant geographical donut mapped local incomes in ways that offers a gloss on the odd historic relation to mapping the distribution of incomes around the San Francisco Bay–a neglected area partly defined by landfill–and later residences–but also by proximity to a body of water that was never that desirable an area of residence save at the Pacific side:  the low-lying shores of the bay facing Oakland were far more associated with commerce, shipyards, and treacherous waters, whose shoreline in 1905 was less bulked up by landfill and far more polluted.  Removed from the hilly topography of the ocean-facing heights. To offer something of a cartographical archeology of how Rankin mapped the distribution of incomes in the Bay Area, one might begin from the Langley map of 1861, when te Western addition grew around docks allowing nautical approaches, more densely inhabited and built than the rockier shoreline of the Ranchos and government lands on the Pacific or Golden Gate, named from Marin’s golden hills as an uninhabited gate to the Bay.

City and CountyCopyright Rumsey Collection

The shores of the city’s peninsula was understood around magnetic lines of nautical approach from 1897 from the Rumsey collection, which measured the coastline as a site of disembarkation and arrival, tracing the topography of the coast in ways that reflect the distance of its use from residential regions.

magnetic sightings in bayCopyright Rumsey Collection

Viewing the city in Charles B. Gifford’s 1862 map of the city from Russian Hill, one can see the areas of settlement perched above the harbor that ringed the city, resting as if it was elevated above the smells, fray, and commerce of the shores, with park-goers sitting in the higher grounds far removed from the traffic of ships sailing in the San Francisco Bay.

San Francisco 1862Bancroft Library, University of California

From the late nineteenth century, the downtown was ringed by zones of forbidden anchorage, suggesting dense traffic of ships at its piers.  Shorelines on the city’s eastern half were notoriously dense, outside of the Presidio, the hilly site of the US Reserve, rather than sites of residential housing, to judge by this 1905 US Coastal Survey of the entrance to the Port of San Francisco, in which the eastern half of the city is far more densely built, and its buy shores surrounded by zones of forbidden anchorage of dense water-traffic.  Indeed, the aquatic environment seems far more closely attached to the city in this 1905 map, which suggests a close familiarity of the shorelines at a time when the city was far more often approached by ship, rather than by car, and the deeper waters offered easier approach to the protected cove of San Francisco’s Embarcadero piers without risk of running ashore.

SF Bau amd JSpre;omesCopyright Rumsey Collection

The prominence of such grey “Forbidden Anchorage” zones–sort of like metered parking–provide a reflection of the populated traffic within the bay’s shore that removed it from desirable residence even if it increased its value.   The expansion of areas of port along the Addition up to Potrero Hill created a sparsely populated region of the city as primary port for the region.   The flats off of the shore of Oakland, in contrast, suggested a far shallower areas of docking, no doubt less desirable area of living–refuse must have been washed out by tides from the more stagnant urban shores, where ships arrived by the San Antonio River into Oakland’s port.

Port and San Antonio RiverCopyright Rumsey Collection

The port of Oakland was beset by fetid shallow waters, and a marshy inland, that would have rarely attracted sites of denser residences, despite its clearly planned plant, and its shoreline featured a prominent silt belt around its shallow muddy shoreline.

shallow water of Oakland harbor

The conspicuous “redlining” of neighborhoods near to the shore in Oakland from the 1930s–effectively rendering them less eligible for any financial mortgages or loans that might create neighborhood consolidation or development as a site of residence–created deep divides that have been willfully perpetuated in the city’s current socio-economic landscape, dividing more prosperous Piedmont from African American residents of other areas of the city who could not afford to buy homes there.   Practices of redlining divides in neighborhoods that were granted residential refinancing, captured in the below map of the Home Owners Loan Corporation, reflected existing differences, to be sure, but inscribed socioeconomic divides by formalizing them as formal divides in the existing realty market by destroying the possibility of investment for families living in zones dominated by blacks or African American families, defining four grades of property, and encouraging clauses to be written into titles to not sell to non-whites.

Redlining By the Shore

Maps as the above graded neighborhoods that merited increased caution to lenders in Yellow, and “infiltration of a lower grade of population,” whereas green areas are “hot-spots” and blue “still good” neighborhoods; red “represent those neighborhoods in which the things that are now taking place in the Yellow neighborhoods have already happened,” were home ownership is rare and poor maintenance results, as well as vandalism typical of the slums they often contain.  The area by the water was an area for piers, rather than the elegant Victorian townhouses that lined the substantially higher ground of neighborhoods like Fillmore or Noe Valley, not to mention those elegant multi-room mansions in Pacific Heights, in ways that have migrated into the current social landscape, where the bay is spanned by bridges that define two major traffic arteries.

Sliver of Alameda

To what extent has the social topography of the city remained the same? The value of low-lying areas by the shore has not diminished, but the flight of wealthy populations inland has led to concentrations of wealthier communities far inland from the shore–both in San Francisco and, far more pronouncedly, across the Bay. One can see a similar large brown swath of (low-income) water in the San Francisco Bay within the American Community Survey, of which Rankin’s distribution is (to some extent) a forbear:  in the recent Survey, the city of San Francisco and Oakland Hills are flush with green, as is Tiburon:  there is, however, as if by a perverse computer glitch reflecting county lines, an odd mismapping that extends to the pockets of low incomes in the Tenderloin downtown, and over across the Bay.

The brown-hued bay of course has few human residents or renters, but is somehow the greatest continuous low-income area, even if uninhabited, by a software responding to fixed county lines, despite the extension of San Francisco county to a tiny sliver of the Naval Base airfield, that one sees outside of inner Oakland:

ACS SF Median Income

When did the odd division of the San Francisco Bay arise that included a slice of Alameda in its scope?

The area was excluded from the naval airstrips on the northern end of the island, but reflect a line drawn across San Francisco Bay, a triangulation from small rock outcroppings on the Bay drawn from the almost-island “Red Rock,” and still visible in the OSM mapping of the corner of Alameda that enters into San Francisco County’s parsing of the bay, and the resulting odd mapping of Oakland’s boundaries that left it with limited water rights–and Oakland’s harbor or port confined to the area between Alameda and its shoreline.  The same low-lying port region–which Henry Kaiser so dramatically expanded as a militarized area, with Point Richmond and Hunter’s Point, during World War II, together with Marin City, and as centers of lower-income housing–transformed the shoreline from an area of wetlands and ecotones to a region of heavy industry. It’s tempting to excavate the maps as a repository of sort of social history of the human relation to the shore across the bay in Oakland, where the port emerged as a site of commerce and industry, as a sort of poorer cousin to the San Francisco piers, remained a second site of the withdrawal of the wealthier populations from the shore. The limited nature of Oakland’s possession of the bay–marked her by the boundaries of the City of Alameda–offer a canvas of the parameters of shoreline commerce along the former San Antonio river.

Alameda in OSM

A somewhat submerged history of the settled bay shore–before the redefinition of the shore as a center of industry that constituted the built periphery of the land–is evident in the layered archeology of the bay’s history in early maps, that offer the possibility of recovering a narrative of the somewhat idiosyncratic bounding of the bay’s shores as the area shifted from a maritime port.

San Francisco Bay extended the county past Treasure Island so that it brushed lightly against the island of Alameda, for some odd reason of territorial jurisdiction, that predates the Flea Market, the naval station at Point Alameda, peculiarly carved out for reasons little to do with military bases, left a sliver of landfill on Alameda cut off from Alameda County, and lying in San Francisco–not the city, but the County, protective of its water and air rights.  The Office of the Surveyor of Alameda helped in inscribing a line “southwesterly in a direct line to a point in San Francisco Bay, said point being four and one-half statute miles due southeast of the northwest point of Golden Rock (also known as Red Rock); thence southeasterly in a direct line to the point on which the lighthouse on the most southerly point on Yerba Buena island bears south seventy-two degrees west, four thousand seven hundred feet,” reads the Senate Journal of 1919.  And so it still appears, in something of an artifact of geodata, outlived its time as a basis for negotiating shoreline and sea. Already, in the 1859 United States Coast Survey, the unique shelf off the shore of Oakland suggested a narrow point of arrival for larger ships–even if the bay suggested a readiness existed to define the San Francisco bay exactly along the shelf of land that extended just out to the spit of man-made land of the mole that ran out to Red Rock, which were less suitable for sailing.

Depth Charges of the Waters in SF- 1869 Coastal Survey

A few early printed maps preserve traces of the redrawing of the bay shore, and note that region where the water intersects with land and probably also lines of county taxation are drawn around the bays’ islands and shores.  The artificial slivering of the island Alameda in the late nineteenth century is echoed long before the building of the Naval Base, in a Leipzig engraving of the early 1890s, an image attributed to James Blick, San Francisco und Umgebung, which illustrated the island of Alameda is mapped as cut by a secant of railroad track at the point, as Alameda bracketed Oakland’s own harbor and port.  But there is no clear delineation of the county line, and the shore area seems primarily defined by the railway lines that run along it.

Leipzig San FranciscoWikimedia Commons

The division of San Francisco Bay postdates the complex settlement of the shores in the East Bay recorded in this openly acknowledged apparent official settlement which evokes a treaty between San Francisco and Oakland.  Derived from surveys that Theodore Wagner compiled  c. 1894, which George Sandow so eloquently engraved, the comprehensive map of the bay charted the oyster beds that Indians had long cultivated, whose mound of clam shells rose some sixty feet high, barely remembered in Emeryville’s Shellmound Road–and is now home to Best Buy and P.F. Chang’s.  The Bayshore area had become, by the late nineteenth century, a site actively contested and divided by prospectors of oysters, which  constituted a very important micro-economy of aquaculture for Oakland’s Morgan Oyster corporation, even in the end of the age of its rancho, at a time shortly after when the city’s amalgamation was formalized, until the increasing waste dumped directly into the waters decreased the imported population of bivalves, and led to declines in local sturgeon by 1920.  The mosaic of lots of oyster beds were mapped some distance offshore, in ways that reveal the dense interaction between the tidal regions where the Ohlone had earlier lived intimately with, that maps allow one to excavate from the late nineteenth century–when the importation of oysters had led to their widespread cultivation in the relatively shallow waters along much of the coast of the East Bay.

Oyster Plots on Map

It is eery that the same shores, so long fertile with the shellfish that sustained the Pomo and Ohlone, were later almost filled with landfill, by the mid-twentieth century, and almost so readily sacrificed.  It’s humanizing to look back at the shore divided by oyster prospectors, however, and to see a far more permeable divide that existed between water and land.  The distribution of shell heaps was in a way a reminder of the close relations between land and water that had earlier existed in the physical geography of the Bay, where a mound of shells near the current Emeryville, built over thousands of years of the harvesting of shellfish from the bay–not oysters, but abalone, mussels, and clams–was a notable part of local topography, extending some three football fields in length, a sacred site of burial in the large estuary and Temescal creek, from which some seven hundred burial sites were removed in the 1920s, which were mined for fertilizer in earlier years, and partially leveled in the 19th century to become the site of a dancing pavilion, before being leveled in 1924. The distribution of such middens extended around the East Bay:

Shell Heaps

If the shoreline was a permeable region of wetlands circa 1860, the subsequent hardening of the boundary between land and sea had already occurred by the 1920s, when the region was prepared for industrialization–the wetlands and creeks that were so pronouncedly visible in this early state atlas had been paved over and erased with time, as the shoreline was defined as a fixed boundary of trade and its substantial wetlands disappeared and a clearer division between land and water in the region was effectively over time engineered.

1860 Bay Area Map

An relatively early perspective of the settlement around the Bay’s shores from 1915 that suggests a clearer bathymetric projection of the ocean floors of the bay.  The elegant lithograph indicated the emergence of early landfill of the marshlands of Alameda island, situating the deep water channel for entering the San Antonio Creek  fully in Alameda county, and placing a county boundary line in the middle of the San Francisco Bay.  While it notes significant estuaries in Alameda, the particularly low-lying lands of the East Bay that it depicts at a certain time became the basis for the cartographic fantasy of extending landfill from the shores to increase the amount of land for sale–or for industry–in the Bay Area.

Mission Rock in SF Bay 1918

    The same map reveals a Bay whose bearings were of course primarily aquatic, marked by islands that offered mariners primary points of orientation, and the waters linked by spidery lines.

1915 SF Bay Map

Subsequent post-WWII entertainment of the sacrifice of sunsets and the Bay’s open waters reveals the readiness to development of the coastal waters as an industrial zone that emerged shortly after World War II, as the rise of military bases and the industrial port of Oakland was bracketed apart from the regions of Contra Costa or Alameda County inhabited by a wealthier demographic.  The proposal for  “Lake San Francisco” sacrificed the bay as if it were dispensable:  This compelling evocation of the ecological threat of a proposed narrowing bay waters hinged upon the idea of building over a watershed increasingly seen as a dispensable, whose wasteland of refuse an imagined plateaux would replace, built over a Bay that remained quite polluted, but whose waters seemed as if they would be rendered more manageable:

BIrd's Eye View o Bay

The imagined “highway outlet” for ships alone was cast as a project of land-reclamation, in surprising ways, and seems to have included a surprisingly ecological view of the seven rivers that emptied into the bay as now filling a freshwater lake–and San Francisco Bay being displaced to Baker Beach and the Golden Gate.

The vision compelled collective resistance–long before the civil rights movement–in a wave of ecological awareness that exploited the power of maps for all they were worth to resist the proposed complex of dams, transportation corridors, and landfill that became identified as John Reber’s plan–drafted at wartime, when the local beds of oysters were no doubt no more, and the Bay had become something of a city of industry.  Reber vividly imagined the commerce to be created by facilitating shipping lanes on a redrawn shore, purged of estuaries and irregularities, lined with a sequence of piers and docks.  If adopted, it would make something of a mockery of the Bay Bridge’s first span, and the eagerness to link the Bay that that Bridge’s celebrated completion seemed to inaugurate back in 1936.  The never-completed but almost-adopted fantasy for redesigning the bay as a lake or freshwater region, shared by Marin, Contra Costa County, and Alameda, as well as San Francisco, was based on building multiple barriers in the bay that expunged or limited saltwater from the waters, drawing the sort of imaginary line that seems to have leaped off of an engineer’s drafting table to incorporate Point Richmond, Clark Island, the Albany Bulb and Berkeley Marina with fill that pushed the piers imagined for East Bay ports in the post-war period almost out to Treasure Island, overrunning the Bayshore as if to displace the port and ship locks half-way to San Francisco.  Perhaps this was to alter the property-values of the Bay Area, if only to fill the landfill with an infinite supply of workers’ houses at a time when the rapid expansion of shipping was the order of the day, more than the marine environment; and the workers on the Bayshore could be moved into new prefabricated houses that the landfill would support.


