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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Putting Ourselves on the Map


A new academic year has begun at Saint John's University and the College of Saint Benedict.  With that comes an increase in the number of groups and classes visiting the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library.  This week I am meeting with two classes visiting from other institutions, as well as speaking at the weekly luncheon of the local Rotary Club. Next week another group of visitors will come to hear about HMML's mission and preservation work.  In the midst of all this there is also the opportunity to meet with our own faculty to discuss ideas for class presentations that truly feed into the curriculum and are not just generic "enrichment."

One class is coming to learn more about maps in our collections.  Our selection is certainly not as large as those of major institutions like the James Ford Bell Library at the University of Minnesota, which concentrates on travel literature and books/materials related to exploration.  Nevertheless, HMML does have some interesting maps, both in atlases and as plates in books about various parts of the world.

The world as some in the 13th century knew it.

By far, the oldest true map in our collection is a tiny "T" map in the margin of a 13th-century manuscript containing the Etymologies of Isidore of Seville.  This kind of map is so called because it depicts the world as a circle (not an orb, unfortunately) with a T in it. In larger maps it is clear that the "T" depicts rivers separating the three known (to medieval Europeans) major landmasses: Europe, Africa and Asia. Other medieval maps in the collections are in our facsimiles--either on paper or digitally.

As for printed maps, our earliest ones seem to come from the late 16th century, mostly in a picture book relating the events of the wars of the Reformation in the Low Countries.  As such, these maps often depict battles and specific events related to the struggles for religious control. They also have short German texts (in rhyme!) under the depictions.

The Siege of Middelburg (Netherlands) in 1574.
From a picture book in the Saint John's collections.
Hie ist zu sehen in was gestalt
Zu schiff des Princen große gwalt
Middelburch rund umbzingel hatt
Daß seie da innen kranck und matt
Lieden an proviand groß nodt
Daß viell verursachett zum todt.
Anno D[omini] M.D. LXXIIII.

(my rough translation:) Shown here is the way in which the prince's ships had surrounded Middelburg, so that many inside the town were sick and depleted, suffered great lack of food, and caused the death of many. In the year of Our Lord, 1574.

Perhaps I will have to come back to this collection of pictures and maps in another blog post!

As the 17th century progresses, the number of maps in our collections increases. Among the more interesting of these is a map of North America from 1698 from Louis Hennepin's descriptions of his travels:

From Louis Hennepin's A New Discovery (1698)

Note how the detail west of the Mississippi rapidly fades away!  This map appeared in an earlier blog post about the Anderson Gift.  The lack of clarity about Western North America remained up into the late 18th century. But that is perhaps a topic for a future blog post!

More detailed is a map of Venezuela from only a few years earlier:

Map of Venezuela from a 1682 work on Markus Welser, of the famous Augsburg banking family.
This map appears in a compilation of the works of Markus Welser (1558-1614).  The Welser connection to Venezuela goes back to the early 1528 when one of Markus' predecessors lent Emperor Charles V a huge sum of money and the family received the colony as "collateral."  Unfortunately, the Welsers did not have a good experience there it seems.

Markus Welser was also a humanist scholar and publisher. Among the works he published was an edition of the Tabula Peutinger, which purports to map the Roman road system from antiquity. Like his fellow humanists, Welser was eager to promote the study of the "pre-medieval" period.

Tabula Itineraria ex illustri Peutingerorum Bibliotheca ... (this edition from 1682).

The Tabula showing the area around Constantinople during the Roman period.

The original manuscript of this road map (perhaps the "Michelin" or "Google Maps" of its day), found in the 16th century by Conrad Celtes, is now in the Austrian National Library.

17th-century map of Ethiopia.
Finally, we find a map from a 1681 abridged version of Job Ludolf's Historia Aethiopica, published in Frankfurt am Main.

At some point in the not-too-distant future, I hope to return to our map collections and provide samples from the 18th and 19th centuries.  Until then, peace!



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