May 25, 2015

Book Review—Mapping our World: Terra Incognita to Australia

Who thought a book about cartography could be so captivating? Based on an exhibition by the National Library of Australia, this fascinating book reveals the history of man’s conception of the world.

Showing how cultures perceived their world, the volume starts with the earliest extant map from the Babylonians and progresses through to early maps of Australia. Beautifully reproduced are the maps from these many ages, from the geometrically divided world of the ancients, to the medieval mappaemundi that combined the physical and temporal history of the world, through the mercantile maps of the age of exploration, leading to the early sketches of the Australian continent.

The interest goes further than the physical with the story of how people perceived themselves in their world, their conceptions of time and space, other lands and people. It reveals the peculiarities of these ideas (like the belief that the southern continents were not inhabited by decedents of Noah and therefore not human) as well as expelling our myths of the past (the ancients knew the earth was spherical and not flat). As the maps grow more familiar and detailed, so declines the strangeness of these conceptions of the cultures that produced them. What remains is the intrigue of these notions and the people who conceived them.

Mapping our World proves that cartography is more than just geography. It is culture, belief, humanity.

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