Bancroft Library, University of California

John Reber’s 1941 plan for radically restricting the Bay’s waters was never adopted, nor was his notion of creating two artificial lakes of freshwater, divided from the sea by ocean barriers.  But the serious contemplation of Reber’s plans and others through 1962–the plans  elicited active defense of the Bay as a region for the first time–suggest that the bay was seen, even after the boom of commerce in the 1950s, as little more than a source for some marine traffic that could be effectively built or beaten back to the Bay itself, and imagined as an area to grow new industry.

And Reber and his wife were sufficiently joyous to communicate the expansion of coastal building–a gift to realtors, perhaps, but also a plan of industrial expansion–in the future map they staged for their own family New Year’s Card as a misguidedly optimistic celebration of the acceptance of Reber’s plan for expanding landfill on the Oakland and Berkeley shores, and even to divide the bay into separate freshwater lakes, as if in the hope of recreating two sites of Arcadia in the m “Joyous Map” that both balanced and contrasted with the industry of the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond, or along the planned extension of the canal from Alameda and to the new “City of Industry” in South San Francisco near the new airfields:  Reber imagined lakes filled with fish, in which moved poetic sailboats, while the big boats of industry were enclosed by a newly reduced San Francisco Bay.

Reber's Joyous MapBancroft Library

The “joyous” vision of an industrialized bay was beaten back–in large part by a “Save the Bay” group of East Bay Residents, ancestor of the current Save the Bay that, back in 1961, crystallized, momentarily, priorities of the current San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission.  But the image of erecting barriers across the Bay left the image of a sort of aquatic parcellization, as if treating its waters as a built environment, no doubt reflecting the dredging of its waters to allow ships.

Barriers in the Bay-1962Bancroft Library

The battle of the fate of the bay was itself waged in maps, cast in terms of competing visions in relation to the shoreline that would be sacrificed, and with it the relation to the water that had been so dramatically rewritten over time, as residents withdrew from the bay around Oakland, even as they valued the beach at Alameda as a sole point of contact with the sea. What of that odd divide of Alameda County and San Francisco County that persisted, and would be defined by a Trans-Bay Barrier in the above Savage Plan of 1962?  This detail of the map, a telling boundary of the San Francisco Bay, seems to be a holdover of the vision of proposed barriers to the bay.  The landfill on which the Naval Supply Center, Army Terminus and Naval Air Station lie had indeed gained new prominence after World War II in defining the areas topography.  But San Francisco County defined the Bay, and that slim corner of Alameda, drawn here as if at the convenience of a surveyor’s line that ran from Red Rock, sliced a sliver off of Alameda County, almost as if foretelling the later line of the toll-crossing on the Bay Bridge.  But the line itself seems not only fortuitous in placement, but contingent of a redrawing of the bay, perhaps reflecting the vagaries of lines of marine jurisdiction, to judge from the bay’s rendering in this section of the 1915 map, in which Red Rock fails to appear, or have the boundary line function that it later would:  and one can see public lines of transit that linked Oakland to the Key line on the San Francisco-Oakland terminal and to its own deepwater channel.

1915 SF Bay Map

Indeed, the dirtiness and disdain for the Bay’s waters seems to have led it to be regarded as something like an expansive parking lot in the years around Reber’s plan, to be sacrificed for the expansion of automobile-friendly space, as is evident in this plan for a “Southern Passage,” never built, but evoking the imagined “Northwest Passage” of the Hudson Bay Company, that would guide traffic in two places across the bay, that was repeatedly entertained from the 1950s, which treated the bay as something of an extension of the city of San Francisco, bridging Alameda and an offshoot of the 101.


Returning again to the bayshore as it was shown in the elegant Wagner-Sandow map, waters on the coasts of Richmond and San Pablo were similarly clustered with oyster beds, a micro-economy at the Rancho San Pablo.  The history of the lots of oyster-beds in the East Bay may be even more forgotten, but their mapping seems to unveil a lost tie to the ecology of the estuaries and shallow waters that blessed the region, making it a popular site of native congregation, just before the industrialization of Point Richmond’s or Oakland’s shore.

Mapping Oysters in East Bay--Wagner

Oyster Foraging

The once-living shorelines remembered in the lithographic engraving show a lost site of commerce, but of sociability, one determined and experienced by the rising and the falling of the tides, in ways that captured a knowledge of landscape we no longer share, but from which the money, flying from commerce and industry, seems to have fled, until the shore might be restored to not only a habitat for birds, but something more than the washing up of detritus along its sandy shores that not only existed before the 1972 Clean Water Act ended the dumping of refuse directly into its waters.

Rancho San Antonio

The overlapping of the waters and lands in the bay was, however, recuperated at a time shortly after the enacting of the 1972 Clean Water Act, an attempt to rid the Bay of the waste that was directly pumped into its waters–without any treatment plants.  The attempt to revision the ecotonal intersection of the region seems something of a rehabilitation of its shoreline, if the abandoned stretches of shores persisted in Point Richmond and in the Emeryville Mud Flats seen from the highways.

But the way that public transit system of the Bay Area bridges land and sea is, to an extent, commemorated in the simple “BA” logo of the seventies, whose “B” and “A” interlock and overlap in something like a bold rounded font, whose overlap, as if a Venn Diagram, is a cognitive bridging of land and water on the edges where land and water so gracefully intersect–the ecotones of the Bay Area that the Rapid Transit can bridge.  The iconic lexeme maps the region, if in abstractly oversimplified form, indicating the ecotonal mix by the smooth font of the registered trademark and copyrighted logo–although it erases the far more complex history of negotiations with the shores we have lost.  But the environmental optimism it expresses of public transportation across the bay link the regions in something like a neat resolution of the final rejection of plans for more building around the bay.


Several of the above maps shown open an area of the muddy shoreline, although that shoreline still seems a barrier for the city’s own far less fluid income divides.

This post was begun before seeing the successful “Above and Below: Stories from Our Changing Bay”  at Oakland’s Museum of California, but was revised and expanded with its benefit.

1 Comment

February 15, 2014 · 9:42 am

Embodying Ocean Waters in Leonardo’s Lost Globe?

When the first maps displayed extended voyages to the New World, directing viewers’  attention to previously unknown coasts were undoubtedly as relevant to their viewers as their landlocked interiors.  When we focus on the landscapes that the maps present of a new space, or the naming of new lands, we forget that shores represented both the first sites of contact and exchange, and the primary destination of oceanic travels–and the primary site of argument that a map is able to construct.  We impose our own criteria to read maps primarily as registers of place or location–as if by analogy to our own paper maps as wayfaring tools–rather than as forms to register the shifting relation between land and sea, or as tools to contemplate the possibility of oceanic travel to other lands.

The tradition of nautical charting and books of islands--isolari–provided a sense of the extension of nautical space and seascapes, against which the description of new shores might be measured, for one, and assessed, which was recuperated in new ways in the recently discovered globe, not previously known, whose situation of islands in the world’s oceanic waters is so visually impressive.


EggShell GLOBE WMS webpage

new world eggshell globe


In reading early modern maps as a critical apparatus rooted of geographic reference points, imbuing them with claims to precision or accuracy which they imitate or attempt to render, we minimize the sort of rich arguments that maps and globes can make about figuring transit to unknown lands or rendering them visible.  And so, it would not be surprising if the recently celebrated discovery, of a globe whose shorelines and braided ocean–filled with monsters and fish–are painstakingly and carefully rendered derived, with the copper Lenox globe of which it appears the sole surviving bronze cast, long considered one of the earliest maps of the New World, dated from the sixteenth century.  The inclusion of the most intriguing clue–perhaps a sort of rebus–in the Lenox map, long roughly dated from the early sixteenth century, not only of fish and ships, but of a sailor perched in the prow of a caravel, poised as if viewing land to which he waves, suggested a theme of voyaging, discovery and contact in the small-sized globe, whose form of representing nautical expanse it seems a not so oblique comment on the audience of the map’s commission–and the difficulty of imagining nautical voyaging across the watery expanse that the globe mapped.


map on deckNew York Public Library-Lenox Globe


To analyze the two globes–one designed with a burin on the surface of conjoined halves of ostrich eggs; one cast and of unknown date or provenance–one must begin from the arguments that they make about space, and in particular the large and conspicuous role that they assign water.  If a relatively recent fraud, the prominence of waters on the small globes, which provide one of the first images of New World islands of “Spagnola” [Hispaniolia] and “Isabel” [St. Isabel] offer one of the first records of nautical discoveries.   The excessive emphasis on the reading of early modern maps for proofs of geomorphological discoveries or terrestrial measurements detracts from the novelty of portraying expanse and argument of the map renders a construction of inhabited space beyond the boundaries of the known world:  the didactic manner in how early modern globes serve to exploit the synthesis of graphical information on their surface as a distinct form of cartographical invention–and of the dynamic inclusion of seascapes as a compelling and particularly plastic tactile feature of an early world map–quite unlike the seas in the elegant Cantino Chart that distinguished Spanish and Portuguese territories in the New World.


Isole Fortunate



And far more clearly spatially situated in a maritime region that made clear in the woodcut of New World islands of Salvatoris, Hyspana, Ysabella, ferdanada, and Conception printed with Columbus’ Letter, De Insulis super in mari Indico reports (1494).


Lettera 1494.pngOsher Map Library, De Insulis nuper in mari Indico repertis (1494)


If this is evident in the eggshell globe in the banner, it is also evident in the hollow copper alloy Lenox Globe, long considered one of the earliest to depict the islands of the Indies that Vespucci had described in his widely reprinted Letters.  The discovery of a possibly prior artifact of the globe, a recently discovered globe made of on joined halves of ostrich eggs, or ‘Eggshell Globe,’ which may derive from a potentially even earlier date would suggest it the first map to name or depict the discovery of America, and to be the first discovery of a globe or cartographical record crafted on a different medium than paper or vellum.  Few early sixteenth century globes survive, and none drawn on eggshells.  But the question of its date of creation is raised in compelling ways both by the sketchy image of the “Mundus Novus” it presents, and the apparent intention to illustrate the discoveries that Amerigo Vespucci had first described in the letters printed in 1507.  The Lenox globe and its ostensible prototype present a uniquely tactile announcement of the discovery of the New World islands that almost seems to emphasize the itinerary of oceanic travel by which it was arrived at–as if to suggest the itinerary across the ocean, past the Azores, in which one seems to move from the abstract form of islands as they appeared in isolari to the concrete forms of the new islands themselves with their new names.


Isabel an Spagnola.pngNew York Public Library-Lenox Globe


The image is an odd echo of the islands that were described in woodcuts in editions of Vespucci’s letter in its designation of the islands–and in the fascination with maps of islands of the New World that were widely reprinted during the early sixteenth century.


Petrus Martyr d'Anghiera.png

Piero Martire d’Angiera (Seville 1511)


If Vespucci’s letters formed the naming of the newly discovered continent “America,” the toponym was only widely adopted after Martin Waldseemüller’s multi-sheet 1507 wall-map, recently arrived in the Library of Congress, which synthesized Spanish and Portuguese discoveries, taken as the basis for the subsequent acceptance of the new continent’s name.  But there seems new evidence for naming the New World on the Lenox globe and its eggshell prototype.  Both suggest a more tactile announcement of the New World.  The 1507 wall map labeled a “Mundus Novus,” echoing Vespucci’s letters, linking the engraving to the circles where Vespucci’s letters were read.  The status of Waldseemüller’s twelve-sheet wall-map as the first mapping of the new world has been called into question by how the eggshell globe offers a basis to read the Lenox Globe as an alternate expression of the New World’s discover, not mapped by indices of longitude and latitude but carved or cut into its surface with particular care and attentiveness.

The “eggshell globe,” first reported after being found at an antiquarian fair two years ago, and radiologically dated to 1500, depict in considerable detail the shores of the New World and indeed foreground the possibilities of travel to them–unlike many contemporary maps.  That it does raises curious questions about its relation to contemporary cartographical media, from the degree of care devoted to representing the continuity of whose oceans to the care of showing the relation of the islands to Europe–now reduced, as one might imagine the news of discoveries could suggest, to far smaller size.  While the Lenox globe was never clearly dated, the artifact of eggshells may provide a new context to read its surface and its distinctively alternate mode of global mapping.  Despite the globe’s small size–its dimensions are identical to the Lenox Globe–the globe the size of a softball seems not only a decorative artifact, but a mapping of the oceanic remove of the New World that could be readily studied and glossed by audiences less familiar with sea charts or Ptolemaic maps–and their role in situating Europe’s relation to surrounding ocean waters.


Europe in braided waters, with Ship in Mediterranean.pngNew York Public Library-Lenox Globe (detail)


While the Lenox Globe has been chiefly dated by its disposition of landmass, it is the earliest globe to devote such attention to the detailing of the watery surface:  if the dating accepted by the Washington Map Society is retained, the globe of carved ostrich eggs attached at the equator would be the prototype of the Lenox Globe, and not a detailed copy created at a later date.  This post examines the globe as a creative response to the deep interests in describing relations between land and water–and both the opportunities and dangers of possibilities of ocean travel in ways that revise the subject of earlier world maps, by examining the globe’s surface in comparison to the digitized images of contemporary engraved woodcut maps and the nautical “portolan” charts from which it was synthesized.  While we have often applied underlying positivistic assumptions and approaches to our understandings of the compositional synthesis of cartographical forms, the globe–and the Lenox cast that seems to derive from it–raise questions about how the synthesis of cartographical information afforded particularly creative ways to consider an individual relation to the disposition of terrestrial expanse.  For the globe raises questions of the encounter of the individual with mapped space that a comparison with contemporary maps might better allow.

