An important book containing the first Western printed map of the world will be offered in the upcoming sale of Travel, Atlases, Maps and Natural History on 15 May. Ahead of the sale, and as Earth Day is celebrated around the world, we take a look at this important document, and the history of the Earth Day movement.
Cartographers throughout history have pushed the boundaries of world exploration, and remained at the forefront of research and understanding of mankind’s effect on the planet we inhabit. Several famous maps throughout history have challenged the ever-shifting perception of planet earth. The Hereford Mappa Mundi, Martin Waldseemuller's 1507 World Map, Claudius Ptolemy’s projection of the world and the 1973 Peter’s Projection — showing the accurate surface are of each continent and country — have all advanced the study and understanding of geography, population, time and distance. The explorers and scientists of today owe a great debt to the pioneering mathematicians, astronomers and theologians of the ancient world.
Dating from 1472, this first edition Etymologiae also contains one of the earliest examples of roman type in Germany. The map, known as the "T-O map", (which stands for ‘orbis terrarium’) originated in the 5th century BC and was perpetuated, in a Christianised version, in manuscripts of the Etymologiae from the 8th century AD onwards. The Mediterranean separates Europe from Africa and the Red Sea, the River Don separates both from Asia. The whole is surrounded by the ocean, the "O", the divisions forming the letter "T".
The geographical concept of three continents and the land covering most of the earth is thus embodied, with Christendom satisfied by the central position of Jerusalem. The text is the great encyclopaedia of the early Middle Ages and was very widely studied and read, including aspects of law, medicine, language, geography and natural history. The map’s creator, Saint Isidore of Seville was the Archbishop of Seville for more than three decades, and was even referred to by a contemporary as "The last scholar of the ancient world". His Etymologia is considered one of the most significant volumes of miscellanies and compendia, in which the scientific findings of the time were summarised, and of which the map was a significant element.
The T-O map in this book beautifully demonstrates the human relationship to the classification of information, the legacy of which can still be felt today. Space travel has enabled not only exploration of the universe, but the advancement study of environmental issues. Whilst the first manned-flight into space was not until 1961, Galileo Galilei first turned his inquisitive eye to the heavens in the 16th Century.
Visual records mapping the acceleration of the melting of polar ice caps and wide-spread deforestation have been measured from space in recent years, with many astronauts adding their voices to the debates on climate change. American astronaut Michael López-Alegría said: "Less than 550 humans have orbited the Earth. Those of us lucky enough to have done so more than once have not only heard about the negative impact that the industrial age has had on our planet, we've seen it with our own eyes."
The first Earth Day was observed in 1970 in the and this year the focus is on elimination of plastic pollution from our oceans and other natural habitats. The promotional poster for the 1970 Earth Day was designed by the artist Robert Rauschenberg. Nearly 50 years later, the movement continues to gather pace as individuals and governments alike recognise the importance of acting now, and acting fast. The news has recently been filled with stories on the banning of plastic straws, a tax on plastic carrier bags and a drive to end the reliance on single-use plastics which have made their way in to the food chain, so prevalent are they in seas around the world. World leaders, anthropologists, climatologists, explorers and public figures such as David Attenborough and the late Professor Stephen Hawking have used this annual moment as their rallying cry to the world on the plight of the planet, and a recognition of the physical effect that an over-use of natural resources has on the earth.
Organisations such as Greenpeace, Google and NASA are committed to Earth Day, which is marked by more than a billion people globally every year, and is the largest secular observance in the world. As we look back at the historical documents that charted the earth in the scientific renaissance, we are reminded of man’s close relationship and fascination with the planet we inhabit — and our lasting impact on it.
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Read about 10 Maps That Changed the World.