Tupaia’s Map Reinterpreted

Tupaia’s map
Tupaia’s map

At Knowable, Cristy Gelling looks at new interpretations of Tupaia’s map of the Pacific Ocean. Tupaia was a Polynesian navigator who became attached to Cook’s expedition. His map, drawn beginning in 1769, has confounded observers because its islands do not line up with the actual geography of the Pacific’s islands. One 2018 study deciphers the map with an alternative, more complicated arrangement in which north is at the centre of the map. This proposal is not universally accepted.

‘Map Heaven’

“I call this ‘map heaven,’” said G. Salim Mohammed, the center’s head and curator. “This is a place where maps come alive.”

The San Francisco Chronicle’s piece on the David Rumsey Map Center (paywalled; alternative Apple News+ link) focuses on the digital experiments undertaken by the center to make maps more accessible. (Examples we’ve covered here previously include digitally assembled versions of the Urbano Monte Map and a 1940 model of San Francisco, and also an AR globe app.) [David Rumsey Map Collection]

La Pérouse’s Expeditions

Library of Congress scan of Buache de Neuville's map of the northern Pacific Ocean, 1785.
Jean-Nicolas Buache de Neuville, “Carte de l’Océan où sont tracées les différentes routes des navigateurs au tour du monde,” 1785. Map in 3 sheets. Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress’s Carissa Pastuch has a blog post about the Pacific Ocean expeditions of Jean-François de Galaup La Pérouse, and the maps that resulted from them—including the above map by Buache de Neuville, made in 1785 so that Louis XVI could follow La Pérouse’s progress.

16th-Century Globe Sells for £116,000 at Auction

A 16th-century globe (Hansons Auctioneers)A 16th-century globe bought for £150 at a Welsh antiques fair has sold at auction for £116,000. It had been expected to fetch £20-30,000. The globe, which dates to the 1550s or 1560s and believed to be by, or derived from work by, François Demongenet, includes sea monsters but not Australia (not yet discovered by Europeans) and is made of paper gores, which makes it both rare and fragile. More from the auction house here. Auction listing. BBC News coverage. (Image: Hansons Auctioneers.)

Renaissance Tuscany Maps On Display at the Uffizi

“Maps depicting Renaissance Tuscany are back on display at the Uffizi Galleries in Florence after being hidden from public view for more than 20 years,” the Guardian reports. “The wall paintings were commissioned in the late 1500s by Ferdinando I de’ Medici after the republic of Florence’s conquering of its rival Siena led to the creation the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and depict the newly unified territory.” It cost €600,000 to restore the three maps drafted by Stefano Bonsignori and painted by Ludovico Buti; the maps are on display in the Uffizi’s maps terrace, also newly renovated and limited to 20 visitors at a time. [MAPS-L]

Frederick Pierce’s ‘Dazzle Camouflage’ Map of New York’s Nationalities

Map of City of New York showing the distribution of Principal nationalities by sanitary districts

At Worlds Revealed, the Library of Congress’s map blog, Tim St. Onge looks at, and provides the background on, a series of six maps prepared by Frederick E. Pierce for a report on living conditions in New York’s tenement housing in 1895, including a stunningly bizarre map of ethnic groups living in the city.

Pierce’s map of nationalities, however, is a more memorable, if confounding, centerpiece. Aiming to convey diversity among immigrant communities in New York, the map depicts the proportion of major “nationalities” in each sanitary district of the city. The result is a dizzying array of zigzag stripes and scattered points. As Pierce writes in his explanatory notes accompanying the Harper’s Weekly publication, the original map was produced in color and adapted to black and white for publication, but the reproduction “is almost as effective and quite as illustrative as the original.” Despite Pierce’s confidence, perhaps the average reader could be forgiven if they find the map to be more difficult to parse. In fact, the map seems to resemble more closely the dazzle camouflage, a design aimed at confusing the observer, used on British and American warships in the first half of the twentieth century.

1761 Map of Fort Detroit Acquired, Crowdfunding Campaign Launched

William Brasier’s “Plan of the Fort at De Troit,” (1761)
William Brasier, “Plan of the Fort at De Troit,” 1761. William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan.

A 1761 map of Fort Detroit that depicts the fort just after it was ceded by the French to British forces, commissioned by Gen. Amherst and hand-drawn by William Brasier, has been acquired by the University of Michigan’s William L. Clements Library.

