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Typus Orbis Terrarum (Map of the World), 1607

CONTENT WARNING

Materials in the Library of Virginia’s collections contain historical terms, phrases, and images that are offensive to modern readers. These include demeaning and dehumanizing references to race, ethnicity, and nationality; enslaved or free status; physical and mental ability; and gender and sexual orientation. 

Context

Gerard Mercator was born March 5, 1512 in Flanders, now known as Belgium. Mercator was the son of a cobbler or shoemaker. He graduated from the University of Louvain in 1532, where he studied astronomy, geography, and mathematics. After he graduated, he worked as an engraver, calligrapher, geographer, and a maker of scientific instruments. Mercator published several maps of places around the world. He was a cartographer whose most important innovation was a map which flattened the spherical planet into a two – dimensional map. The latitude and longitude lines were drawn in a straight grid. It became known as the Mercator projection.  The landmasses are not necessarily in the correct proportions and sizes. Despite the distortions found in these maps, his maps were highly regarded and are still in use for navigational purposes today.  

This world map was created by Gerhard Mercator and published in 1607. It shows both western and eastern hemispheres, split into two circular halves, and includes latitude and longitude lines as a locational grid. The map divides the Old and New worlds. On the left, the Americas are illustrated. There are certain areas which were not fully explored and Mercator had minimal information from which to base his map. Interestingly, Mercator did get some land masses correct. For example, California appears as a peninsula. The right hand side of the map shows Africa and Europe, two continents which had been explored by 1607. Africa is divided into the principal colonial territories and kingdoms of the 16th Century. The Arabian Peninsula, parts of Asia, and Europe are shown to be connected as modern maps. The African Island of Madagascar and smaller islands in the Indian Ocean are shown as are the reefs in that area. The Asian depiction overestimates the size of New Guinea and underestimates the size of China, which was common in the period. The Persian and Ottoman Empires are represented on the map with demarcation lines showing the boundaries between the empires. Europe is shown with divisions reflecting the political boundaries from the 17th Century.

Citation: Mercator, Gerhard, (1512–1594). Typus Orbis Terrarum: Domini est Terra & Plenitudo Ejus, Orbis Uerrarum, & Universi Qui Habitant in Eo. Psalmo 24. Amsterdam, 1607. G3200 1607 .M4 Voorhees Collection. Library of Virginia.

Standards

History: USI.1, USI.2, USI.4, VUS.2, WG.1, WG.3, WHII.1, WHII.2

Science: 4.9, 5.6, ES.1, ES.8

Suggested Questions

Preview Activity

Look at it: Look at the map, what do you notice about it? Does it look similar or different to modern world maps? 

Post Activities

STEM Stat: During the 16th and 17th century, new geographic information was being provided by explorers.  Mercator projection maps were used for navigation of ships and were effective. In the 19th and 20th centuries, these maps were often misused and many misconceptions were developed. What misconceptions of the continents might one have in looking at this map?

Analysis: The map shows the political boundaries in Africa, Asia, and Europe. Why would this information have been helpful to explorers and navigators? 

Another Perspective: Take on the role of an early explorer or navigator. Make a list of geographical features you will need to be successful. Using the map, what information is present or missing which could impact the outcome of your expedition.