New Islands Lenox Globe.pngNew York Public Library–Lenox Globe (detail)


1.  Since it offers one of the earliest globe to depict the Americas, the globe has provoked nearly global media attention as challenging the priority of Martin Waldsemüller’s learned cosmographical treatise.  Identical to the bronze alloy globe stored in the New York Public Library since a fortuitous mid-nineteenth century discovery, prized as an undated but early image of the Americas of c. 1510, slightly posterior to the large 1507 twelve-sheet wall map Martin Waldseemüller designed, a copy of which has recently arrived in the Library of Congress, in which the cosmographer synthesized Portugese and Spanish discoveries and identified the New World “America.”  The Hunt-Lenox Globe has continued to receive less scholarly scrutiny after the conclusion that it post-dated the twelve-sheet wall map that the humanist Martin Waldseemüller designed to illustrate Amerigo Vespucci’s account of his voyages to the New World for a humanistic audience in April 1507.  But the detailed image of the inhabited world’s carefully braided waves and delineated coasts have somehow received less attention, despite their particular innovation as a consideration of the shifting nature of a terraqueous globe.  The peculiar delineation of the braided waters on both globes–the potential ‘original’ and ostensible indirect bronze cast–deserve as much interest as a way of showing a tactile record of terrestrial expanse.  Its unique design raises compelling questions both of iconography, but of the reading of mapped space.

For by reorganizing the world’s surface on a modernized variant of Claudius Ptolemy’s ancient schema of terrestrial projection on ruled parallels and meridians, the previously unknown  “Eggshell Globe,” which has attracted media attention generated by its owner–but been observed by few–raises renewed questions about how the distinctive depiction of the ocean surface might relate to the  date of its actual invention and the circulation of nautical records in early modern Europe both before and after the projection Waldseemüller engraved in St. Die in 1507.  The particular plastic presentation of Portuguese navigational records in both globes direct attention to the understudied process of the transference and translation of information from Portuguese navigational records, and the synthesis of maps in a particularly convincing visual form.  The newly-discovered artifact, carved on conjoined halves of shells of ostrich eggs, has not only returned new attention on the Lenox Globe.  It has raised compelling questions about the practice of translating data from nautical charts  predating the naming of the New World after the Florentine mapmaker Amerigo Vespucci, and the relations of its quite tactile surface to the curvilinear projection Waldseemüller designed of Ptolemaic form , and a basis for its iconographically peculiar illustration of oceanic expanse.  The braided waves in the ocean surface across the surface might suggest something like a polemic response to existing paper maps.  The hollow, copper alloy Lenox Globe, composed of two halves joined at the equator, is dated circa 1510, based on geographic content, makes it of less concern than the Waldseemüller projection.  Could it and the “eggshell globe” be of even earlier date, however, and predate the acceptance of the delineation of a separate space of “America” on Waldsemüller’s map?  Given that their shorelines so drastically diverge from how Waldseemüller delineated its coast, the different style of mapping may suggest a unique cartographical intelligence of depicting oceanic expanse.

The eggshell globe and Lenox Globe suggest a unique mapping of oceanic expanse, foreign to nautical charts or other cartographical media, that seems designed to demonstrate the amazing nature of the voyages that Vespucci first described.  The inclusion of nautical records in world maps had provided a conspicuous basis for their revision of the inhabited world not easily recognized.  Waldseemüller’s attention to the arrival of the prominently indicated ship, traveling westward with the wind billowing its sails, seem to make good his claim to create a map derived from the reports of sailors–““according to the Discoveries of Amerigo Vespucci and Others”,  as his 1516 map later claimed to be ordered “iuxta Hydrographorum Tradtionem [according to the tradition of navigators]“, the map presents a more coherent model for imagining the watery expanse traversed to arrive at the New World that would have preoccupied its readers.  If the ship that sails westward in the map in how Waldseemüller represented the discoveries of navigators in a format of learned geographical inquiry for readers based on landlocked regions situated ports and rivers on parallels and meridians,  the Lenox globe and its near-identical carving in the sphere assembled from joined halves of eggshells reveal considerable artifice as assemblages that depict a surface of potentially perilous travel–as much as the foreign parrot Waldseemüller included in his map.


South America 1506


These near-identical globes reveal unique compilations or syntheses of cartographical information, distinct from the Waldseemüller map.  The identical figuration of the surface of the discovered globe, carved on conjoined halves of ostrich eggs, reveals a striking care to representing oceanic waters that deserves to direct new attention to the embodiment of a new medium of travel even more clearly than in the Hunt-Lenox Globe:  if the waters are similarly suggested to provide a medium of travel in the globe of Waldseemüller, the presence of their intricately braided design reveals the distinct cartographical ingenuity in the Hunt-Lenox and its purported prototype.  Both artifacts refigure the world’s oceanic expanse in distinct ways, offering evidence of the translation of nautical charts to new readers.

For rather than rendering oceans as blank regions of intersecting rhumb lines, all three images stake arguments about the ocean’s traversability and power in an illustration of marine itineraries.  The Roman geographer Strabo had sustained that “from both the evidence of our senses and from experience we learn that the inhabited world in an island, for wherever it has been possible for men to reach the limits of the earth, sea has been found, and this sea we call ‘Oceanus.'”  The globes translate new nautical findings to the senses of their observers.  Did their translation of oceanic expanse reveal a revision of viewers’ cognitive relation not only to a new continent, but to ocean waters? Despite significant media attention to the discovery of the globe by its owner, the unique design of both globes suggest an understudied process of cartographical transference and translation of information, if not the sublimation of the printed map or hand-drawn chart to a distinct medium.  Despite the expansion of nearly global media attention to its possible precedence of existing globes, the existence of such a cartographic record as either an argument of terrestrial or terraqueous unity has not been examined, or any evidence suggested of how both globes, of identical size, were presumably read, since they lack any division of their surface.

Guiding concerns with priority constrained interest in the spherical copper Hunt-Lenox globe, stored at New York City’s Public Library, despite the clear modernity of its illustration of the recently discovered islands Vespucci named and described in the Mundus Novus, since its appearance–as that of the “Eggshell Globe” below–suggests the circumnavigation of South America.  Yet the delineation of the “Mundus Novus” as a distinct continent, if derived from charts that resulted from Portuguese missions to map the southern continent five years before 1506, mediate discoveries for a public familiar with Vespucci’s claim in his letters of 1503 to have reached fifty degrees of the Antarctic circle in 1501.  J.B. Harley noted notions of “accuracy” in maps are quite often misunderstood, without the awareness that any map must be placed at “the end product of a chain of processes,” and that it is to be expected that “several distinct types of accuracy may have to be accepted” as coexisting in the same map, often by necessity, to meet an expectation of continuity or harmonious order.  Such different standards may respond to the needs to craft a record of apparent terrestrial continuity or indeed coherence.  And the privileging of “accuracy” as a guide to understand the dating and relation among maps discounts the sorts of new arguments that a map might make in orienting readers to the New World.


2.  In ways that suggest a new synthesis of nautical maps to a globe of detailed tactile form, the globe suggests, unlike the azure blue marine expanses shown in the flatly-colored illuminated projections that map the world’s surface on a ruled graticule in surviving codices of the ancient geographer Claudius Ptolemy’s treatise on world-mapping, titled the Geography to reflect its status as a summa of terrestrial cartography.  Both globes both suggest a new translation of the map to a tactile space that is foreign to most earlier manuscript maps, as if to sketch the traversal of oceanic expanse, or processing the epistemic encounter with the ocean as a medium of travel, in powerful graphic arguments through pictorial symbolic conventions largely foreign to how Ptolemy’s cartographical practices were received.




The inclusion of a qualitatively rich representation of oceanic surface in the globe stands in sharp counterpoint with the flattening of oceans in Ptolemaic projections that privileged the flat surface of the map.  In sharp contrast to such earlier manuscript maps, the much-heralded announcement that a recently purchased “Eggshell Globe” which appeared several years ago at a London antiquarian fair is the original model and design from which the Lenox globe was cast, if true, would make it potentially the “oldest globe of the New World” ever discovered to include results of Portuguese navigation to the New World.  Dismayingly little is known about the survival or past owners of this curious artifact–or about its emergence on the market.  But although the assertion that the delicate artifact of durable ostrich egg shells has been somewhat uncritically celebrated in online and print world, if greeted with some skepticism, the assertions that the globe was the product of Leonardo da Vinci’s hand, made with strikingly limited documentary support, raise fascinating questions about its particularly innovative figuring of water across so much of its surface.  Indeed, the proposed re-dating of the globe as the original of the Lenox Globe has been covered largely uncritically by international media, the attribution of the globe to so extensively studied an artist as Leonardo has been dismissed as “sheer nonsense”–or judged less probable–but is largely sustained.   The close or identical resemblance of the globe to the Lenox globe has been largely examined for how its geographic details–from the island of Hipaniola to much of South America, labeled “Mundus Novus,” and islands identified with Newfoundland.  But the discovery of the putative original design of the waters that cover the globe have received far less attention for how they carved egg translated nautical discoveries to carved or cast surfaces in particularly inventive ways.

The inventive role of the mapping of oceanic expanse is strikingly unlike earlier maps from portolan charts themselves to the 1492 painted Erdapfel whose synthesis is credited to Martin Behaim, in Nuremberg–the first known globe to incorporate Portuguese discoveries.  For they suggest something far closer to commercial arguments about the possibilities and ends of oceanic travel, as much as a simple transposition of cartographical discoveries to a spherical surface, beyond a synthesis of geographical findings.  All too often, historians rely on created notions of accuracy on terrestrial expanse, instead of the assembly of a nautical record or continuous shoreline, in ways that may unduly constrain our interpretations of early modern maps.  Yet the inclusion of the Vespucci letters or Mundus Novus in early editions of Waldseemüller’s 1507 Cosmographiae Introductio (Introduction to the Science of Cosmography), where it served as a sort of appendix to his world curvilinear map that proposed a new model for assembling the New World, never before tried, suggests that the isolationhow the map was read, and indeed how it offered a text that could be read through consultation of the letters of Vespucci that were so widely reprinted in European centers of printing from 1504 that it provided a model for the poetics of global cartography:  the reprinting of Vespucci’s letters from 1504 as a written account of the Mundus Novus, often in translation, so often included a enjambment in its subtitle of the phrases “superioribus annis . . . invento/Albericus Vesputiis” to encourage polemic attacks on Vespucci’s arrogance in arrogating credit for the New World’s discovery diffused in Waldseemüller’s map and booklet:  the positioning of his map suggests a poetics of map-reading, however, in which the projection could be consulted as a basis to situate and plot an account of “new discoveries,” rather than an artifact of autonomous precision.

The poetics of mapping had so radically shifted for demonstrative ends after the publication of Vespucci’s text because his letters provided a new basis for reading maps among audiences scarcely familiar with cartographical conventions.  Globes such as the Hunt-Lenox and its purported prototype lacked meridians and parallels, but afforded similarly inventive claims in their innovative graphic design.  With a clearer understanding of the innovative poetics of world-mapping as a way to process a relation of other lands, it makes sense to ask what audience was the “Eggshell” globe made to date its creation, as much as focus exclusively on the geographic information it contained. Did it depict global travel and transoceanic contact, as much as a precise land map?  Did as yet unkown cartographical information circulate in Europe, as John W. Hessler has concluded based on his use of polynomial warping to analyze Waldseemüller’s 1507 map of South America, that predated Magellan’s circumnavigation of the continent?  In identifying the coasts of the New World as the “Terra San/ctae Cr/uc/is”, the globe follows correspondence to Pedro Alvares de Cabral known it Italy from 1501, and printed in maps from 1508, that suggest its designer boasted the most recent cartographical data from nautical charts,  rarely employed save in a world map of circa 1507/8 by Johan Ruysch, considered the first map to show newly discovered American lands.



3.  The legibility of the disposition of these lands is placed in even better evidence in the globe that appears to be its prototype and model, which create a clear sense of imposing a sense of legibility on terrestrial expanse more striking than in many early modern globes:



MUNDUS NOVUS?Washington Map Society/Portolan


Despite the absence of lines of latitude or longitude in the globes, the manner for rendering nautical space treats the map as an argument and a narration of sailing across the ocean in ways that are rarely–if ever–evident in early modern maps.  Since being heralded in Portolan as “the earliest surviving globe to depict the New World,” the uniquely tactile artifact or “Eggshell Globe” has been less explored, in the significant and almost world-wide media frenzy significant media attention that has been directed to its possible dating of 1504.  Although no clearly reliable date has been as of yet assigned the object, the complex rendering of waters on the globe may provide an important–and neglected–piece of evidence as to its significance and its potential relation to Leonardo’s uniquely innovative models of cartographical design.  Overpowering in the complex care of creation that it immediately communicates to its viewer, the artifact assembled from  conjoined hemispheres seems not only identical to the Lenox globe in its description of interior topography, riverine paths, and suggestively naturalistic shorelines, but particularly overpowering in its tactile rendering of the oceans that cover the globe.  It is particularly striking  its unheard of attention to the mediation of water, absent in earlier cartographical records, and almost unique in mediating navigational discoveries to viewers in kinesthetic form–a form that illustrates a fascination with the fluid dynamics of ocean waters, and the possibility of imagining an actual oceanic expanse greater than had ever sought to be represented or communicated in maps.

Assuming these oddly identical globes are related, the pair provides a unique case of the replication of cartographical records in a plastic form, foreign to the manuscript or printed organization of maps or the nautical charts from which they derive, but which suggests the intense interest in assembling nautical charts to communicate terrestrial expanse, and indeed the limits of global knowledge.


4.  The similarities between these unique globes may put the date of composition of each earlier than previously considered.  The Lenox Globe was purchased only as late as 1855, and previously was unknown, for how it, in a relatively small object of 345 millimeters in circumference, or 112 mm. in diameter (4 1/2 inches), perhaps made to be read as a synthesis of nautical charts.  The curious “Eggshell Globe” suggests that rather than being the sole object to process such nautical maps, the globe might have enjoyed a currency, not known or recorded elsewhere, to process terrestrial space.

