The Largest Early Map of the World Gets Assembled for the First Time: See the Huge, Detailed & Fantastical World Map from 1587

We in the early 21st century can call up detailed maps of almost any place on Earth with little more effort than typing its name. Most of us can dimly recall a time when it wasn’t quite so easy, but imagine trying to satisfy your geographical curiosity in not just decades but centuries past. For the 16th-century Milanese gentleman scholar Urbano Monte, figuring out what the whole world looked like turned into an enormous project, in terms of both effort and sheer size. In 1587, he created his “planisphere” map as a 60-page manuscript, and only now have researchers assembled it into a single piece, ten feet square, the largest known early map of the world. View it above, or in a larger format here.

“Monte appears to have been quite geo-savvy for his day,” writes National Geographic‘s Greg Miller, noting that “he included recent discoveries of his time, such as the islands of Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America, first sighted by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1520,” as well as an uncommonly detailed Japan based on information gathered from a visit with the first official Japanese delegation to Europe in 1585.


And in accordance with the mapmaking style of the time, he got more fanciful in the less-understood spaces: “Animals roam the land, and his oceans teem with ships and monsters. King Philip II of Spain rides what looks like a floating throne off the coast of South America, a nod to Spanish prominence on the high seas.”

 

“Monte’s map reminds us of why historical maps are so important as primary resources,” says Stanford University’s David Rumsey Map Collection, which holds one of only three extant versions of the map and which conducted the digital project of scanning each of its pages and assembling them into a whole. Not only does its then-unusual (but now long standard in aviation) north polar azimuthal projection show Monte’s use of “the advanced scientific ideas of his time,” but the “the artistry in drawing and decorating the map embodies design at the highest level; and the view of the world then gives us a deep historical resource with the listing of places, the shape of spaces, and the commentary interwoven into the map.”

You can see/download Monte’s planisphere in detail at the David Rumsey Map Collection, both as a collection of individual pages and as a fully assembled world map. There you can also read, in PDF form, cartographic historian Dr. Katherine Parker’s “A Mind at Work: Urbano Monte’s 60-Sheet Manuscript World Map.” And to bring this marvel of 16th-century cartography around to a connection with a marvel of 21st-century cartography, they’ve also taken Monte’s planisphere and made it into a three-dimensional model in Google Earth, a mapping tool that Monte could scarcely have imagined — even though, as a close look at his work reveals, he certainly didn’t lack imagination.

via Hyperallergic

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Watch the History of the World Unfold on an Animated Map: From 200,000 BCE to Today

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities 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 or on Facebook.

The London Time Machine: Interactive Map Lets You Compare Modern London, to the London Shortly After the Great Fire of 1666

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From ESRI, the maker of geographic software, comes the London Time Machine, an interactive map that lets you see how London has changed over the past 330+ years, moving from a city left in ruins by the Great Fire of 1666, to the sprawling metropolis that it is today. Here’s how ESRI describes the map:

On Sunday the 2nd of September 1666, the Great Fire of London began reducing most of the capital to ashes. Among the devastation and the losses were many maps of the city itself.

The Morgan Map of 1682 was the first to show the whole of the City of London after the fire. Produced by William Morgan and his dedicated team of Surveyors and Cartographers it took 6 years to produce, and displayed a brighter perspective on city life for a population still mourning their loved ones, possessions, and homes.

But how much of this symbolised vision of a hoped-for ideal city remains today? What now lies on the lush green fields to the south of the river Thames? And how have the river’s banks been eaten into by the insatiable appetite of urban development? Move the spyglass to find out, and remember to zoom-in to fully interrogate finer details!

Enter the London Time Machine here.

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via Hacker News

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The History of the World in One Video: Every Year from 200,000 BCE to Today

“Where are you from?” a character at one point asks Babe, the hapless protagonist of the Firesign Theatre’s classic comedy album How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere at All. “Nairobi, ma’am,” Babe replies. “Isn’t everybody?” Like most of that psychedelic radio troupe’s pieces of apparent nonsense, that memorable line contains a truth: trace human history back far enough and you inevitably end up in east Africa, a point illustrated in reverse by the video above, “A History of the World: Every Year,” which traces the march of humanity between 200,000 BCE and the modern day.

