A 1769 map of New Jersey by the famed colonial surveyor Bernard Ratzer, commissioned to settle a longstanding border dispute between New Jersey and New York, has been uncovered by a Harvard University librarian. The map, criss-crossed by competing and alternate boundary lines, has been digitized and is available to view online as part of Harvard’s Colonial North American project.
The run-up to every holiday season produces a fresh batch of lavishly illustrated map books, and this year does not appear to be an exception. Map: Exploring the World, a collection of “300 stunning maps from all periods and from all around the world,” came out last month from Phaidon Press. The book was assembled by “an international panel of cartographers, academics, map dealers and collectors,” the publisher says; Forbes contributor Bruce Dorminey’s look at this book reveals that one of them was Library of Congress map curator John Hessler.
E. Forbes Smiley III was a well-known and well-connected map dealer, an expert who helped build the Slaughter and Leventhal map collections. Then in 2005 he was caught—on videotape—stealing maps from Yale University’s Beinecke Library. Libraries he had frequented scrambled to check their own holdings and found additional maps missing. Smiley, who cooperated with the authorities, would eventually be sentenced to 3½ years for stealing nearly 100 maps from the British, Boston Public, New York Public, Harvard and Yale libraries, among others. The libraries believed he stole many more.
With The Map Thief, Michael Blanding presents a book-length exploration of the Forbes Smiley affair, which stunned map collectors and map libraries alike in 2005. Its publication, coming nine years after Smiley’s arrest and four years after his release from prison, is something of an anticlimax, especially for those of us who followed the case so closely as it unfolded (I blogged about it more than 60 times, myself).
Map thieves fascinate us, even if they themselves are not that fascinating (see, for example, the essential blandness of Gilbert Bland, the subject of a previous book about map thefts, Miles Harvey’s Island of Lost Maps), because of what they steal. As stolen goods, antique maps are a curiosity: like art, but more stealable, because there are few copies, not just one.
In 2005 and 2006 my map blog, The Map Room, was full of posts about one E. Forbes Smiley III, who had been caught stealing rare maps from the Beinecke Library at Yale University. As is often the case with map thieves, Smiley was found to be responsible for many other map thefts from other libraries, and suspected in other thefts. Smiley was sentenced to 30 months in prison. (I posted a lot about the Smiley case: see The Map Room’s Map Thefts category archives.)
I knew there would have to be a book on the Smiley case at some point, and one is coming out next month: The Map Thief, whose author, Michael Blanding, has managed to interview Smiley himself, and promises new information about the case. I’m really looking forward to seeing how well Blanding has managed to tell this particular tale, which consumed so much of my attention seven or eight years ago.
Sylvia Sumira’s forthcoming book on globes—titled Globes: 400 Years of Exploration, Navigation and Power in its U.S. edition and The Art and History of Globes in its British edition—is a history of globemaking during its peak: “Showcasing the impressive collection of globes held by the British Library, Sumira traces the inception and progression of globes during the period in which they were most widely used—from the late fifteenth century to the late nineteenth century—shedding light on their purpose, function, influence, and manufacture, as well as the cartographers, printers, and instrument makers who created them.” Out next month from University of Chicago Press (for North America) and in April from the British Library (Commonwealth markets): Amazon. [Boing Boing]
Two more map books, this time of an academic bent:
- London: The Selden Map and the Making of a Global City, 1549-1689 by Robert K. Batchelor (University of Chicago Press, 1/14). Batchelor uses the information on the Selden Map to demonstrate how the city of London “flourished because of its many encounters, engagements, and exchanges with East Asian trading cities.” (Amazon)
- Map Worlds: A History of Women in Cartography by Will C. van den Hoonaard (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 8/13). “[A] journey of discovery through the world of women map-makers from the golden age of cartography in the sixteenth-century Low Countries to tactile maps in contemporary Brazil.” (Amazon)
Here are some map books that I recently found out about:
- Mr. Selden’s Map of China: Decoding the Secrets of a Vanished Cartographer by Timothy Brook (Bloomsbury Press/House of Anansi Press/Profile Books, 9/13). A book-length study of the enigmatic Selden Map of China, donated to the Bodleian Library in 1659 and only rediscovered in 2009. (Amazon)
- The Golden Age of Maritime Maps: When Europe Discovered the World by Catherine Hoffman, Hélène Richard and Emmanuelle Vagnon (Firefly Books, 9/13). One of those big, illustrated books of old maps; this one looks at portolan charts. It’s an English translation of L’Âge d’or des cartes marines. (Amazon)
- Maps of Paradise by Alessandro Scafi (University of Chicago Press, 11/13). Explores “the diverse ways in which scholars and mapmakers from the eighth to the twenty-first century rose to the challenge of identifying the location of paradise on a map, despite the certain knowledge that it was beyond human reach.” (Amazon)
- The International Atlas of Mars Exploration: The First Five Decades, 1953 to 2003 by Philip J. Stooke (Cambridge University Press, 9/12). The first of two volumes (the second will be subtitled Spirit to Curiosity) that maps the extent of exploration by orbiters and landers. (Amazon, author’s page)
If somebody who was vaguely interested in maps wanted a book to get them started, I think I might point them toward A History of the World in Twelve Maps, written by Renaissance Studies professor Jerry Brotton. This book first appeared in September 2012 in Great Britain, where it’s now out in paperback. The U.S. edition came out last month in hardcover.
