Toby Lester — a longtime editor and writer for The Atlantic, and the author of The Fourth Part of the World (2009) — will be here to talk about what may well be the greatest map ever made: the Waldseemüller world map of 1507. A giant wall map recently purchased by the Library of Congress for the astonishing sum of $10 million, the map’s main claim to fame is that it gave America its name. But the map also represents a number of other important firsts in the history of cartography, and in the larger history of ideas.
It was the first map to show the New World surrounded by water, and thus to suggest the existence of the Pacific Ocean; it was one of the very first maps to lay out a picture of the world in a full 360 degrees of longitude; and it was the first map to present the contours of the world’s continents and oceans largely as we know them today. It was, in many ways, the mother of all modern world maps — and yet, mysteriously, it was made years before Europeans first saw the Pacific or circumnavigated the globe.
With the help of a weird and wonderful variety of early maps and diagrams, Lester will show how the Waldseemüller map for the first time brought together elements of many different ancient and medieval cartographic traditions and used them to create a map not only of space but also time — a map that Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired, after reading about it in The Fourth Part of the World, described as “a sixteenth-century Google Earth.”