The rhetoric of the presentation of cartographical evidence in the globes focusses distinct attention on the earth’s watery surface to an extent that locates motion on its surface.  Both globes suggest a unique translation of the cartographical content of maps for new audiences of readers to an extent to which current media hubbub about the “discovery” may have obscured.  For the extent that water appears in both as an animated aspect or part of the globe suggests a new appropriation of maps, often confined to land, to suggest the primary role of water as a force in the natural world, in ways that make both striking ways to present the discovery of the New World–described by the first sailors who returned with Columbus and which were published as an account of the islands of the New World in 1501-2.  And the particularly animated attention to the depiction of water on the surface of the globe may be the best grounds for the otherwise fairly daring attribution of the globe to Leonardo da Vinci or to members of his workshop.  But the unique format of representing waters may offer the strongest evidence, not developed in earlier writings on this curiously compelling artifact, that Leonardo’s own hand can be discerned in the innovative globe.  Indeed, Leonardo was surely attentive to the reception and mediation of the discovery of newly mapped information that arrived in Florence and northern Italy in nautical charts, evident in both globes.  But the addition of a new object to the widely-studied Leonardo canon may be worthy of attention, as it dates from the same time that Leonardo experimented with new techniques of casting in the late fifteenth century.

The remarkable nature of the attention to the water in both globes as a dynamic way of reading and figuring terrestrial expanse has, surprisingly, gone unremarked.  The collation of early modern terrestrial cartography collectively described sites of initial contact, but rarely if ever evoked the oceanic expanse that was travelled to arrive at these places across the sea, although the distances of travel not only could barely be conceived by landlocked men, and must have been one of the most difficult concepts to communicate for audiences practiced to a limited extent in reading mapping forms, or conceiving of expanses of marine travel.  Even if the Lennox Globe is stored in an armillary sphere of later construction, the common size of such globes may suggest a similar apparatus for reading terrestrial locations.

Such issues are raised by the attention both globes seem to give to the oceans to the medium of travel, as much as its routes–and the detailing of the oceans to suggest the forcefulness of the medium of water and a strikingly tactile relation to its expanse, in which the form of the ocean is imbued with a sense of restlessness and motion in its relief that reflects a new direction for map-making as a medium.  At the same time as the cartographer’s delineation of the shorelines of the New World offered crucial tools imagine palpable connections to another continent, the globe suggested the effort and even as they also invited the viewer to contemplate its inland regions.  Whereas contemporary maps of air-travel articulate networks that cognitively challenge viewers’ relation to space, free from topographical impediments or physical obstacles, the first maps of the New World offered their viewers ways to move through space, and tools to apprehend a shifting idea of globalism to their viewers.  Although the comparison is anachronistic, much as links in the below map of air-travel provides a clear an image of global inter-connectedness to be the cover-image for a popular recent text of world-history


air travel mapped worldwide!


–both early modern globes seem to have actively configured comprehension of global ties across the oceanic expanse in ways that direct attention to the ocean as a decisive medium of travel in ways that make them distinctive cartographical artifacts.

If we attend to the early modern map with attention less to the connectedness of the continents, than their distance, the worked surface of a recently discovered globe engraved on an egg-shell reveals an active contemplation of a reconfigured oceanic expanse.  The above map of airline routes allows its viewer to leap over obstacles and the human construction of shorelines in the manner of airplanes, in ways deeply troubling for a book aspiring to be an educational guide–foregrounding Europe and the new hub of Abu Dhabi–befits a textbook that covers world history to 1500.  But the radical nature of the discovery of the globe made of two conjoined semispherical halvses of ostrich eggs, which I’ve discussed in earlier post on the artifice of Renaissance mapping, emphasized the expansive waters that cover and link the globe in the surface in ways that suggest a more complex demonstrative function of comprehending globalism.  Indeed, by inviting viewers to contemplate that suggests both the pleasure of reading mapped space and the difficulty of imagining and defining the legibility of a continuous record of space.  Indeed, the interlocking between ocean and terrestrial shores maps are strikingly foregrounded in this recently discovered globe, as comprised by open seas as  landmasses.  One discovers the immensity of global expanse in the very continuity of its detailed worked surface in ways that are rarely recorded in most early modern printed maps.

The tactility of both globes’ surfaces appear to take stock of the nature of the expanse of oceanic travel, the artisan who designed the globe attended to the delineation of shorelines in ways that challenge our assumptions that maps primarily define routes of land-travel:   if the shoreline was increasingly seen and drawn as distinct from the oceanic waters in most printed early modern maps, the prominence of the oceans in this globe figures viewers’ relation to space in ways that sharply contrast to how we are accustomed and indeed fixated to mapping a measured relation to the land.  While the globe lacks any measured indices of latitude, the visual relation to the undulating waves of the ocean’s worked surface suggests a new interest in contemplating the mechanics and scope of its watery expanse that reflects the concern in Leonardo da Vinci’s circle with the depiction of the globe’s seas and their relation to the land of the Mundus Novus.


Mundus Novus CoastlineWashington Map Society/Portolan/Stefaan Missinne


Could a conceptual relation to the interior even be defined, indeed, in an age when the New World was only begun to be apprehended as a distinct land mass?


5.  Such issues arises from the discovery of this deeply didactic globe, whose considerably small size, in comparison to many later printed maps or portolan charts, belies its dense synthesis of recently arrived cartographical information with a strikingly plastic realism.  Within the evocative landscape that seems to have been carefully embellished and prepared in the two hemispheres of the globe by a single hand, or burin, with amazing attentiveness to the transcription of local detail, indices of location and place-names are strikingly less apparent, especially in comparison to many Renaissance maps and charts which would seem to have informed it, than the overall evocation of the vastness of terrestrial space and of the “Mundus Novus” from the old world.  In ways that recall a model that could be readily consulted in relation to both nautical charts and early Ptolemaic maps that circulated in elite libraries in Italian courts and select parts of Europe from the 1480s, the eggshell globe–an apparently unique medium for inscribing cartographical information–seems to belong to a unique medium of early modern globes, often celebrated for their uniquely compelling craftsmanship, that offered a new reading of terrestrial space.  Despite the limited notation of seas or bodies of water, whose naming was prohibited by the intensive application of a unique iconography for registering the ocean’s expanse, the worked surface of the globe suggests early evidence of the attempt to communicate the image of the globe that had emerged from recently-arrived nautical charts, and presents particular excitement in converting and expressing their findings in plastic form.

“Space” was first imagined along routes of ocean travel and the ocean understood as a surface of nautical travel on which routes of travel were able plotted and improvised by the close of the fifteenth century, when the first nautical charts arrived in early modern Europe, and early modern Italy, from portolans of sailors from Spain or Portugal.  And the ‘Eggshell globe’ raises fascinating questions of how oceanic space could be understood as a medium, rather than as a barrier to travel, that might be applied to the reading of other early modern globes in provocative ways.  For although the New World was beginning to be mapped in increasingly dynamic ways, charts seem marked by a deep awareness of the inadequacy of the ability for a credible mapping of the seas.  This makes the attentiveness to the mapping of the seas–and its pronounced emphasis on oceanic expanse–particularly striking in the “Eggshell Globe,” whose unprecedented attention to the detailing of the watery surface of the terrestrial globe makes it particularly striking as an artifact.  While using shorelines inherited from the format of nautical charts to frame a meditation on the globe’s watery expanse, the detailing of the water’s surface as a mode for rendering expanse echoes the ways that Leonardo da Vinci lavished attention on waters of rivers and oceans as the “vetturale di natura,” analogous to the blood that animated the bodies of animals and men, by assigning the water surface of the globe a primary role in its mapping.  There is indeed an almost a consciousness in its fabrication, and in the detailing of the braided seas, of how oceans linked the newly discovered continents to the rest of the inhabited world, as if the globe itself neatly demonstrated Leonardo’s firm assertion that “la terra, ch’è scoperta dalle acque, sia molto minore che quella che da esse acqu’è coperta,” as well as his deep belief in the waters’ independent nature as something of a vital force–and source of untold energy as the vetturale di natura–in worldly cosmology and in the earth’s surface:  the globe suggests an astute record of a created world that was both changing constantly with the water’s ebb and flow, and whose mechanics reveal a record of its properties to an extent foreign to most all early modern maps.

The striking eggshell globe lack any of the spatial indices that are familiar from Ptolemaic projections, but its attention both to the equator line and the line agreed to at the Treaty of Tordesillas, apparent in the Cantino planisphere of 1502, dividing Spanish from Portuguese lands in the New World by reference ot the Cape Verde islands–evident to the far right on the globe, establishes a demonstrative if not didactic scope for its fabrication.  Yet the waters between Europe and the islands of Isabel or Spagnola are more compelling of attention.


New World in Ostrich_egg_globeWashington Map Society/Portolan

The globe that was engraved on two conjoined halves of shells of ostrich eggs seems the original from which the apparently identical surface of the still-undated hollow Hunt-Lenox Globe conserved in the New York Public Library was cast, is of particular interest for the unique material means by which it maps the sea, as well as the New World–or “Mundus Novus“:  for it offered a particularly dynamic tool to imagine the relation to the newly discovered continent, not employing indices of longitude or latitude, but providing a distribution of inhabited lands.  The attentive care with which the extremely learned artisan worked its surface, undoubtedly consulting nautical charts, and including the recently concluded “Treaty of Tordesillas” that divided lands claimed by Portugal and Spain, and islands Columbus had discovered, suggest the joing novelty of measuring and discovering a New World, extended interestingly to the waters on which an increasing number navigated.  The copper globe, a serendipitous discovery in a Parisian antique shop, purchased by Henry Stevens after he quickly recognized its value.  (Stevens soon consulted an expert who had worked, incidentally, for the U.S. Office of the Coast Survey–later Coast and Geodetic Survey–charting the coasts of the United States, given its clear interest in mapping how land and ocean meet.)  But the implications of the unique figuration of the New World’s shores in this striking artifact have only begun to be explored.


6.  The mapping of intersection of environments of land and water has been less prominent focus of the history of cartography, compared to the far clearer truth- ad knowledge-claims of maps.  This is partly since the maps of nautical travel and terrestrial cartography are deemed–either in retrospect or not–distinct cartographical media, but also because it is difficult for us to separate maps from their knowledge-claims, and to see them as ways of constructing hypotheses about the world.  The relatively quick mapping of the globe in early modern Europe demanded that previously distinct media of mapping informed one another and intersected, as mapmakers sought to reach broader audiences in print, and synthesized a broader range of visual sources to fashion maps of increased tangibility of its entire expanse.  The map provided an argument not only of terrestrial unity but a compelling record with fixed boundaries as a terraqueous body, that joined land and sea, as much as a terrestrial surface:  the historian Eviatar Zerubavel provocatively and compellingly examined maps as records of the spatial comprehension of the New World in Terra Cognita, and one can envision a dialectic in which maps created new surfaces of visual investigation of terrestrial contiguity and workshops for organizing curiosity in the ability to mediate terrestrial expanse through naturalistic illustration that were not confined only to elite audiences.  These maps increasingly shifted the notions of the accuracy by which world maps registered expanse, and the information that was mediated within the design of a map or globe.

The attentive care that the globe-maker who constructed the “eggshell globe” clearly dedicated to its aqueous surface in particular–which he used an almost palpable field against which ships sail, fish emerge, and sea monsters rear their bodies–as well as to areas where land and sea intersect or adjoin suggests the conscious artifice of mapping in ways that are unique among contemporary globes and printed cartographical media.  In this sense, the globe suggests an object of learned curiosity.  Globes served as contemplative objects in elite libraries in the ancient world.  But the stunning artifact of the  “Eggshell Globe”–a detailed rendering of the unity of land and sea whose relatively small size of just 4.4 inches–112 millimeters in diameter–engraved on conjoined halves of separate ostrich eggshells of equal diameter–belies its detailed worked surface.  Although much of the surface was blank, and its poles open oceans, despite the limited size of the globe restricted available surface a number of places were clearly identified in humanistic capitals for orientation, as islands of Isabel or Hispaniola, the prominence of whose discovery was mapped at what we now see as magnification, each placed within the rippling crests of almost vibrating oceanic waves that convey the impression of a sea that laps against the shore to bridge the intersection of water and land, and indeed take stock of the distance (and terror) of its oceanic expanse–rather than its terrestrial population or areas of human inhabitation.  Indeed, the sheer amount of watery surface that fills the globe is a terrifying expanse that vividly communicates the arduous nature of Columbus’ then-recent transoceanic travels–much as the delineation of the coasts and inlets of the new islands suggests a keen interest in the littoral configuration of shorelines where the ocean both led to and touched the New World.  Rather than map routes of nautical navigation–in the manner of Battista Agnese’s vellum nautical charts of the mid-sixteenth century traced Magellan’s 1519-22 epic global circumnavigation, or later maps of Sir Francis Drake’s circumnavigation–the globe suggests the obstacles, even as it hints of the potential benefits of travel across its aqueous expanse.


venice Agnese_Portolan Atlas


Early modern maps figure the seas offer a context for examining how the recent discovery of global expanse on the ‘Eggshell Globe‘ in ways discussed in an earlier post on the artifice of Renaissance mapping.  But the globe also reveals the intensive reading of maps as tools to imagine the nature of oceanic expanse to communicate the oceanic surface that bear further investigation, and indeed may provide clues to its authorship.  For the discovery of the alleged model of which the Hunt-Lenox Globe–while still of unknown origins–provides compelling evidence of imagining the shifting arrangement of the waters of world, and even of the sea-monsters that inhabited it, perhaps echoing biblical discussion of monstrous underwater inhabitants, as well as the ships that traversed its undulating surface.  In ways that prefigure how Herman Melville famously found that “meditation and water are wedded forever,” and the globe engraved on conjoined halves of ostrich eggs reveal a continued and ongoing fascination with reading the swirling ocean waters, even more evident than in the globe itself than the copper cast:  the extent of its surface dedicated to the waters that filled the areas between continents, which is displayed in so much greater detail on the globe than the cities, rivers, or divides of terrestrial expanse.  Despite the prominent capital of humanistic lettering that identify large landmasses, the globe reveals a new premium on the accuracy of maps from a nautical context, and a new interest in the value of globes as media of naturalistic terrestrial descriptions.

oldest-globeWashington Map Society (Portolan)

Indeed, what is most striking about the ‘eggshell globe’ recently discovered, and the cast in the New York Public Library that mirrors it, are not the coastlines, derived from recent nautical charts, or topography of continents’ mountainous interior, but the restlessness of the undulating of the flowing waters that run across its surface.  The flowing of waters on its surface, if evident in the Hunt Lenox globe, is all the more evident because of the sharp contrasts between the lines of incised black in the eggshell globe both by their contrast to the interior and the craft of the quite carefully and elaborately worked surface of this rather small artifact that barely fits the palm of a hand.