It’s a history of cartography that takes a rather unique approach: instead of providing a straight narrative history, Brotton focuses on twelve maps (or, more precisely, mapmaking endeavours), ranging from Ptolemy’s Geography to Google Earth. But Brotton does a lot more than talk about just twelve maps.
It looks like 2013 is the Year of Sea Monsters on Maps. Earlier this year we saw Chet Van Duzer’s Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps (my review); now comes a new study that focuses on a single sixteenth-century map and its many illustrations of seagoing critters: the Carta Marina (1539) by Swedish ecclesiastic Olaus Magnus. Joseph Nigg’s Sea Monsters: The Lore and Legacy of Olaus Magnus’s Marine Map was published last month in the United Kingdom by Ivy Press; in the United States and Canada it’s available from the University of Chicago Press under the title Sea Monsters: A Voyage around the World’s Most Beguiling Map. From the University of Chicago Press page:
Nearly two meters wide in total, the map’s nine wood-block panels comprise the largest and first realistic portrayal of Northern Europe. But in addition to these important geographic elements, Magnus’s map goes beyond cartography to scenes both domestic and mystic. Close to shore, Magnus shows humans interacting with common sea life—boats struggling to stay afloat, merchants trading, children swimming, and fisherman pulling lines. But from the offshore deeps rise some of the most magical and terrifying sea creatures imaginable at the time or thereafter—like sea swine, whales as large as islands, and the Kraken. In this book, Nigg provides a thorough tour of the map’s cartographic details, as well as a colorful look at its unusual pictorial and imaginative elements. He draws on Magnus’s own text to further describe and illuminate the inventive scenes and to flesh out the stories of the monsters.
In an article published this week in the Washington Map Society‘s journal, The Portolan, map collector Stefaan Missinne has announced the discovery of a small, engraved globe that he says is the first to depict the New World. From the WMS’s press release:
The previously-unknown globe, which is about the size of a grapefruit, was made from the lower halves of two ostrich eggs, and dates from the very early 1500s. Until now, it was thought that the oldest globe to show the New World was the “Lenox Globe” at the New York Public Library, but the author presents evidence that this Renaissance ostrich egg globe was actually used to cast the copper Lenox globe, putting its date c. 1504. The globe reflects the knowledge gleaned by Christopher Columbus and other very early European explorers including Amerigo Vespucci after whom America was named.
The Lenox Globe—also known as the Hunt-Lenox Globe—was cast in 1510; interestingly, prior to this announcement, it was the only map or globe to contain the phrase hic sunt dracones—here be dragons. This globe has the phrase as well. In the Washington Post coverage, two map experts—John Hessler and Chet Van Duzer—are quoted expressing a certain amount of skepticism (especially about the purported da Vinci connection). I also suspect caution is warranted here: the history of antique maps contains several examples of groundshaking discoveries that turn out to be dubious at best.
Chet Van Duzer’s Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps does what it says on the tin: you really will find out more than you ever wanted to about the sea monsters that appeared on medieval and renaissance maps. (Van Duzer defines them as anything that a contemporary reader would consider exotic, whether it was real or imaginary, so walruses appear along with krakens.) It’s a dizzying catalogue of them, all kinds of them, from medieval mappaemundi (actually, there’s a Roman map in there too) all the way to Ortelius and the late sixteenth century. By the seventeenth century sea monsters were giving way to sailing vessels, and to a loss of ornamentation and illustration in general.
