3D Interactive Globes Now Online: Spin Through an Archive of Globes from the 17th and 18th Century

Willem Jan­szoon Blaeu Celes­tial Globe 1602

No mat­ter how accus­tomed we’ve grown over the cen­turies to flat maps of the world, they can nev­er be per­fect­ly accu­rate. Strict­ly speak­ing, no map can per­fect­ly cap­ture the ter­ri­to­ry it describes (an impos­si­bil­i­ty mem­o­rably fic­tion­al­ized by Jorge Luis Borges in “On Exac­ti­tude in Sci­ence”), but there’s a rea­son we also call the Earth “the globe”: only a globe can rep­re­sent not just the plan­et’s true shape, but the true shape of the land mass­es on which we live. This is not to say that globes have always been accu­rate. Like the his­to­ry of map­mak­ing, the his­to­ry of globe-mak­ing is one of edu­cat­ed (or une­d­u­cat­ed) guess­es, free mix­ture of fact and leg­end, and labels like “ter­ra incog­ni­ta” or “here be drag­ons.” You can see that for your­self in the British Library’s new online his­toric globe archive — and not just through flat pho­tographs and scans.

“The archive presents 3D mod­els of 11 globes — a sub­set of the library’s his­toric maps col­lec­tion — that can be rotat­ed and zoomed into for greater detail at every angle,” writes Hyper­al­ler­gic’s Sarah Rose Sharp. She points to one in par­tic­u­lar, “stun­ning 1602 celes­tial globe by Dutch car­tog­ra­ph­er Willem Jan­szoon Blaeu, first pro­duced in 1602. In addi­tion to rep­re­sent­ing the con­stel­la­tions as their fan­tas­tic and mytho­log­i­cal name­sakes, it iden­ti­fies a nova in the con­stel­la­tion of Cygnus which Blaeu had per­son­al­ly observed in 1600.”

The British Library’s dig­i­tal col­lec­tion boasts sev­er­al such “celes­tial globes,” which chart the sky rather than the Earth. How­ev­er few of us have ever turned a celes­tial globe by hand, we can now do it vir­tu­al­ly. If 1602 seems a bit too vin­tage, give a dig­i­tal spin to the oth­ers from 1700, 1728, and 1783.

Back on land, these globes fea­ture not just “fan­tas­tic crea­tures,” Sharp writes, but “charm­ing archa­ic con­cep­tions of the oceans — the ‘Ata­lantick Ocean’ in the 1730 Richard Cushee ter­res­tri­al globe, or the ‘Ethipoic Ocean’ in the 1783 ter­res­tri­al globe by G. Wright and W. Bardin.” In Chushee, Wright and Bardin’s times, few globe-users, or indeed globe-mak­ers, would have had the chance to see much of those vast bod­ies of water for them­selves. Of course, with the cur­rent state of pan­dem­ic lock­down in so many coun­tries, few of us are tak­ing transocean­ic jour­neys even today. If you’re dream­ing about the rest of the world, spend some time with the British Library’s 3D-mod­eled globes on Sketch­fab — where you’ll also find the Roset­ta Stone and Bust of Nefer­ti­ti among oth­er arti­facts pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture — and get your hands on an idea of how human­i­ty imag­ined it in cen­turies past.

via Hyper­al­ler­gic

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Enchant­i­ng Video Shows How Globes Were Made by Hand in 1955: The End of a 500-Year Tra­di­tion

Watch the Mak­ing of the Dymax­ion Globe: A 3‑D Ren­der­ing of Buck­min­ster Fuller’s Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Map

Why Mak­ing Accu­rate World Maps Is Math­e­mat­i­cal­ly Impos­si­ble

The Strik­ing­ly Beau­ti­ful Maps & Charts That Fired the Imag­i­na­tion of Stu­dents in the 1880s

Down­load 91,000 His­toric Maps from the Mas­sive David Rum­sey Map Col­lec­tion

The His­to­ry of Car­tog­ra­phy, “the Most Ambi­tious Overview of Map Mak­ing Ever Under­tak­en,” Is Free Online

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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