7.  If its size served to allow ready consultation for a reader who turned the weighted object in their hands, and no doubt read it in consultation with a more expansive nautical chart or the regional maps of an early printed volume of Ptolemy’s classic treatise on world mapping, whose editions entered elite libraries with their large, multi-colored maps, most often hand-colored, from the late 1480s, the globe provided an alternative medium for reading the continuity of terrestrial expanse that suggested the watery links between continents, and considerable expanse of its oceans, which shifted the ancient geographer Ptolemy’s emphasis on the expanse of inhabited lands–the classical notion of the ecumene.  The regions of terrestrial habitation and their rather detailed topography is noted with some detail in the worked surface of the globe, but the form of attention that it primarily compels directs attention to the sharp division between regions and the surrounding watery expanse with a rather striking attention to the coasts, estuaries, rivers where land and water connect, as if the portrayal of the watery web that winds around the world constituted the primary object of artisanal attention in the globe.  We have not adequately seen or noted the foregrounded relations between water and land–or those that link land and water–in the matte surface of the cast that lies in the New York Public Library, although the braided surface of the water is just as apparent, perhaps because their engraving is less mesmerizing in the undulation of its lines, or less revealing of the considerable attention of its fabricator to representing its watery expanse, as well as newly discovered lands, or a route to Japan.

The startling identification of the eggshell globe with the circle of Leonardo da Vinci has more occasioned considerable attention as an internet meme and newsflash than it has been situated in a the broader context of cartographical implications–since the announcement of the “discovery” by the self-identified “globe expert” Stefaan Missinne.  The globe certainly dovetails with the representational concerns of an artist like Leonardo, whose work was so often and repeatedly attracted to the regions where land and water meet, and for who may have been drawn to fabricating a terrestrial globe strikingly different than existed in earlier maps of the inhabited world.  Although the globe seems tied to the contemplative scope that globes had long enjoyed in the ancient and early modern world, discussed by Christian Jacob and Denis Cosgrove, and many others, serving as an object of study and a sign of learning, as well as a condensation of encyclopedic learning and cosmographical skill, the slippery surface of its wavering waters suggests a tactile sense of a distinct medium of travel that is more attentive to the physical surroundings of place than many historians of cartography have sufficiently allowed.

In contrast to the celebration of the much detailed printed twelve-sheet wall-map designed by Waldseemüller, the worked surface of the small  globe in the New York Public Library has received less study or global attention in recent years  But both the discovery of the eggshell globe, and recently proposed identification of its stunning representational artifice deserve new scrutiny both as they have been dated and identified with the work of Leonardo da Vinci.  Leonardo’s cartographical expertise derived partly from his geometric interests and skill as a surveyor and engineer, but despite some sketches that reveal curiosity in Ptolemaic schema of projection, the majority of whose maps covered regions in the Italian peninsula, and most particularly Tuscany.  And the “eggshell globe” seems un-Ptolemaic in its lack of concern with delineating or nothing parallels, although it does indicate the equatorial line as a seam between its halves and corresponds to a clearly measured diameter that Leonardo had elsewhere derived.  Most strikingly, Leonardo’s assertion that the size of the globe was 7000 miles were adopted in the proportions of the Eggshell globe, intriguingly linking Leonardo’s cosmographical ideas to the globe, as Missinne has strenuously sustained.  But the detailed rendering of waters on its surface offer a particularly striking echo of the sustained attention to hydraulics on which Leonardo focussed in his Notebooks–here in pages of c. 1513 and c. 1508-9–in ways that have not begun to be adequately or systematically explored.


Braided Water--LEonardo



The unexpected attribution of the globe would perhaps challenge our concepts of Leonardo as a mapmaker.   Leonardo’s maps for the most part reflect responses to individual commissions:  naturalistic images based on Leonardo’s terrestrial surveys of the Arno valley and Tuscan landscape are well-known–in addition to maps that proposed a system of Milan’s waterways and fortifications or the situation of Imola, drawn for Cesare Borgia.  But the intersection of this globe with information recently mediated by nautical charts presents a particularly innovative synthesis of cartographical data whose unique assembly deserves examination not only as a mediation of charting traditions, but a conceptualization of the map as an argument for apprehending the disposition of land and water across terrestrial space.  Leonardo left a curious freehand drawing of a world globe in 1495 of just 4 cm. in diameter, suggesting his interest in mapping the New World, and seems to have considerably later crafted eight gores, dated ca. 1514, that privileged the toponomy of the expanding world.


Leonardo Gores


It is striking how Leonardo considered the luminosity of the moon not only as a reflection of the sun’s light, in remarks in the Codex Arundel, but as potential evidence of the waves that characterized its watery surface:  indeed, the wrinkled or rugged surface Leonardo attributed to the moon in order to understand the shifts in the reflection of light from its surface reflect the depiction of the waves of windswept oceans on the globe with striking similitude.  Leonardo usedstrikingly concrete terms to posit the existence of waves covering much of the surface of the moon analogously to the earth.  As the oceans reflected light from the surface of the world’s seas–“quello che li prestano le le nostre acque nel refletterli il simulacro del sole,” he argued  imperfections in the watery surface of the moon mediated the reflection of solar luninosity:  “di che si compone il mare della luna e il mare della nostra terra, . . . sempre rugoso, o poco o assai, o più, o meno, e tale rugosità è causa della dilatare l’innumerabili simulacri del sole, che nei colli e co[n]cavità e lati e fro[n]ti delle innumerabili rughe si spechiano,” thereby reducing its radiance from how its watery surface would appear, Leonardo argued, if “la spera dell’acqua, che in gra[n] parte . . . veste la luna” were uniformly spherical.  For Leonardo, the “waves of the moon[‘s seas] mirror the sun in the hollows of the waves as well as on the ridges, and on the sides remain in shadow.”   In this description of a watery surface of the lunar landscape, dated circa 1509, Leonardo reflected at length on the shifting “angle of incidence” of the sun’s rays on the roughnesses created on the spherical body of the moon by the “l’onde della luna spechiano il sole così nelle lor valli come nelli colli, e li lati restano oscuri;” comparing the moon’s body to spherical object or mulberry, whose brightness derives from the angle of incidence on the hollows of its waves [“ne’ lati della luna li fondi dell’onde non vedono il solema si vedono le cime d’esse o[n]de”], describing to himself “the innumerable images of the solar rays reflected from the innumerable waves of the sea, as they fall upon waves [L’in[n]umerabili simulacri che dalle innumerabili onde del mare reflettono li solari razi, in esse onde percossi].

Did the fashioning of a watery globe provide Leonardo with an analogous structure to imagine the moon’s surface as filled with waves?


8.  Unlike Leonardo’s several attempts at mapping Europe’s form or the Italian shoreline in his Notebooks, which are either schematic or incomplete, the map betrays a sustained careful attention to a project of globe-making that seems unprecedented–save in these probably quite subsequent set of gores.  But his discussion in an opaque note of “el mio mappamo[n]do che à Giovanni Be[n]ci” in the Atlanticus.  For Richter, this map was executed by his school, or simply in his possession, to be distinguished from his projects of canalization near Florence or Milan.  Yet the attention to creating a complete record of the world’s continents in  with close attention to the detail of a copious variety of islands and circuitous–rather than conventional–shorelines, suggests a clear interest in creating the map as something like an argument of the ordering of space.

The curious globe creates something of a similar argument of the world’s newly discovered spaces on an immense oceanic expanse in the “Eggshell” globe that will doubtless attract far broader attention in coming years.  The identification of the globe with Leonardo derives not only from iconographic similarities of orographic detail of mountains and cresting waves, or the intense interest in the shorelines depicted from nautical charts–evident in the cast of the eggshell globe.  For the globe also reflects the unique measurements and proportions of the globe Leonardo had described in the Leicester Codex, 35v as of a “grossezza di 7000 miglia di diametro” (a “miglia” being 3,000 Florentine braccie commune), of which the Mediterranean was but one eighth [Leic. 6b].  Leonardo’s sustained attentiveness to the relation between the water and land in the earth as a whole [Leic. 36a], as well as to the questions of the oceanic waters’ ebb and flow, and indeed to the global uniformity of sea-level, reflect his interest in describing the mechanics of the relation between the ocean, which he rarely saw, and Mediterranean, and may have been nourished by the availability of a range of cartographical materials in those very years, which pictured Europe more of an archipelago than a landmass.

The globe closely reflects Leonardo’s deep concerns for materially representing water, introducing the curved shorelines and estuaries into the surface of a world map.  Such concerns were often omitted on earlier maps, to be sure.   And although Missinne’s claims focus attention on asserting the authorship of the globe by Leonardo’s biography and the presence of cartographical materials in Florence and Pavia after publication of Vespucci’s three 1501-2 letters describing the results of his own four voyages, and his conclusion that America was indeed a separate unknown continent, this post will examine the eggshell globe as revealing a radically new way of recording, revealing, and perceiving terrestrial space.  And although significantly less attention has been paid to how the “eggshell globe” ran against, and altered, existing traditions of mapping, charting, and describing terrestrial expanse, such a revision of mapping practices would have been characteristic of how Leonardo would direct attention to the practice of reading space on a globe and provoked attention to the relations between terrestrial and watery expanse in particularly inventive ways.

The crafting of the eggshell globe attended so closely to the working of watery surfaces within a globe both with intended effects both of considering the phenomenological relation to the globe’s surface as a natural description–a question closely linked to his other varied projects of scientific investigation–and to compel readers to attend to how its surface arranged expanse to offer a new performative reading of terrestrial space it provokes in ways ran against other existing mapping forms by its close reading of the relationship between water and land, and the relation between water and land that was implied by the discovery of a new continent–“Mundus Novus,” as the letters engraved on the globe pronounce.  Far beyond simply mediating the discovery of the world to readers, the globe suggests particularly provocative ways of discovering the continuity in global space as a relation between water and land that its readers might compare to other existing cartographical media to contemplate global continuity and imagine their relation to the continuity of global expanse, and a clear interest in bridging the often distinct areas of nautical charting and terrestrial or global maps.  Indeed the humanistic capital lettering that identified its regions–Italy, France, Germany and Spain among them–suggest the detailed crafting of a legible object of study whose surface could be easily read and whose toponymical content was authoritatively and elegantly identified.


Mediterranean on Globe


Despite the limited toponymy on the small globe, its maker devoted considerable care to the delineation and engraving of an accurate coastlines is uniquely combined with the delineation of a naturalistic mountainous interior to suggest unprecedented naturalism.  Notwithstanding the apparent unlikelihood of an unkown attribution of a globe to Leonardo, the deep concern with mapping of waters–a subject foreign to the Ptolemaic tradition of world-mapping, and absent from many later early modern globes–is oddly foregrounded within the “eggshell globe” in ways that make it a subject worthy of renewed scrutiny as a cartographical fabrication as a hydrographic record, and indeed a medium of geodymanics if not ecological imagining, that echo Leonardo’s own naturalistic interests.  Although the typeface on the globe suggest scribal involvement in a collective project, the apparent use of letterpress type demands investigation.

The elegantly engraved miniature globe seems closely informed by concerns for the geometric measurement of bodies, and reflects the sustained attention he gave to Ptolemaic conventions of map projection,  evident in his experimentation with the globe’s surface, sketched with some attention to the proportions of its land masses circa 1490 in the Notebooks.  Indeed, its diameter and size follow the dimensions which Leonardo specified in his Notebooks.  But Leonardo sketched maps in his Notebooks that united Leonardo’s geometric measurements of bodies, and Vitruvian principles of architectural symmetry, with questions of physical geography.  Such concerns seem to animate and motivate the several maps Leonardo devoted to the coastline between Rome and Naples, drawn in the Windsor ms., that establish hypotheses about the terrain, and attend to the flow of water by rivers and canals from the mountainous interior to the Mediterranean–or the better-known image of the Mediterranean basin in the Codex Atlanticus, a sea that he oddly described in the Notebooks as the greatest river in the world–“the greatest river [il massimo fiume], which moves from the sources of the Nile to the Western ocean [Oceano occide[n]tale],” where it “reunites with its ocean, the father of the waters.”  If the Mediterranean was reduced from the mare nostrum, did the remark suggest discovery of far greater oceanic bodies that encircled the world in the “eggshell” globe?


9.  Does the globe reveal the excitement at Leonardo’s discovery of a measured oceanic expanse?  Can the considerable concern directed to the water–and indeed to the mapping of ocean waters across a global expanse–reveal an indication that both dramatically distinguished the globe from other maps, and suggest the concern that Leonardo showed in depicting points of possible contact with the open waters of the sea, not only in its indication of potential ports and sites of contact with the unknown inland, but the hydrological dynamics of oceanic expanse whose rippled surface concealed deep currents and surface tides?  In a time when we are paying renewed attention to how we map the shore–or, indeed, map shorelines as clear divides–it is interesting to consider the changes in the meaning of the shore as a category in early world maps.  Although nautical charts of the sort known as “portolans” or nautical portolan charts primarily delineated coastal shores, the maps’ contents are traditionally taken as mapping routes of nautical travel:  they provided the graphic representation of coasts incorporated in early world maps of Ptolemaic derivation, even if the “Ptolemaic” maps only silently transposed the shorelines from nautical charts to suggest something approximating a credible image of the inhabited world, removed from actual observation, and often of necessity surmised.