To a dramatic soundtrack which opens and closes with the music of Hans Zimmer, video creator Ollie Bye charts mankind’s progress out of Africa and, ultimately, into every corner of all the continents of the world.


Real, documented settlements, cities, empires, and entire civilizations rise and fall as they would in a computer game, with a constantly updated global population count and list of the civilizations active in the current year as well as occasional notes about politics and diplomacy, society and culture, and inventions and discoveries.

All that happens in under 20 minutes, a pretty swift clip, though not until the very end does the world take the political shape we know today, including even the late latecomer to civilization that is the United States of America. Bye’s many other videos tend to focus on the history of other parts of the world, such as India, the British Isles, and that cradle of our species, the African continent, all of which we can now develop first-hand familiarity with in this age of unprecedented human mobility. Though the condition itself takes the question “Where are you from?” to a degree of complication unknown not only millennia but also centuries and even decades ago, at least now you have a snappy answer at the ready.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities 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 or on Facebook.

A Map of George Orwell’s 1984

Many fictional locations resist mapping. Our imaginations may thrill, but our mental geolocation software recoils at the impossibilities in Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities—a series of geographically whimsical tales told by Marco Polo to Genghis Khan; or China Miéville’s The City and the City, in which two metropolises—Besźel and Ul Qoma—occupy much of the same physical space, and a secretive police power compels citizens to willfully “unsee” one city or the other.

That’s not to say such maps cannot be made. Calvino’s strange cities have been illustrated, if not at street level, in as fanciful a fashion as the narrator describes them. Miéville’s weird cities have received several literal-minded mapping treatments, which perhaps mistake the novel’s careful construction of metaphor for a kind of creative urban planning.


Miéville himself might disavow such attempts, as he disavows one-to-one allegorical readings of his fantastic detective novel—those, for example, that reduce the phenomenon of “unseeing” to an Orwellian means of thought control. “Orwell is a much more overtly allegorical writer,” he tells Theresa DeLucci at Tor, “although it’s always sort of unstable, there’s a certain kind of mapping whereby x means y, a means b.”

Orwell’s speculative worlds are easily decoded, in other words, an opinion shared by many readers of Orwell. But Miéville’s comments aside, there’s an argument to be made that The City and the City’s “unseeing” is the most vividly Orwellian device in recent fiction. And that the fictional world of 1984 does not, perhaps, yield to such simple mapping as we imagine.

Of course it’s easy to draw a map (see above, or in a larger format here) of the three imperial powers the novel tells us rule the world. Frank Jacobs at Big Think tidily sums them up:

Oceania covers the entire continents of America and Oceania and the British Isles, the main location for the novel, in which they are referred to as ‘Airstrip One’.
Eurasia covers Europe and (more or less) the entire Soviet Union.
Eastasia covers Japan, Korea, China and northern India.

These three superstates are perpetually at war with each other, though who’s at war with whom is unclear. “And yet… the war might just not even be real at all”—for all we know it might be a fabrication of the Ministry of Truth, to manufacture consent for austerity, mass surveillance, forced nationalism, etc. It’s also possible that the entirety of the novel’s geo-politics have been invented out of whole cloth, that “Airstrip One is not an outpost of a greater empire,” Jacobs writes, “but the sole territory under the command of Ingsoc.”

One commenter on the map—which was posted to Reddit last year—points out that “there isn’t any evidence in the book that this is actually how the world is structured.” We must look at the map as doubly fictional, an illustration, Lauren Davis notes at io9, of “how the credulous inhabitant of Airstrip One, armed with only maps distributed by the Ministry of Truth, might view the world, how vast the realm of Oceania seems and how close the supposed enemies in Eurasia.” It is the world as the minds of the novel’s characters conceive it.

All maps, we know, are distortions, shaped by ideology, belief, perspectival bias. 1984’s limited third-person narration enacts the limited views of citizens in a totalitarian state. Such a state necessarily uses force to prevent the people from independently verifying constantly shifting, contradictory pieces of information. But the novel itself states that force is largely irrelevant. “The patrols did not matter… Only the Thought Police mattered.”

