According to the Associated Press, Marin Waldseemueller is the cartographer who decided to name the New World continents after Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian navigator who had made a voyage to the Americas and then wrote a book about what he saw. The book sold well in Europe, but became a runaway when an unscrupulous printer spiced up Vespucci’s story with tales of sex.
Waldseemueller’s map was published in 1507, on April 25.
Vespucci’s account described land and peoples that clearly were not from East Asia, to canny and alert readers. Waldseemueller was widely read, and on the basis of Vespucci’s account and other accounts from China, concluded the lands Columbus discovered were separate from Asia.
Waldseemueller accurately protrayed the width of South America to within 70 miles in some places, and appears to have been the first to predict the presence of a wide ocean between the Americas and Asia — the Pacific not being “discovered” by Europeans until 1513, six years after this map.
- Washington Post story by David Brown, from 2008, on Waldseemueller’s remarkable display of knowledge not widely held at the time; map images from the Post
- Library of Congress article, “The Map That Named America“
- The map and story, Library of Congress Map Room
- Lesson plan from Library of Congress, grades 6-8
- Waldseemueller removed the Pacific from an 1816 map; story at Bioephemera
- John W. Hessler’s book on the map, The Naming of America
- Warping History: Mathematical Methods in Historical Cartometry, an entire blog dedicated to this map, by John W. Hessler
- Library of Congress lecture by Hessler, on RealPlayer video
Big thanks to Jessica Palmer at Bioephemera for those last two resources; her report on the display of the map at the Library of Congress is really, really useful.