Cartographic Communication Early Maps of Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

This is an important historical communication, noted seventy years after Vespucci's discovery. Columbus indeed landed in the West Indies (San Salvador in the Bahamas), and on Gutierrez' map the cartographer wrote: "This fourth part of the world remained unknown to all geographers until the year 1497, at which time it was discovered by Americus Vespusius serving the King of Castile, whereupon it also obtained a name from the discoverer."

Hieronymus Cock, a Flemish artist, engraved the map in a collaborative effort with Gutierrez, Hebert explains; in fact Cock is believed to be one of the "most important engravers and printmakers in Europe in the sixteenth century."

Maps not only communicated important information - and still do - but, according to an article in the journal Americas, they are witnesses. Authors J.B. Harley and D. Woodward write that maps "...may be called the light or eye of history" (the quote they use is from Sixteenth Century geographer Hulsius) because they serve as "credible and articulate witnesses" to history (Harley, et al., 1991). And while original maps served vitally important functions during the 15th, 16th, and 17th Centuries, they continue to unlock mysteries today, Harley explains. Because of the work Harley and Woodward do - studying the history of cartography - they have come to understand that "maps are the coordinates of history." In their most current research, Harley and Woodward are confronting the question of "What happened when particular maps were made?" In the case of the monarchs of early modern Europe "...bent on imperial and spiritual conquest," the map became "a menu for colonization," Harley goes on.

And interestingly, the mapping of America was not, Harley writes, "a one-way process in which colonized peoples offered no challenge to external surveys of their territory." In fact, there is evidence that in some regions, "maps were used [by natives] to help resist the imposition of colonial rule." An example of that are the land claims brought forward by Indians; the natives had maps showing their lands and those maps became "documents for litigation in colonial courts." In other words, the natives' maps - crude and unsophisticated though they may well have been - communicated the legitimacy of ownership, and in some cases, courts ruled in favor of the natives (which seems only just in any event, in hindsight).

A chart maker in 1534 (quoted by Harley) said this: "With these charts, the reader may inform himself about all this new world, place by place, as though he himself had been there."

Another ancient map that communicates important historic information is the Piri Reis Map of 1513; writer Gregory C. McIntosh explains that the Piri Reis "is one of the most beautiful, interesting, important and mysterious maps" to have survived since the Age of Discovery (McIntosh 2000). That having been said, the Piri Reis Map is also among the "least understood maps from that historic period.

There are those who believe the Piri Reis contains "within its delineations" a copy of a map created by Christopher Columbus; others claim that the maker of this map, Ottoman-Turkish admiral Piri Reis, "was able to measure and perform spherical trigonometry calculations" which proved that "an ancient seafaring civilization existed tens of thousands of years ago." There are too many doubters and there is too little evidence to prove that the Piri Reis Map communicates that kind of information, McIntosh writes; however, Reis had wide experiences during his navel career, and he collected charts, made notes, and drew maps of the islands and coastlines he visited.

This map is of the "portolan" genre (which did not factor in the curvature of the Earth), which measures about 35 inches high and 25 inches wide. The chart (map), like other portolan maps, was probably based on "dead reckoning" and shows a network of thumb lines "radiating from a circular pattern of wind roses or compass roses," McIntosh continues; this one includes 117 place names, and identifies the sources from which Reis received his information, including eight maps of Ptolemy; four Portuguese maps; an Arabic map of southern Asia and the Columbus map. McIntosh claims that by using information gleaned from Christopher Columbus, Reis thus created the "earliest, most primitive, and most rudimentary cartography" of the West Indies. And hence, Reis's work represents the earliest of all cartographic records of the discoveries of the New World. It was not accurate, but it communicated a world of information.

Works Cited

Casa de Contratacion (2005). La Casa de Contratacion (the House of Trade), Retrieved May 26, 2007 at

Harley, J.B., & Woodward, D. (1991). An alternative route to mapping history. Americas, 43(5),

Hebert, John R. (2002). The 1562 Map of America by Diego Gutierrez, Library of Congress,

Retrieved May 25, 2007, at

McIntosh, Gregory C. (2000). A Tale of Two Admirals (early world maps). Mercator's World,

Smith, Monica l. (2005). Networks, Territories, and the Cartography of Ancient States. Annals of the…

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