Cosmographiae Introductio.

Martin Waldseemüller. Cosmographiae Introductio. Strasbourg, 1509.

The Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History

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In 1507, Martin Waldseemüller published a globe, a large world map “Universalis Cosmographia,” and an accompanying book Cosmographiae Introductio, shown here. In “Universalis Cosmographia,” the first map that depicts the New World as two continents, Waldseemüller designates the Southern landmass “America”—the first appearance of this name on a map.

In his book Cosmographiae Introductio, Waldseemüller justifies his proposal to name the New World after Amerigo Vespucci:

Now truly these parts [Europe, Africa, Asia] have been more widely explored, and another, fourth, part has been discovered by Americus Vespucius (as will appear in what follows), and I do not see why anyone should rightly forbid naming it Amerige—land of Americus, as it were, after its discoverer Americus, a man of acute genius—or America, since both Europe and Asia have received their names from women. Its position and the manners and customs of its people may clearly be learned from the twice-two voyages of Americus that follow.

Waldseemüller later acknowledged the primacy of Columbus’s discovery and dropped the name “America” from his maps. By then, however, it was too late—“America” was here to stay.

Tauola sell' isole nuoue

Sebastian Münster. “[Die Nüw Welt] Tavola dell’ isole nuove.” From Cosmographia Universale. Cologne, 1575

The Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History

Sebastian Münster was the first mapmaker to produce separate maps of the four known continents. The woodcut map shown here is a version of the first map to show North and South America connected to each other but separate from any other land mass. The map, “Novae Insulae, XVII Nova Tabula,” was originally published in Münster’s edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia (Basle, 1540) and in Münster’s masterwork, Cosmographia in 1544. 

Cosmographia was one of the most influential works on geography in the mid-sixteenth century; it was translated into five languages and published in forty different editions. Münster’s map was the most widely circulated New World map of its time. It depicts the false Sea of Verrazano and the Northwest Passage and presents a view of North America that precedes the Spanish explorations to the interior of the continent.

The map shown here, from an Italian edition of Cosmographia published in Cologne in 1575, differs from the version in Ptolemy’s 1540 Geographia only in its title and labeling.

Americae sive Novi Orbis, Nova Descriptio. Ortelius. 1570.

Abraham Ortelius. “Americae sive Novi Orbis, Nova Descriptio.” In Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. Antwerp, 1570.

The Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History

Abraham Ortelius published Theatrum Orbis Terrarum in 1570. This work, composed of maps coordinated in size and content, is considered the first modern atlas. The atlas appeared in forty-two editions and seven languages between 1570 and 1612. One remarkable feature of this book is that at a time when cartographers copied from the work of others without attribution, Ortelius scrupulously credited ninety-one sources. 

“Americae sive Novi Orbis” provides a reasonably accurate outline of North America. Ortelius was one of the first cartographers outside of Spain to adopt the American place names designated by Spanish explorers.

In “Americae sive Novi Orbis,” Ortelius locates Quivira—an area explored by Francisco Vásquez de Coronado—too far to the west. This map also shows “Anian” in the Northwest. Anian was a mythical kingdom mentioned in Marco Polo’s travel accounts. Before it appeared in America on this map, Anian was generally believed to be located off the northern coast of Asia.

“Granata Nova et California.”

Cornelius Wytfliet. “Granata Nova et California.”In Descriptionis Ptolemaicae augmentum. Louvain, 1597.

The Paul Mellon Collection

In 1597, Flemish cartographer Cornelius Wytfliet published Descriptionis Ptolemaicae augmentum as a supplement to Ptolemy’s Geographia. Wytfliet’s work was the first atlas devoted exclusively to the New World. It contains nineteen regional maps of the Americas, including the two shown here.

The two maps depict the West coast of North America. In “Granata Nova et California,” the coast of upper California runs almost due west until it reaches Cape Mendocino (“C. Medocino”). 

“Limes Occidentis Quivira et Anian.”

Cornelius Wytfliet. “Limes Occidentis Quivira et Anian.” In Descriptionis Ptolemaicae augmentum. Louvain, 1597.

The Paul Mellon Collection

In “Limes Occidentis Quivira et Anian,” Quivira—an area explored by Coronado—appears too far to the west. The exact site of Quivira is unknown but historians speculate it was in present-day Kansas. Finally, like many other maps of the period, a world map (not shown) in Wytfliet’s atlas depicts the Straits of Anian connecting to the fabled Northwest Passage from the Atlantic Ocean.

Certaine errors in navigation, detected and corrected.

Edward Wright. Certaine errors in navigation, detected and corrected. London, 1610.

The Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History

The great geographer and mathematician Gerhard Mercator revolutionized cartography when he developed an isogonic cylindrical projection that mapped a sphere onto a flat plane. Mercator expected that his projection would be a valuable tool for navigators but he neglected to provide practical guidelines on how use it. Edward Wright, a professor of mathematics at Cambridge University, modified Mercator’s system and published his results, Certaine errors in Navigation, in 1599 and again in an improved edition, Certaine errors in Navigation, detected and corrected, shown here. Wright’s book contained new mathematical tables and instructions on plotting straight-line courses on maps based on the Mercator projection. The system developed by Wright contributed to the supremacy of the British Navy and is still in use today.