But: sea monsters. What was up with them? For the most part this book gets lost in the weeds, focusing in detail on monster after monster, but Van Duzer does sketch out an argument in the introduction:
First, they may serve as graphic records of literature about sea monsters, indications of possible dangers to sailors — and datapoints in the geography of the marvellous. Second, they may function as decorative elements which enliven the image of the world, suggesting in a general way that the sea can be dangerous, but more emphatically indicating and drawing attention to the vitality of the oceans and the variety of creatures in the world, and to the cartographer’s artistic talents. Of course these two roles are compatible, and sea monsters can play both at the same time. (p. 11)
Van Duzer goes beyond the map in his discussion of sea monsters. For one thing, he points out the non-cartographic sources of sea monsters, such as works of natural history, and compares them to the monsters on the map. He also looks at the economics of sea monsters, which were embellishments that cost extra and may have required a specialist artist: “if the client commissioning the chart did not pay for sea monsters, he or she did not receive them” (p. 10).
For my part, it seems to me that sea monsters in renaissance maps are also holdovers of medieval iconography, sort of a cartographic appendix. Being a big-picture sort, I glazed over a bit at all the detail, but this sort of detail is exactly the sort of thing that illuminates the subject. Between this book and The Art of the Map (reviewed here), I’ve learned quite a bit about the margins and empty spaces of old maps lately.
Previously: Here Be Sea Monsters.
One of the things I’m interested in for my fantasy maps project is the origin of fantasy map design: where does that tell-tale fantasy map look come from?
Look at enough fantasy maps, and it’s hard not to notice certain commonalities in design. As Stefan Ekman demonstrates in Here Be Dragons (yes, I have a review coming—soon!), the maps that accompany fantasy novels tend to be characterized by a number of typical features. “Like much high fantasy,” he writes, “the secondary-world maps follow a pseudomedieval aesthetic according to which dashes of pre-Enlightenment mapping conventions are rather routinely added to a mostly modern creation.”1 Fantasy maps look nothing like medieval maps, and can in many ways be seen as the hybrid descendent of 19th-century amateur mapmaking and early-20th-century children’s book illustrations.
Briefly noted: A Renaissance
Globemaker’s Toolbox: Johannes Schöner and the Revolution of Modern Science, John Hessler’s biography of German priest, astronomer and mathematician Johannes Schöner (1477-1547), an early globemaker who, among other things, created the first printed celestial globe gores as well as globe gores for Martin Waldseemüller’s world maps.
The survival of Schöner’s notes and annotations is unique in the history of cartography; not only do they show his thinking about theoretical and practical geography, but they also reveal the art of mapmaking during his lifetime. John Hessler discusses Schöner’s opinions on the canonical geography of Ptolemy, his reaction to the new discoveries of Columbus and Vespucci, and his involvement in the new astronomy of Copernicus. Schöner’s surviving notebooks, manuscripts, and associations with other scientists of the period offer unprecedented insight into the history of these materials, and into the geographical and astronomical concerns that fuelled the birth of modern science development during this critical period in its development.
In The Art of the Map: An Illustrated History of Map Elements and Embellishments, retired history professor Dennis Reinhartz explores the design elements at the margins of western maps from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. It is both a lavishly illustrated book and a close interrogation of the design elements used by western cartographers during the period in question.
From compass roses to cartouches, to sea monsters in the oceans and people and animals in the margins, these elements were used to fill up the otherwise empty corners of a map (of which there were many in this period), set the tone for the map, or otherwise provide information. Most of these elements are gone today (most: National Geographic still makes use of insets and commentaries). Even most fantasy maps, which ape in many ways the maps of this period, may have little more than a cartouche and a compass rose, and are spare in comparison to their historical kin.
Reinhartz organizes his book by elements: ships, sea monsters, plants, animals and people all get their own chapter. With what seems to be a rather small sample of maps, he often returns to the same, familiar maps to discuss a different element. But because The Art of the Map spans more than 300 years, we are not looking at a specific style or usage: the differences between a 16th-century portolan chart and a 19th-century bird’s-eye map of a city are quite substantial.
This book does not make a specific, scholarly argument about these map elements; it’s an appreciation of them, illuminating their essential character by repetitive example. But its intense examination of antique maps’ marginal elements may well open your eyes to, and appreciate, parts of the map that, as present-day readers with present-day map-reading habits, you may well have glossed over.
Just found out about Chet Van Duzer’s Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps, a new book out this month from British Library Publishing, which explores the monsters drawn on maps from the 10th to the 16th century. From the publisher:
The sea monsters on medieval and Renaissance maps, whether swimming vigorously, gambolling amid the waves, attacking ships, or simply displaying themselves for our appreciation, are one of the most visually engaging elements on these maps, and yet they have never been carefully studied. The subject is important not only in the history of cartography, art, and zoological illustration, but also in the history of the geography of the ‘marvellous’ and of western conceptions of the ocean. Moreover, the sea monsters depicted on maps can supply important insights into the sources, influences, and methods of the cartographers who drew or painted them.
I may have to get this.