The integration of perspectives from nautical charts created a new sense of exactitude in maps, linked to the accuracy of the coastline’s curves, as much as the gradients of longitude and latitude, Water is decidedly not the subject of these maps–since water is separated and seen as distinct from (and not related to) the notion of the ecumene or inhabited world–even when the populations being mapped existed on the water, island archipelagos, or centers of nautical trade.   The blinders with which the “inhabited” world was registered and recorded excised ocean-going and the sea for sixteenth-century readers of maps that we have to some degree inherited in privileging the terrestrial as the sole site of human habitation–the subject of terrestrial mapping and indeed of the Ptolemaic ecumene, which was reproduced in maps read by humanistically-educated readers from the later fifteenth century–as no longer bound by the sea or an oceanic boundary, in which in c. 1490 the inhabited world was ringed by something like a buffer zone of a multitude of unidentified, imagined, incredibly numerous islands, many perhaps uninhabited themselves.


hmartellus world map


Few manuscript maps either cite or acknowledge their sources and models, especially when it comes to the determination of shores:   their collective knowledge is presented as an authoritative distillation:  although nautical charts needed crucial data for maps of Europe and the greater Mediterranean created for and included in lavishly illustrated codices of Ptolemy’s ancient treatise on terrestrial mapping that began to circulate in increasing numbers from the mid-fifteenth century, they were never cited:  the maps presented themselves only as collective knowledge, as this map of islands in the Aegean that derived from a nautical map or isolario tradition so popular in Italy and the Mediterranean.  As humanist editors of the treatise newly entitled simply the Geography amplified it with ‘modernized’ maps designed in increased numbers from the 1460s, the maps often transmitted toponyms inherited from the ancient world–and augmentations of a castigated text edited independently from cartographical forms–whose craftsmanship was assumed authoritative, and was presented, concealing specific sources, as a replication of the artifice of terrestrial and territorial mapping, in ways that state authorities and sovereigns all too often recognized as of powerful symbolic forms that acquired new value by noting spatial divisions and frontiers for their potential readers.

Greece and Aegean in Ptolemaic Codex


The format of nautical charts is often read from the point of view of Ptolemaic mappers that omit credit, since they preserve the authority of a Ptolemaic world-view.  Were such Ptolemaic maps made only for audiences who lived on shore?  Mapmakers continue to assume that charts’ informational content and accuracy lie only in coasts, and that the charts themselves served only–in the manner of the Dutch rutters displayed in trading houses in the Netherlands–to provide guidelines for tracing courses of ocean travel (routes described in writing in actual portolans) or commercial routes for trading, rather than expanse for sovereign ends:  so much is suggested by the wind-roses that accord with compass directions, lines probably traced on top of many portolan charts, rather than serving as a network to determine geographic position; it has been questioned that the most elegant vellum charts that survive, intended as supplements to a written portolan, were used on board of ships.  The precious charts provided useful prototypes for courses, stored onland at major ports, like Barcelona or Genoa or Pisa, the major centers of their production.  (Surviving contracts for their design from the early fifteenth century in Barcelona involved painters, suggesting their value as objects and goods, before they were collected as luxury items, in the manner first studied by the historian Angelo Frabetti in sixteenth-century Italian courts, where these images of geographic totality circulated as princely gifts as well as worldly decorations.)  And in the manner that charts included the coastal cities and promontories, or mouths of rivers, naturalistic markers are conspicuous in the globe.

Charts could be easily disregarded as sources.  The apparent disregard for terrestrial expanses and proportions in these charts placed the tradition of charting outside a practices of terrestrial mapping, and the priorities Ptolemy articulated for terrestrial maps constructed on latitude and longitude as ensuring continuous and proportional transpositions of measured distances.  Many highly valued charts distorted expanse from a given port’s point of view–as this magnificent 1489 chart of the Mediterranean made by the little-known Genoese charter Albino de Canepa, which is now stored at the James Ford Bell library in Minnesota in their historical maps collection; the delineation of coasts gives a pride of place to Albino’s native Genoa.  Although privileging Genoa as a site for maritime departures, whose toponyms crowded along their coastlines with a scribal density removed from territorial sovereignty in their blank interiors. The maps note few sites of inhabitation that are not ports.  Given the unclear protocols of such mapping practices, their content not only contrasts with the premium on terrestrial contiguity in geometric projections of terrestrial cartography.  These charts however mediated a clearly defined, if less recognizable, notion of space:  space is not uniformly proportional in these maps, and appears to be recorded without clearly coherent  logic as a quantified transcription.  But rather than only record the shoreline, or line between land and sea, such charts gained wide currency as a way of policing both commercial transactions, recent research suggests, and maritime trade.


Genoese nautical chart of Albino de CanepaJames Ford Bell Library, University of Minnesota


10.  We have, perhaps, unwittingly internalized the unfair prejudices of map-makers who privileged geometric forms as tools to validate the transcription of uniformly continuous terrestrial surfaces as far superior illustrations of expanse:  although such map-mapmakers exploited and adapted the coastlines of nautical charts, they discounted their accuracy, and concentrated on augmenting cities in their territorial interiors–proliferating toponymy within shorelines earlier isolated as liminal surfaces for to register knowledge with limited and only off-hand bearing to territorial boundaries or border lines.

The recent attention to how such “portolan charts” encoded sovereign claims of terrestrial governments may complicate this picture.  For such research calls into question that the notion of coastal stations on shores were discreet registers without bearing on territorial sovereignty, and may have served as attempts to extend national sovereignty and law into regions of the sea in ways that had few precedents in the concepts of territorial jurisdiction that were formulated and transmitted in Roman law.  Despite the rarity of noting territorial sovereignty in medieval maps–notions of the imperium (imperial law) or commune (and communal law) mapped poorly onto the delineation of terrestrial space–and to establish a frontier of maritime policing in attempts to control and monitor threats to the disappearance of goods at while they were in the process of being transported by merchants at sea.  Does this offer a new suggestion for how to map the sea, or map, as it were, and to map not only land, but to map the offshore as a newly known realm?

Recent scholarly attention to the context of producing maps has suggested that the coastlines in such charts offered a basis to encode littoral exchanges and an increasing territorialization of maritime space greater than presumed.  Rather than see the coastal culture of the Mediterranean as removed from domains of land, the increased presence of commerce and piracy within Mediterranean waters placed governmental jurisdictions offshore to a far greater extent than the perspective of terrestrial cartographers who minimized the utility of nautical charting to draw jurisdictional lines would suggest.  Emily Sohmer Tai has revealed the relations between charts and land cultures through a medieval legal database of instances of “approximately 750-800 cases adjudicated in various courts throughout the Mediterranean between approximately 1200 and 1410” in which merchants or merchant investors who accused attackers at sea of stealing from their ships in a violent manner [violenter]  in ways deemed “in modo piratico [in a piratical manner]” that contravened extant treaties or alliances.  The protection of marine waters seems a surrogate for the protecting of national sovereignty, in other words, in an era when the protection of maritime trade was a primary basis for protecting commerce and maintaining treaties with commercial allies.

As much as the charts reveal something of what John Gillis called a “seaboard civilization,” they extended the jurisdictional claims of landlocked courts into the ocean seas–in a culture that saw itself surrounded by frighteningly unnavigable seas, as this cartographer of the late fifteenth century had so powerfully imagined, in what is not a globe proper, but surely provided a sort of surrogate globe to imagine the oceanic surroundings that ring the islands of the inhabited world and Antipodes in the pre-Columban era.




The juridical status of the marine chart as a register of what coastal authorities were responsible for policing the seas near their land jurisdiction, Tai suggests, and in fact preserved a much more detailed image of sovereign control of the oceanic expanse that such charts depict, evident for Tai in the practice of “marking water” as subject to sovereign control to an extent that later Ptolemaic charts, which predominantly privilege terrestrial space, appear to neglect, or not address:  the fulfillment of clear needs to define marine sovereignty, or extent jurisdiction into the waves in ways that were not directly addressed in Roman law or communal statutes.  If shores are the true ‘borders’ in these charts–the earliest of which lack territorial boundaries in the manner that was so decisively introduced in the “modern” maps of treatises of global geography of the late fifteenth century–this echoes a clear sense of the literally “liminal” space of the shore as a site of incursions within the seaboard civilizations of the Mediterranean world.  The delineation of the Treaty of Tordesillas in both globes, if taken as part of the evidence of their Portuguese provenance for Peter W Dickson, including its mapping of South America–the “Mundus Novus“–as a distinct continent.  Or would the disputes about ties to the New World rehearsed in charts suggest less a direct tie to Portuguese mapmakers than to the disputes that were addressed in Portuguese charts and nautical records?

The expression of such claims for marine sovereignty in a seaboard civilization no doubt explains the continued production of such nautical charts long after one imagines them superseded by Ptolemaic maps of terrestrial expanse:  they provided a means to determine the extent to which corsairs acted as agents of maritime sovereignty or jurisdiction, much as the annually appointed “Captains of the Gulf” selected by the Venetian Senate afforded protection to sailors in nostro gulfo, and a guarantee of commercial protection from piratical incursions:  hence the importance of flags of local sovereignty that were removed from terrestrial borders–but which were increasingly tasked with maintaining the peace of the seas–although suits of restitution pressed against communes seem rarely to have been pursued, properties seized by corsairs might be restored to owners, especially once it returned to land, Tai finds–the legal penalties pursued against corsairs meant to act in state interests definitely increased.  The questions of commercial liability may have been as significant to portolan chart-makers as the nautical routes of travel that a ship might follow to its final course.

The depiction of coastlines as surrogates for local terrestrial jurisdiction provides a baseline to read the shifting depiction of the seas beyond the Mediterranean in the decade after Albino de Canepa’s stunning Mediterranean chart.  Although the maps of nautical travels–the same “portolan charts”–provided the basis for mapping islands in the New World that recur in the maps of Francesco Rosselli (1445-1513), perhaps a relative of the nautical mapper Petrus Rosselli, whose 1506 nautical planisphere–if not mapping the entire world’s surface–so dramatically expanded the confines of oceanic expanse from earlier portolan charts of the Mediterranean to suggest a paradigm shift in mapping, pressing oceanic expanse far beyond the frontiers of known claims of sovereignty.  (Slightly later maps of the world such as the 1502 planiphere of Alberto Cantino, based on a secret Portuguese map, perhaps of the Padrào Real, for the Este family of Ferrara, clearly noted the division of jurisdiction decided at the Treaty of Tordesillas, that parsed the authority of Portuguese and Spanish rulers along fixed meridian–unlike the Rosselli maps or charts, which seem less concerned with drawing jurisdictional lines of sovereignty than crafting a uniform terrestrial space on a measured graticule.)  The presence of the line drawn at the Tordesillas treaty in 1494 provides not only potential date for the globe, as it was revised in 1506, but a level of expectations for the audience for which it was designed.  Although it is the only meridian of longitude noted on the globe, three hundred and seventy leagues west of the Cape Verde islands.


Rosselli Globe BW


11.  Once one shifts from the Mediterranean to the expanse of a global ecumene that includes the oceanic expanse to be traversed to arrive at the New World, measured by clear meridians and curved parallels.

The first maps that painstakingly affirm sovereignty of the isles of Hispaniola and Isabella introduce a vast unknown watery expanse of unknown dimensions for viewers to contemplate the distances needed to be traversed.  The prominence in the globe of the recently found “Hipsane isole” in maps such as the Rosselli’s engraved oval projection, if limited to 180 degrees of latitude, invited its viewers to scan the oceanic expanse and provide a source of Columbus’ fourth voyage–and which Columbus had described in De insulis nuper in mari Indico repertis, and Vespucci’s further descriptions of the discoveries of 1501-2.   Mapmakers registered these discoveries in visually compelling detail in a reduced terrestrial space of 345 millimeters circumference and 112 millimeters diameter, under four and half inches, in the so-called “Hunt-Lennox Globe,” stored within a bronze armillary sphere:  the globe, long dated circa 1510, details two continents in the western hemisphere has recently been compellingly tied to the arrival of nautical charts in Florence and Pavia in the first decade of the sixteenth century, and new questions posed about the authorship of what was long assumed an ornamental construction–but may have offered a new model to conceive a unified terrestrial space.


Hunt-LenoxNew York Public Library


For all its cartographical modernity, the copper “Hunt-Lenox Globe” imagines a short distance between New World islands and Japan [“Zipancri” here, a terminology Marco Polo’s writings had widely diffused], directs its viewers’ attention to the greater oceanic expanse between the islands.  The attribution of this relatively small globe–the size of a large grapefruit or softball, of dimensions just greater than sat easily in one’s hand and weighted at its base–suggest the largely water-covered nature of the world that reveal not only the excitement of the islands that Vespucci described in his popular Mundus Novus based on voyages to South America in 1501-2, writing from Lisbon to Pier Francesco de’ Medici, and which Rosselli successfully mapped on a blue surface in this colored version of the same map stored in the British National Maritime Museum.  This map, with its illustration of islands open for exploration and potentially containing unseen riches, both seems to exaggerate the proximity of the new lands to Europe by ocean travel, rendering them as relatively accessible on the open seas, rather than to clearly embody or offer a defined cognitive relationship to the ocean’s expanse.

Rosselli's New World

The roughly contemporary globe that has been recently discovered of the terraqueous world that was engraved on egg shells is particularly striking for its inclusion of a detailed representation of the sea–indeed, as precisely a representation of the oceanic surface’s ripples and waves as in the prized “Lenox Globe,” perhaps a cast of the unique “Eggshell Globe,” as described in some of Stefaan Missine’s recent publications based on his own unique and detailed observations of the globe, which served to communicate the discoveries of nautical charts by concretizing the viewer’s phenomenological relation to the ocean’s physical expanse through actually tactile forms to communicate the relation of land and sea, which sharply contrast to earlier cartographical tools.  Did the identical size of these globes suggest that they were meant to be read in relation to comparable armillary spheres?