The map had been in private hands since at least 1967. Because its $42,500 price tag put a substantial dent in the library’s acquisition budget, they’re crowdfunding the purchase—with $20,000 already pledged in matching funds. [Tony Campbell]

Previously: Early Map of Detroit Acquired.

Returning Maps to Their Context

Interesting essay for the History of Cartography Project from Matthew Edney, on the practice of treating maps as separate from the books they were originally published in—and physically removing them from those books—and the damage that does, both to the physical objects and to our understanding of the past.

The key issue is that over many centuries, maps have routinely been removed from their original contexts without clear records being kept. These practices have been extensively countered and halted since the 1970s, however they have left a legacy that requires great effort to overcome. But that effort always pays off: resituating early maps in the original contexts of their production, circulation, and use inevitably allows for more new interpretations of their meaning and significance.

Piri Reis Map Back on Display

The Piri Reis map is back on display at the Topkapı Palace in Istanbul. Like the Tabula Peutingeriana, it’s only taken out for display at intervals to protect it from the elements. Discovered when the palace was being converted into a museum in the 1920s, the map is the western third of a portolan chart drawn on gazelle skin parchment in 1513 by Ottoman admiral Ahmet Muhiddin Piri (“Reis”—admiral—was his title). It was an expansive compilation of ancient and contemporary sources much like the Waldseemüller map, and is fascinating in its own right; in recent years, though, it became one of the “proofs” of a nutty theory involving ancient civilizations and polar shifting. [Tony Campbell]

Previously: The Piri Reis Map of 1513; A Turkish Piri Reis Documentary Is Coming.

Maps of the Pacific

Carte très curieuse de la Mer du Sud
Henri Abraham Chatelain, Carte très curieuse de la Mer du Sud, 1719. Map, 76.6 × 137.9 cm.

Maps of the Pacific is an exhibition of the State Library of New South Wales’s holdings of maps, charts atlases and globes relating to the Pacific Ocean. “This exhibition traces the European mapping of the Pacific across the centuries—an endeavour that elevated the science and art of European mapmaking. Redrawing the map of the world ultimately facilitated an era of brutal colonisation and dispossession for many Pacific First Nations communities.” Open now at the library’s exhibition galleries in Sydney, the exhibition runs until 24 April 2022. Free admission.

In related news, the library’s Mapping the Pacific conference (previously) has been postponed to March 2022.

Forty Years of the History of Cartography Project

This article from the University of Wisconsin–Madison takes a look back at the 40-year history of the History of Cartography Project, which, with the forthcoming publication of its final volume, is actually coming to a close in the near future. Includes quotes from current director Matthew Edney, who first came to the project as a graduate student in 1983.

Previously: The History of Cartography’s Fourth Volume, Now (Almost) Out; History of Cartography Project Updates.

16th-Century Map of the Caribbean Replaced with a Fake

Map rom Peter Martyr d’Anghiera, Legatio Babylonica, 1511. JCB Map Collection, John Carter Brown Library.

When an exhibition held in Burgos, Spain celebrating Magellan’s voyage wanted to use the Burgos Cathedral’s copy of Pietro Martire d’Angiera’s 16th-century Legatio Babylonica, which contains the first-ever map of the Caribbean, they discovered that the map had been replaced by a fake. El País reports (in Spanish) that prosecutors have closed the case for lack of information—they don’t even know when it was stolen, much less who stole it.

The Vinland Map and Modern Mythmaking

Read David M. Perry and Matthew Gabriele’s long Smithsonian article on the conclusion that the Vinland Map is a modern forgery. Among other things, it places the map in the context of mythmaking around Viking history and an anti-Catholic, pro-northern-European narrative of American discovery that aimed to displace the Columbus story.

Previously: ‘The Vinland Map Is a Fake’; Re-Analyzing the Vinland Map.

‘The Vinland Map Is a Fake’

The Vinland Map
The Vinland Map

The general consensus has been for some time that the Vinland Map is a modern forgery. A battery of non-destructive tests by Yale University, which holds the map in its Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, have been performed on the map, and the results of those tests have been announced: the map is a fake.

“The Vinland Map is a fake,” said Raymond Clemens, curator of early books and manuscripts at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, which houses the map. “There is no reasonable doubt here. This new analysis should put the matter to rest.”

Basically, the map’s inks contain titanium compounds first used in the 1920s, and an inscription on the parchment was altered to make it seem like the map belonged in a 15th-century bound volume.

Previously: Re-Analyzing the Vinland Map.