History of the World in Twelve Maps

I have just finished Jerry Brotton’s “History of the World in Twelve Maps“.  It is an incredibly well-researched and beautifully written homage to the power of image to influence one’s view of the world.

He covers Ptolemy, Al-Idrisi, the Hereford Mappamundi, the Kangnido Map, Martin Waldseemuller’s World Map (the one that names America), Diogo Ribeiro, Mercator, Joan Blaeu, the Cassini Family, Halford Mackinder, Arno Peters, and Google Earth.  Each chapter is a detailed history of the zeitgeist of the time period, and examines the philosophical, intellectual and political uses and abuses to which contemporary maps were put.

From the introduction:

Throughout most recorded history, the overwhelming majority of maps put the culture that produced them at their centre, as many of the world maps discussed in this book show.  Even today;s online mapping is partly driven by the user’s desire to first locate him- or herself on the digital map … But if such a perspective literally centres individuals, it also elevates them like gods, inviting them to take flight and look down upon the earth from a divine viewpoint, surveying the whole world in one look, calmly detached, gazing upon what can only be imagined by earthbound mortals.  The map’s dissimulating brilliance is to make the viewer believe, just for a  moment, that such a perspective is real, that they are not still tethered to the earth, looking at a map.”

An excellent and stimulating study that I thoroughly recommend.

Earliest known world map: Iraq 700-500 BC

Earliest known world map: Iraq 700-500 BC

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