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Cartographica Helvetica


Franz Wawrik:

The representation of America in the cosmographies of the 16th century

Cartographica Helvetica 28 (2003) 33–41


During the 16th century the term 'cosmography' stood for astronomic-geographic as well as cartographic texts. Examples are, for instance, Martin Waldseemüller's world map Universalis Cosmographia or Matthias Ringmann's short comment to it, Cosmographiae Introductio (both from 1507). In these two works America received its name and was – if only very scantily – introduced.

Johannes Schöner composed texts similar to, but much more substantial as, those in the Introductio for his world globes from 1515 and 1533. His example was followed, among others, by Peter Apian, and again by Rainer Gemma Frisius.

A cosmography in the sense of a geographic, ethnographic and historical world description was created by Lorenz Fries, who in 1525 provided his Mercarthe with the German text Yslegung, which consisted mainly of short geographic-ethnographical information to the most important regions of the world. America was introduced in five chapters which, however, were still very imaginative.

The actual triumph of this newly conceived cosmography was established by the scholar Sebastian Münster from Basel. Between 1544 and 1628 his Cosmographia appeared in increasingly voluminous editions in various languages. Also the New World was treated more extensively from edition to edition, whereby the timeliness of the texts, pictures and maps could not keep up with the rapid progress of the geographic, ethnographic and historical knowledge. Münster's maps, including the world map and the map of America, were replaced only once, in 1588, by newer representations. After the last edition of Münster's Cosmographia in 1628, this entire category of literature rapidly lost its importance.

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