Missed anniversary: Naming of Americas

April 29, 2009

Waldseemuellers 1507 map that named the Americas.  Library of Congress image.  Click on the map for access to a very high resolution image.

Waldseemueller's 1507 map that named the America's. Library of Congress image. Click on the map for access to a very high resolution image.

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.

Martin Waldseemueller, German cartographer who named the New World after Amerigo Vespucci on his 1507 map -- from a painting by Gaston Save, circa 1900

Martin Waldseemueller, German cartographer who named the New World after Amerigo Vespucci on his 1507 map -- from a painting by Gaston Save, circa 1900

Waldseemueller’s map was published in 1507, on April 25.

The one surviving copy of the map was purchased by the Library of Congress for $10 million, in 2001.

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.

Resources:

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.


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