A deeply erudite work of epistemology tracking how the making of maps throughout the ages reveals mankind’s mastery of the universe.
In this wide-ranging work, English scholar Brotton (Renaissance Studies/Queen Mary Univ.; The Sale of the Late King's Goods: Charles I and His Art Collection, 2006, etc.) moves from Ptolemy’s Geography (A.D. second century) to Google Earth for an eclectic representation of the power of maps to confer man’s authority and dominion. Maps tell us what we know about ourselves in relation to the world but also what we want the viewer to know, drawing on shifting perception, orientation and direction throughout the ages as science, faith and egocentrism deepened. For example, most of these 12 maps spotlight the culture from which the mapmaker drew, and until the later Christian era, maps were “oriented” by the south rather than north. Brotton divides his work into discrete themes such as science, faith, money and equality, selecting the map that best represents that particular idea at some moment in history. For example, Geography encapsulated more than 1,000 years of Greek thinking on the world “as a single and continuous entity” and was used as a model for the next two millennia. Muhammad al-Idrisi’s Entertainment (A.D. 1154) reveals the enormously rich exchange of ideas between the Muslim East and Christian West. The bishop of Hereford’s Mappamundi (1300) depicts fanciful theological events both classical and biblical, with Jerusalem at its center. Gerard Mercator’s World Map (1569) shows how the extraordinary mapmaker circumscribed the persecution of his Protestant faith by rendering a vast map for navigation using a combination of cosmographical tradition and new scientific understanding. Brotton explores the ideology behind each mapmaker and the compelling “emotional forces” that he reveals about our civilization.
A dense and scholarly but rewarding journey for the intellectually intrepid.