In Orwell’s fiction “similar outcomes” as those in totalitarian states, as Noam Chomsky remarks, “can be achieved in free societies like England” through education and mass media control. The most unsettling thing about the seeming simplicity of 1984’s map of the world is that it might look like almost anything else for all the average person knows. Its elementary-school rudiments metaphorically point to frighteningly vast areas of ignorance, and possibilities we can only imagine, since Winston Smith and his compatriots no longer have the ability, even if they had the means.

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A Map Shows What Every Country in the World Calls Itself in its Own Language: Explore the “Endonyms of the World” Map

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A Map Shows What Every Country in the World Calls Itself in its Own Language: Explore the “Endonyms of the World” Map

I live in South Korea, but the South Koreans don’t call it South Korea. The country has its own language, of course, and that language has its own name for the country, daehan minguk (대한 민국), or more commonly hanguk (한국) — not that it stops the global branding-friendly letter K, which has made its way from “K-pop” to “K-beauty” to even (albeit much less successfully) things like “K-food.” As far as our much-reported-on northern neighbor, South Koreans call it bukhan (북한), but its inhabitants call their land joseon minjujueui inmin gonghwaguk (조선민주주의인민공화국). And as with Korea South and North, so with every country in the world: each one has an endonym.

“An endonym is the name for a place, site or location in the language of the people who live there. These names may be officially designated by the local government or they may simply be widely used.” So says the front page of the Endonym Map, which labels every country (or disputed territory) in the world with its endonym, written in the language’s own script.


When you first learned the names of foreign countries, you actually learned their exonyms, their names in a foreign language: yours. “South Korea” and “North Korea” are exonyms, as are names like “Japan,” “Finland,” “Turkey,” and “France.” Nihon-koku (日本国), Suomen tasavaltaTürkiye Cumhuriyeti, and la République française all appear on the Endonym Map, as do many other well-known countries you might at first glance assume you’ve never heard of. 

The map’s creator notes that “the most common official or national language in the world is English, with 86 countries or territories,” which represents “one-third the number of total countries and approximately 30% of the planet’s land area.” Because of that, people all over the world do tend to know the English exonym for their own country, but that’s hardly an excuse not to learn its real name should you decide to pay them a visit. And that counts as the first step toward actually learning its language, a journey that the Foreign Service Institute’s language-learning map we featured last year can help you plan. Hwaiting, as we say here in the Koreanized English — or Englishized Korean? — of hanguk.

You can view the Endonym Map in a larger, zoomable format here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities 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 or on Facebook.

The “True Size” Maps Shows You the Real Size of Every Country (and Will Change Your Mental Picture of the World)

We all understand, on some level, that as adults we must go back and correct the oversimplifications we learned as schoolchildren. But for a sense of how large the scale of those quasi-truths, you must imagine the whole world: that is, you must imagine how you imagine the whole world, a mental picture probably taken straight from the map hung on the classroom wall. And the lines of that map came straight, in a sense, from the work of 16th-century cartographer Gerardus Mercator.

Though Mercator’s world-mapping method came as a revolution, it has also given generation after generation after generation very much the wrong idea about how big the world’s countries actually are. Mercator Projection, as Citymetric describes it, “re-imagines the earth as the surface of a cylinder.


When laid out flat, it’s pleasingly rectangular, and its eastern and western edges line up neatly.” But while “in reality, lines of longitude converge at the poles; on the map, they’re parallel. As a result, the closer you get to the poles, the more distorted the map becomes, and the bigger things look relative to their actual size.”

Hence the need for such re-imaginings of the world map as The True Size, “a website that lets you compare the size of any nation or US state to other land masses, by allowing you to move them around to anywhere else on the map.” Just search for any country in the box in the map’s upper-left corner, and that country’s borders will appear highlighted in color. When you click and drag those borders to another part of the world, specifically a part of the world at a different latitude, you’ll notice that the shape of the dragged country seems to deform.