View of Lennox GlobeNew York Public Library


12.  Both the Hunt-Lenox Globe, long considered the earliest in existence, and the globe engraved on the unique medium of an eggshell serve as an astounding register of geographical discoveries.  The remainder of this post will direct attention to the affinities in how Leonardo da Vinci repeatedly returned to the question of circulation of waters in the detail of its hydrographic rendering in ways that the worked surface of the globe reflected.  For the globe returns to the waters in ways that reveal a deep affinity if not a sort of graphic argument about space that shares deep affinities with the particular interest that Leonardo in particular showed to the relations and differences between the circulation of waters.  For as much as the Hunt-Lenox globe is striking in its delineation of islands from “Isabel” to “Zipancri” [Japan] that could be readily reached by oceanic travel, the intense working of individually cresting waves of the sea it is even more striking–as in the eggshell globe itself–for the understanding of oceanic dynamics that its wavy lines communicate:  the aquatic lines to define this globe indeed suggest a sort of hydrographic learning that make it a particularly innovative means to demonstrate the viewer’s relation to its expansive ocean, as well as newly discovered isles whose shores it so carefully represents, with an apparent precision whose detail is strikingly unlike the  conventionalized sickle-shaped inlets and bays typical early modern nautical charts and seem to derive from first-hand observation–and least to trumpet how they stand as a proxy for directly observed coastlines.
DSCN4651New York Public Library


The creation of this magnificently engraved globe seems to predate a clear notion of cartographical authorship or precision–given the deeply collaborative nature of encoding nautical information within maps and borrowing data from nautical chart.  The detailed working of its surface clearly engaged in a clearly explicit dialogue or dance with other images of these newfound isles, the “Hispane Insule” Rosselli would map in his far more famous and widely known oval projection of the world.  In the Rosselli projection, unlike the “eggshell globe” and its cast, the Hunt-Lenox globe, Rosselli specifically tried to locate on longitudinal lines for his readers–lines that were apparently omitted on the eggshell globe and its casts made.  But the elegantly engraved “eggshell” globe might be credibly argued to have been intended to be read in concert with recent nautical charts or Ptolemaic planispheres, and addressed to an audience familiar with the arrangement of newly discovered lands, and eager both to admire their novel disposition and newly discovered coasts and to contemplate the proportion of land and water on its surface.   For the globe seems to rehearse multiple concerns familiar to Leonardo as a reader not only of Ptolemy but a connoisseur of cosmographical learning from Albertus Magnus on “the nature of places” and the Ptolemaic concept of the terraqueous globe and Sacrabosco.  But rather than depict the oceanic expanse as “flowing around the earth on all sides and encircling its boundaries,” as Isidore of Seville wrote, the ocean is represented as a medium of travel and surface of dynamic flow, unlike the flat blue surface in most Ptolemaic planispheres, in ways that uniquely mediated the recent discoveries of Iberian navigators.


Rosselli isles


13.  This shift–from mapping land, or “terra,” to mapping the coherence and relations between land and sea–presented the New World less as something of a floating island than a world defined by the relations between land and water long before Waldseemüller presented land and sea as continuous.  For there is particularly evident excitement in the “eggshell globe” of taking mapping into the sea and of mapping the immensity of oceanic expanse in particularly ambitious ways analogous to Leonardo’s conjoined naturalistic and geographic interests.

The limited attention to the representation of ocean waters in most printed maps might remind us that one of the deepest problems of representing the terraqueous world was expanding the world’s expanding watery surface in a coherent frame, noting a navigational expanse beyond the coast-hugging confines of the Mediterranean.  The hydraulic image of traversable waves and ocean surfaces indeed makes the globe particularly distinctive among early modern maps–for the moment putting aside the important questions about its authorship and the date and circumstances when it was crafted–on account of the tactile manner that it makes inescapable the ocean as a palpable presence to the viewer, and the unprecedented manner that it calls attention to the problem of rendering the ocean’s surface as one of hydraulics.



Spagnola and detailNew York Public Library


Could the detailed contours of these shorelines, drawn no doubt from nautical charts, reveal the sort of cartographical omnivorousness that was typical of Leonardo da Vinci?   The idea is appealing, given the documentary evidence that Leonardo readily adopted some of the expansive detailed maps of the area of Tuscany in Italy, circa 1503, more extensively rendering the riverine network with which he had gained familiarity as an engineer, mapping far more naturalistic and plastic renderings in chiaroscuro of multiple regions of his native Tuscan coastline and Valdichiana, as well as near Rome, which reveal detailed application to the level of hydrographic detail that could be compellingly included in a land map.  These extremely elegant rendering of terrestrial views, even if they derived from and were designed to administrate important projects hydraulic cartography, reveal a new pleasure of reading their contents and the sketching of rivers, lakes, mountains, and even houses that were continued in his later mapping of the Pontine marshes, and suggest an intense and perhaps unparalleled appreciation of the pleasure of reading expansive prospectives in maps.

Most importantly, perhaps, Leonardo’s ready experimentation with cartographical forms illustrates an eagerness both to collaborate on the maps of other engineers–he seems to have consulted the earlier pioneering chorographic maps of Tuscany in his own maps of the region, attributed to Pietro del Massaio, to whose observations he added significant plasticity if not accuracy, adopting the map as a form to embellish and design as a graphic and almost pictorial medium:  the chorographic map offered Leonardo a manner of compiling information as a collective construction of integrating shared observations.  Leonardo’s own contribution of riverine paths, which he rendered in far more detail than his predecessors’ maps–even if he may have followed how their coastlines exaggerated promontories and longitudinal compression–in order to fashion a far more tangible image whose local topographical details he rendered as perspective views of a quite different medium, and whose spatial indices he seems to have abandoned.  In the Lenox globe, there are also no indices of measuring spatial expanse–save the equatorial line and indication of the Treaty of Tordesillas that were so often noted in nautical charts.

The attribution of this original terrestrial globe to Leonardo is most certainly big news worthy of revising the scope of Leonardo’s own geographic interests and pursuits–not only because it suggests that a piece by the artist-engineer  who has been so widely studied went unattributed and unacknowledged for five centuries, but because no mention of such a globe was ever made in the inventories associated with Leonardo’s library or possessions, and no clearly explicit reference to so striking an object exists in contemporary literature.   But it makes sense.  And the creation of the globe of such particularly striking exquisite detail to the depiction of a huge watery expanse is particularly resonant with many of Leonardo’s preoccupations and interest in the watery bodies of the world.  In the first stages of his mapping, Leonardo had in the past focussed on the quite detailed orographic mapping of Tuscany, whose shaded relief maps from 1474 to 1505 combine chiaroscuro and naturalistic shadow, coloring their content to communicate elevations omitted within existing maps of the region, to better reveal the riverine paths in the Arno Valley as “interwoven with a network of veins all joined together” along the sides of mountainous topography.  Could the experience of mapping Tuscan mountains and coastline–shown below–have provided Leonardo with an example and model–if not a laboratory–for depicting mountains on the surface of the globe in the figurative fashion, shown below in a specific detail and on a bronze cast of the “Hunt-Lenox” globe?  The comparable nature of Leonardo’s assertion that the size of the globe was measured as 7000 miles were adopted in the proportions of the Eggshell globe, intriguingly linking Leonardo’s cosmographical ideas to the globe, as Missinne has strenuously sustained.  But



Different Types of Mountaintops IIINew York Public Library


Although such naturalism must have been of huge cognitive important in directing the attention of any early reader of a terrestrial globe–or any mapper of the globe’s surface in an age of limited nautical or aerial travel–the globe is striking in that it suggests some of the deep concerns for representation and understanding of water, and the ocean’s flow, assiduously studied, noted, and represented in freehand by Leonardo within his surviving Notebooks.  Is the organization of the globe’s watery regions, from the ocean’s waves to the hydrographic detailing of riverine paths to estuaries, evidence a similar investigation of the natural world, translated to cartographical form?


Leonardo-San Lorenzo

Mundus Novus CoastlineWashington Map Society/Portolan


Leonardo’s graphic production suggested a similar sensitivity, to be sure, beyond iconographic similarities, of the areas where the land meets the sea, and the course of rivers that empty their fresh waters into the saline waters of the ocean.  The numerous estuaries on the equatorial coasts of the “Mundus Novus” south of Hispaniola clearly suggests and opens up of its riches to prospective mariners.  The Mundus Novus was essentially revealed as permeable to trade and settlement, as the globe-maker opened up its shorelines by the detailing potentially navigable riverine mouths along its norther shores, as if revealing of a multitude of harbors, inlets, and estuaries where ships might dock and come to shore–and indeed where they might sail un into its still widely unknown interior and imagine the relatively accessibility of its shore.


14.  These elements were no doubt borrowed from nautical charts, but received a new audience within the far smaller format of the globe, where they were posited as problems that an observer of nature as Leonardo might ponder as sites of the entry of water from the mountainous interior of the New World, as much as estuaries where boats could enter into port.  Although the “shoreline” was not clearly understood as a category, the mouths of rivers multiplied along the “Mundus Novus” in ways that were particularly propitious to its settlement, or at least the viewer of the globe, who saw the estuaries as potential sites of commerce and exchange more than of entry to its interior, inland of which important trading cities might be founded, or storehouses and warehouses of traders might develop.

While both the Hunt-Lennox globe and the so-called “Eggshell Globe” (evaluated separately in an earlier post as an artifact) served as an astounding register geographical discoveries, these globe suggests a deep but long unobserved tie to Leonardo’s world and the arrival of information about the New World in Renaissance Italy–and to the discovery of the inhabited world that the arrival of such maps would undoubtedly have provoked.  For the very manner that the surface of the globe is worked returns repeatedly to the question of circulation of waters in the detail of its hydrographic rendering, revealing a sort of graphic argument about the particular interest that Leonardo in particular showed to the relations and differences between the circulation of waters in the world and its relation to blood in human bodies, in a sort of recapitulation of the analogy between microcosm and macrocosm that provided one angle underpinning his physical thought.

The potential inclusion of a carefully etched and detailed terrestrial globe–let alone a globe made from the rounded ends of ostrich eggs laid in the zoological gardens of Pavia’s court that were comparable in size–would cast new light on many of Leonardo’s projects and especially his cartography.  (Near Pavia’s Certosa, according to Stefano Breventano, stood a walled enclosure for raising ostriches, as well as other dedicated to rabbits and bears, all described in a late sixteenth-century treatise on the city’s antiquities, which were artifacts of Sforza court, and no doubt a specific treasure familiar to its courtiers.)  While it would suggest considerable immersion in the discovery of the New World, and the expense and care of fashioning a globe among Leonardo’s patrons, its completion would reveal an intense application to the detail of its physical completion as well as its construction–both in the determination of landmasses and seas, their seamlessly detailed integration, and in its physical preparation, and the completion of a major work of art–as well as the interest that the fabrication of such a globe might have held for him and his patrons.   The precise selection of eggs of a fixed diameter, moreover, may reveal conscious planning of the expansion of the practice of map-making as a distinct medium, and an exploitation of the benefits of casting, rather than printing, allowed for creating a physical record of the newly discovered world.

Indeed, perhaps, if confirmed, one of the major works registering the appreciation of materializing a compelling record of other continents, and for Leonardo’s application of himself to geographic thought not only in relation to Imola and Tuscany–to areas of which we have his detailed surviving maps–but to a rendering of the harmony of a global map by processing a range of data that he (or its engraver) would have recovered and transposed from nautical charts’ clearly articulated coastlines to the surface of a spherical globe–and to present a sense of the coastal contours more clearly articulated than many nautical charts.

Mountains on Curved Globe's Surface SMissinneNew York Public Library

No known explicit mention of a globe created out of two conjoined halves of ostrich eggshells exists in Renaissance cartography or studies of early globes. But the ingenious construction of spherical body by joining identically shaped rounded ends of shells seems an ingenious manner of molding a natural form into a perfect–or almost perfect–sphere as a template to cast future globes, perhaps only one of which has survived.  The survival of this particular globe in the New York Public Library, where it arrived after having been sold by an unknown Parisian aristocrat in response to the imposition of high property taxes after the 1848 revolution, placing it in a place of curious prominence as the Hunt-Lenox Globe, remained attributed to an unknown artist and dated to before 1510.  The lack of attribution has long been something of an unanswered historical puzzle.  The recent discovery of a globe that is its exact model, whose humanistic capital lettering of toponymy provide the only secure clues to its origins or provenance, suggest the globe may be a cast of this distinctive spherical prototype made by engraving the surface of an egg, and that other copies of it either may well exist or have existed at one time.

The  “Hunt-Lenox” globe is identical to the eggshell globe from coastlines to Italianate humanistic lettering, making any chance the globe is a copy or even a different object increasingly unlikely.  A close-up of Europe and the Mediterranean in a bronze cast of that globe alone, the identity of their shorelines and scribal attentiveness reveals as much.  As the “eggshell globe” from which it was cast, the Hunt-Lenox globe foregrounded watery expanse in the Mediterranean as a body contiguous to other oceans suggests a sense of the unity of the world’s waters–despite the diversity of the toponymy of its lands–that seems to echo a deeply Leonardan idea of the image of the ecumene, less interested in the notation of cities or ports than in the configuration of lands around the Mediterranean basin and how its waters opened to the still wider sea, designated in the globe by such intricately braided waves:


Mediterranean on GlobeNew York Public Library


The casting of this globe suggests a precise rationale for the engraving of the eggshell globe on such exact proportions, and an attempt to reproduce an image of the mapped world on a physical object contemporary with the very age when the first world maps were printed.  The image of the Mediterranean and north Africa shows identical clear humanist block lettering, and detailing of coastlines, islands, and distinctive pattern of oceanic waves, and mountainous orographic detail–all leaving little doubt but that the two globes of exactly the same size derive from one another, and that they appear to demonstrate deep concerns with the shorelines and estuaries as mapped from the points of view of mariners on open waters, rather than terrestrial surveyors, revealing deep concern not only for where one could put in at ports, but with the waterfront as a liminal point of entrance to new lands, raising hopes as the do with prospects of trading with a populated interior: if the absence of place-names in the areas of the New World and Africa which it maps are disorienting, the borrowing of ports and estuaries, presumably from nautical charts, raise interestingly new questions of the globe as an advertisement or prospectus for the validity of routes of oceanic travel and points of potential contact and trading with an interior whose riches were widely vaunted.  The curious absence of any armature or stand from the original globe, moreover, suggests an interest in the globe as an object of discussion and reflection, but also as a curiosity, removed from an apparatus of measurement, and far more tied to techniques and conventions of terrestrial representation.

The photograph of a cast of the cast–it is a modern bronze cast of the copper Hunt-Lenox globe–is moreover of such a distinctive combination of Ptolemaic cartography and the contours of a nautical chart that it appears to illustrate the practice of the graphic revision of Ptolemaic geographic models through the practice of engraving of its spherical surface, in ways that suggest an active attempt to grasp the shifting image of the newly discovered Americas–or the island of Spagnola described in a letter written by Amerigo Vespucci about his voyage with Columbus, printed in 1501, in a compelling visual argument about the new arrangement and nature of terrestrial space as an interlocking surface of land and water:  the depiction of the islands, surrounded by seas, offers something of an early narrative of the experience of oceanic travel, rather than only a demarcation of terrestrial expanse.  This implicit narrative content of the globe, as both a measured surface and a surface suggestive of the dangers of travel and perils of oceanic expanse, have been insufficiently noted, as have the almost phenomenological record it creates of the world’s surface.


