Waldseemuller Map: The Mona Lisa of the Cartography Nerds

First, a side note: With the title, I don’t mean to be poking fun at the scholars that dedicate their life to the study of maps, but I love how clearly obsessed they are with the subject to the point where basic grooming and social skills take a distant second place in the priority list. In all honesty, I deeply respect people that are that passionate about any subject.

Alright, onward to the Waldseemuller map:

The U.S. Library of Congress bought the only surviving copy (of originally 1,000 copies) for $10,000,000 in 2001.

This map is a window into how the world was seen by the Europeans of 500 years ago. It’s thought to be the first time that America was put on a map as not being just the east coast of Asia or India. This is such a brilliant discovery if you put yourself in a mindset where everyone around you believes that what was discovered by Columbus and Vespucci was India or Asia. To understand from their accounts that this was a different continent all together is a brilliant discovery that defines the Age of Exploration.

In some ways, in the 21st century we face the same degree of uncertainty about space as people of the 15th and 16th century did about geography. Are there inhabitable planets out there? Is there life out there? Is there intelligent life?

By the way, there’s a nice program on a book about this map from C-SPAN. Check it out: The Fourth Part of the World.

Also, for the especially curious, here’s a 100 mb version of the map where you can study the tiniest details. For the record, saving the map in Ubuntu Linux and opening it in the default image viewer crashed my computer.

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