But that appearance of distortion is only relative to the shapes and sizes we’ve long internalized from the Mercator map: when you move Australia up and it covers a third of Russia, or when you move the vast-looking Greenland down and it doesn’t even cover Argentina, you’re looking — perhaps for the first time — at a geographically accurate size comparison. Does that (to quote the humorless representative of the Organization of Cartographers for Social Equality in the West Wing episode cited as one inspiration for the True Size Map) blow your mind?

Explore the True Size Map here.

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Download 67,000 Historic Maps (in High Resolution) from the Wonderful David Rumsey Map Collection

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities 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 or on Facebook.

Google Street View Lets You Walk in Jane Goodall’s Footsteps and Visit the Chimpanzees of Tanzania

As mentioned here last month, Dr. Jane Goodall is now teaching her first online course through Masterclass. In 29 video lessons, her course will teach you about the three pillars of her lifelong work: environmental conservation, animal intelligence, and activism. But that’s not the only way you can digitally engage with Jane Goodall’s world. Over on Google Maps, you can take a visual journey through Gombe National Park in Tanzania, where Goodall conducted her historic chimpanzee research, starting back in July, 1960. As Google writes: this visual initiative lets you experience “what it’s like to be Jane for a day.” You can “peek into her house, take a dip in Lake Tanganyika, spot the chimp named Google and try to keep up with Glitter and Gossamer.” Completed in partnership with Tanzania’s National Parks and the Jane Goodall Institute, this project contributes to an effort to use satellite imagery and mapping to protect 85 percent of the remaining chimpanzees in Africa. To get the most out of Street View Gombe, visit the accompanying website Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots.

If you would like to get Open Culture post’s via email, please sign up for our free email newsletter here.

And if you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, Venmo (@openculture) and Crypto. Thanks for your support!

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1934 Map Resizes the World to Show Which Country Drinks the Most Tea

Not a day goes by that I don’t use Google Maps for something or other, whether it’s basic navigation, researching an address, or finding a dry cleaner. Though some of us might resent the dominance such mapping technology has over our daily interactions, there’s no denying its endless utility. But maps can be so much more than useful tools for getting around—they are works of art, thought experiments, imaginative flights of fancy, and data visualization tools, to name but a few of their overlapping functions. For the imperialists of previous ages, maps displayed a mastery of the world, whether cataloguing travel times from London to everywhere else on the globe, or—as in the example we have here—resizing countries according to how much tea their people drank.

But this is not a map we should look to for accuracy. Like many such cartographic data charts, it promotes a particular agenda. “George Orwell once wrote that tea was one of the mainstays of civilization,” notes Jack Goodman at Atlas Obscura. “Tea, asserted Orwell, has the power to make one feel braver, wiser, and more optimistic. The man spoke for a nation.” (And he spoke to a nation in a 1946 Evening Standard essay, “A Nice Cup of Tea.”) From the map above, titled “The Tea is Drunk” and published by Fortune Magazine in 1934, we learn, writes Goodman, that “Britain consumed 485,000 pounds of tea per year. That’s one hundred billion cups of tea, or around six cups a day for each person.” We might note however, that “the population of China was then nine times bigger than that of the U.K., and they drank roughly twice as much tea as the Brits did.” Why isn’t China at the center of the map? “The author made a tenuous point about the cultural differences between the two: the Chinese drank tea as a necessity, the British by choice.”

Cornell University library’s description of the map is more forthright: “While China actually consumed twice as much tea as Britain, its position at the edge of the map assured that the focus will be on the British Isles.” That focus is commercial in nature, meant to encourage and inform British tea merchants for whom tea was more than a beverage; it was one of the nation’s pre-eminent commodities, though most of what was sold as a national product was Indian tea grown in India. Yet the map brims with pride in the British tea trade. “Thus may be told the geography and allegiance of Tea,” its author proclaims, “an empire within an empire, whose borders follow everywhere the scattered territories of that nation on which the sun never sets.” A little over a decade later, India won its independence, and the empire began to fall apart. But the British never lost their taste for or their national pride in tea. View and download a high-resolution scan of the “Tea is Drunk” map at the Cornell Library site.

via Atlas Obscura

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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