Spagnola and detailNew York Public Library


Leonardo would have translated the news Vespucci first published in Mundus Novus (1504) and which from 1503 were already known in the several maps that Vespucci had himself made, based on nautical charts, of the Columban voyages.  The globe records an incomplete if expanding knowledge of terrestrial expanse, indicated by the close proximity of these new islands, Spagnola and Isabella, to the vaguely known area below Japan (“Zipancri”) and the New World islands in the upper right hand corner, shrinking the Pacific Ocean to accommodate  proportions of the diameter Leonardo had in fact determined and assigned the worldly globe of 7000 nautical miles:


Java:IsabeNew York Public Library

Despite no positive proof of its attribution, the globe more clearly links the interest in the mapping of the unknown to the mapping of the sea.  The a region often associated with the monstrous and the dangerous–a fear, of sorts, recapitulated within the oceanic animals that dot the globe’s waters, in an echo of the exotic animals often pictured on portolan charts.  The sea remains an unknown in the globe, whose dangers are illustrated by the proxy ship that finds itself voyaging on its surface, sails billowing and almost rocking rhythmically on the waves that surround, curving in gentle undulations as if lapping against this boat’s prow as it heads to the newly discovered islands of the New World:

Ship at Sea on Globe

Compelling, if tantalizing, details about the globe’s attribution may lie in the distinct introduction to this globe of what might be called the “graphic markings” of cartography, or graphemes, that create the globe, from its distinctive orography to its depiction of oceanic waves.  For they clearly recall Leonardo’s specific interests in the motion of waves on the surface of the sea, which he rendered in such detailed distinctive curling interlocking waves in exploratory sketches within his Notebooks, and indeed in the circulation of waters in the world, and suggest something close to a signature in his work not only in their form, but their elaboration as a means of considering and detailing the relationship between water and land as a way of compelling visual attention, and investing the water with a sense of perpetual motion. In ways that echo Leonardo’s own underscoring the artist’s sense of the importance of fluid dynamics and mechanics in its intertwined waves to communicate a sort of vital force–much as the energetic turbulence he invested in river that he explicitly compared to breathing into the oceanic seas–the globe seems oddly animate, as well as offering a record of wayfaring, travel or discovery:  indeed, as much as present a narrative field for global discovery, in ways Missinne has argued, or a record of Gaspar Corte-Real heading westward “trying to find new territories”, the globe might well be identified with Leonardo as a contemplation of the globe’s oceanic expanse, and the concerns that Leonardo voiced in his Notebook “G,” of the problems of measuring oceanic navigation, and the impossibility of applying forms of measurement as rotating wheels to measure marine trajectories “se non nelle superfitie piane e immobili de’ laghi”:  the oceanic surface that the globe depicts suggest a surface of intertwined waves in which such invention –“se l’acqua è di moto più o me’ velocie che’l moto del navilio . . . in modo che tale inventione è di poca valitudine”–and that the method, ascribed to Leon Battista Alberti in the same Notebook, of judging distances between islands no longer practical.  Does the globe describe alternative trajectories of travel?

In ways that resonate with Leonardo’s deep belief that water looses purity when stagnant, gaining a foetid quality in marshes, the swirling waters through which the ship navigates concretizes a clear sense of the motive force of the oceans that led him to compare, in Codex Leicester about 1508, water as analogous to the role that was played by human blood within the body’s veins.  Indeed, the sense of water as a vital force within the world–both a motive force in the medium of global travel and a dangerous force for terrestrial navigation–provides a deep analogy to the unique figuration of water in both the Lenox and “eggshell” globe.  In the image below, beside comments on the mixing of sweet and saline waters at the mouths of rivers, he returned repeatedly to the physics of the independent movement of waters on the surfaces of rivers or as waves, as the waters at floodgates, in these images from the Hammer (Leicester A, fol. 13) and Arundel (f. 39) codices, which reflect deep concern with the turbulence of waters in their detailed representation by carefully drawn patterns of elegantly nested curvilinear lines that resolve the curving currents to a finely-detailed pattern of tracery:

Leonardo on waters and waves, %22De Onda%22

Leonardo Arundel f. 39v


Leonardo meditated at several places in the Madrid II codex on the successive breaking of waves upon the banks of the shoreline, which from the equal power of the breaking from their peaks more than their base against each other as they hit and withdraw and hit the shore again. The globe displays a similar concern with the constant rhythm of ocean waters as a site of almost obsessive visual engagement that seems specific to Leonardo, and is of a sort that is strikingly absent from almost all modern maps:


Madrid II, f. 64rMadrid II, 64r


These iconographic similarities of the oceanic cresting of waters and the flux and reflux of waves only constitutes the surface of Leonardo’s intensive inquiries into the mechanics of waters’ flow and the relation of oceans to the coast.  Leonardo’s fascination in the cresting of oceanic or riverine waves and their retreats is evinced in his quite poetic meditation on their successive breaking against the shore:  “L’onde refress[e] dalla percussion che prima si fece per loro nelllargine, si sconteranno nel mezo del fi'[u]me.  E sse saran d’equal potentia, equalmente indirieto salteranno.” Leonardo described the physics of waves after careful observation and calculation of their flux and arc, in a poetic meditation on the physics of the successive breaking of waves upon one another as they withdrew from the shore that mirrors the attention to the identically worked surfaces of the eggshell and Hunt-Lennox globes:  “The wave reverses itself backwards and turns over, breaking against the shore and returns beneath, as the successive wave that comes from below, hitting it from below, and reverses itself runs once again [L’onda ‘aroverscia indierieto e ttorna di sopra, e percossa nel lito fa il tomolo e ritorna di sotto, e ssi scontra di novo nella sucedente onda che viene di sotto, e lla percote di sotto, e lla riarroverscia di nuovo indirieto, e cosi’ successivamente seguita“].  Leonardo’s extensive study of hydrologic mechanics had produced a considerable graphic studies of the mechanics of waves:


Leo's Waves and Hydrographic Design


The very mobility of the ocean waters on the globe suggests the deeply interactive context in which Leonardo pursued his interests in water, as a sort of hydrologist, deeply embedded in debates on fluid dynamics, as much as a graphic artist:  if Leonardo’s interest in the globe was animated in no small part by the complex project of transposing the discoveries recorded in nautical charts to its curved surface, the intense study of water circulation that pervades the Notebooks and range from the mixing of sweet and saline waters to the turbidity of water and the dynamics of their flow are recapitulated on the exquisite care that the engraver of the globe devoted to the water’s surface.  As a draughtsman who sought to describe the rendering of its flow, Leonardo resorted to a biological analogy:  “Observe the motion of the surface of the water which resembles that of hair, and has two motions, of which one goes on with the flow of the surface, the other forms the lines of the eddies; thus the water forms eddying whirlpools one part of which are due to the impetus of the principal current and the other to the incidental motion and return flow.”  The swirling waters on the globe’s surface indeed suggest the rising and falling of the tides.




The artist’s intensive application of attention to the representing of ocean waters on the globe’s surface recalls the assiduous care Leonardo devoted to representing waters far beyond other maps, and the attention he had devoted to the flow, flux, and reach of oceanic waters, as well as to the quantity of water that travelled through riverine mouths.  These topics that recur in the Notebooks Leonardo kept with him have often been seen as private concerns, but suggest a basis for developing a distinct model for naturalistic observation.  So much is exemplified by the ecologically minded remark about the  circulation of global waters: “all the lakes and all the gulfs of the sea and all inland seas are due to rivers which distribute their waters into them, and from impediments in their downfall into the Mediterranean–which divides Africa from Europe and Europe from Asia by means of the Nile and the Don which pour their waters into it” [A 83b].  And while his hydrological concerns most often dwelled on questions of river ecology, tied to his projects and observation of the Arno and rivers in the Apennines, the globe provided a surface to explore not only riverine mouths–each of which is detailed with care in the globe–but the interpenetration of rivers with terrestrial expanse and to the sea.

Leonardo-San Lorenzo

Extreme sensitivity to depicting sch ecotonal relations on the globe–the points of transition between and betwixt bordering ecologies of land and water–was a topic to which Leonardo was particularly sensitive to drawing and keen to register and communicate.   So much seems evident in the sketches by which he mapped riverine estuaries in his native Tuscany.  Leonardo was indeed a liminologist avant la lettre, although the methodical study of rivers and inland waters was only coined by François-Alphonse Forel (1841–1912):  “limen” suggests a threshold not limited to a doorway of a residence, and Leonardo betrayed significant interest in the opening of waters on the shore.  Leonardo da Vinci revealed significant interest in his Notebooks in the limen or coastal estuary focussed on the mixing of waters and the geology of the coast as a threshold or border of ecotones:  his interest in any subject never existed in isolation, and his projects of cartography and geographic interest existed in a holistic context that often focussed on the limen of rivers or mountainous topography.  Did he extend these interests to such careful translation of the shorelines and estuaries of the New World on the engraved surface of the eggshell globe?

Similar concerns are strikingly betrayed in the detailing of rivers that arrive at the shoreline estuaries of the Mundus Novus, and which are clearly far more analytically engraved and rendered in the eggshell globe or Lenox Globe than they appeared in previous nautical charts from the Cantino chart of c. 1502, the first (fragmentary) depiction of Portuguese discoveries of the New World or the 1517 Miller atlas–was this hypothetical, or did it betray deep concern and awareness for the investigation of the sources of riverine mouths? Did it suggest sites for prospective or extant ports that could serve as mouths of exchange for mariners, and networks for prospective oceanic trade, or settlement?


Cantino chart detail

Lopo Homem


The considerable hydrographic detail of the “eggshell globe” suggests a complete knowledge of the riverine topography of much of the Mundus Novus in which a network of rivers descend to the meet the oceanic sea, providing likely entrepots of trade, mapped from the perspective of early modern mariners who saw the coasts, as John Gillis has written, as borderlands and sites of exchange, rather than as fixed borders, grasping the nature of the shore as a permeable boundary that permitted entry and exchange with unknown areas, offering a basis for landing as well as sites for exchange to a deep, unknown interior and its bounty: much as early modern cities were built along rivers, indeed, the riverine mouths may have suggested points of prospective settlement and trade, much as they did to the French of a slightly later period, along the mouth of the river that they called the St. Lawrence.

Leonardo may have become particularly interested in the flow of these rivers to the sea, and the melding of freshwater and saltwater at the ocean shores, based on his own work on the project of lining Florence by a canal through to Pisa, and to the Mediterranean, in an attempt to have the Mediterranean enter Italy inland.  The artisan who engraved the globe seems similarly attentive to illustrate the extension of rivers from the shore of lands in the New World to its interior, as if to similarly suggest the arrival of products from the inland continents on its shores.



New York Public Library


15.  Leonardo asks himself in his Notebooks “what impediment could be great enough to stop the course of the waters which do not reach the ocean,” and the perpetual cresting of each wave of oceanic waters “breaks in front of its base” so that what was before highest lies now lowest” [Ash. III, 25a] but whose surface remains–when there is no storm–at “an equal distance from the center of the earth” [A 55b].  The flow and ebb of tides and waters over the body of the earth, creating a “swelling and diminution in the height of the seas . . . . [as the] sea of water is being incessantly being drawn off from the surface of the sea” [Leic. 6b] almost seems depicted on the watery “eggshell” globe, where breaking waves of the sea are incessantly moving on the globe’s surface, much as the sites of incessant motion in Leonardo’s painted works.  The waves of water, underscored by sea monsters, ships and mysteriously if inviting suggestive marine fishtails–all prepare the viewer for a true sense of the encounter with the unknown.  The maker of this globe included a glorious sea-monster, holding a “Y” in its maws, after Jonah, who appears to be far more fantastically detailed and terrifying in aspect than the animals familiar from nautical charts, evoking as well the “great sea monsters” God created that are described in Genesis, and suggests the mystery of the sea, as well as the sort of fantastic caricatures Leonardo took such care to render in detail in the Notebooks:


Sea Monster on GlobeNew York Public Library


This sense of the unknown ocean waters as being itself a set of inhabitation–almost instead of and as a juxtaposition to the interest in detailing the inhabitants of the land–makes the globe a remarkably ethical record of expanse, and creates a sense of perpetual motion on its surface reminiscent of the incessant motion displayed in so much of Leonardo’s work.  The haunting of the globe by this immense fish, which recalls the “marvelous thing” or fossil of a whale that Leonardo describes himself as having discovered at first hand in Arundel f. 156, in an apostrophe that reveals the deep psychic impression that his encounter made on him:  the care of its depiction echoes the claim of admiration at this large fish, the fossils of whose branching dorsal fins occasioned a meditation on mortality as much as an evocation of a past traveller on ocean waves.  “O powerful and once-living instrument of formative nature, your great strength of no avail, you must abandon your tranquil life to obey the law which God and time gave to creative nature. Of no avail are your branching, sturdy dorsal fins with which you pursue your prey, plowing your way, tempestuously tearing open the briny waves with your breast. Oh, how many a time the terrified shoals of dolphins and big tuna fish were seen to flee before your insensate fury, as you lashed with swift, branching fins and forked tail, creating in the sea mist and sudden tempest that buffeted and submerged ships…  O Time, swift despoiler of created things, how many kings, how many peoples have you undone? How many changes of state and circumstances have followed since the wondrous form of this fish died here in this winding and cavernous recess?”

The depiction of the globe’s surface–an area inhabited by immense fish, and an impasse that future navigators to the New World must cross–draws heavily on recent nautical charts for its geographic content, as well as for the line of terrestrial sovereignty determined at the Treaty of Tordesillas, so often noted in charts.  But it runs against the conventional map signs of either charts or Ptolemaic terrestrial maps, abandoning the orienting device of the wind-rose or compass, or the indices of Ptolemaic geography:  running against these forms of mapping, its author seems to discover a new way of mapping the watery surface of the world that was of such intense interest to him, organizing a view of the interlocking surface of water and land that we have forgotten, but with which we might do well to refamiliarize ourselves.  For rather than replicating an idealized image of the world’s surface, in the manner of ancient geographers, or a cosmographical image of the globe, he assigned a striking materiality to its interlocking elements that emphasize its almost living nature.


December 31, 2013 · 10:46 am