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Geography, Cartography and Nautical Science in the Renaissance: The Impact of the Great Discoveries. .

W.G.L. Randles. Geography, Cartography and Nautical Science in the Renaissance: The Impact of the Great Discoveries.

(Variorum Collected Studies Series, 869.) Aldershot, England and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2000. xii + 354 pp. illus. map. $111.95. ISBN: 0-86078-836-9.

The advantages of the Variorum Collected Studies Series lie in their convenience and accessibility. The books gather together articles and book chapters of a single author often from lesser known periodicals, festschrifts, and proceedings of conferences that would otherwise take days to track down. This is certainly true in the fields of the history of cartography, the history of geographical discoveries, the history of geography, and the history of navigation, the subjects of this collection: the lifetime work in cartography, geography, and nautical science of W. G. L. Randles, former Directeur d'Etudes, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris. These specialized areas often escape the bibliographies of larger and more circumscribed fields. An added advantage is that the gathered articles are indexed, and the index to this volume is indeed copious and useful.

Of the nineteen essays, whose publication dates range from 1956 to 1998, many of the articles were published around the time of the Columbian quincentenary. The first, and by far the longest, essay (constituting about a fifth of the volume), deals with the development of the concepts trying to explain the relationship between the realms of water and land on earth. The opposing concepts of Crates (four symmetrical landmasses on the surface of the earth) and what Randles calls the Homeric model (the circular earth surrounded by a ring of Ocean) both gave way in the Renaissance to the Prolemaic view that regarded land and water as a unified terraqueous sphere. Since Randles often uses verbatim quotes from primary sources to illustrate his ideas, his essay functions effectively as an abbreviated sourcebook for these views.

The collection is not merely of previously published work. New English translations are provided of two articles on the Atlantic in European cartography and culture from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance (from the Italian) and the recovery of Ptolemy's Geography in Renaissance Italy and its impact in Spain and Portugal (first published in Portuguese). Also newly published is an addendum to a 1989 article on views of the Atlantic on the eve of Columbus' voyage summarizing the discovery of a manuscript in the Archivo General de Indias, an account of Columbus' second voyage addressed to the Catholic monarchs. The account includes a description a map showing the Atlantic with Spain and Africa on one side and the islands discovered in Columbus' first and second voyage on the other.

The disadvantages of the Variorum model are those of any miscellaneous collection. Subject matter and illustrations may be duplicated, articles may be outdated, and the physical format may not be internally consistent. In this volume, the physical inconsistencies are not generally a problem and in any case are unavoidable constraints of the format. Neither can anything be done about the datedness of some of the contributions, giving the collection the character of a medieval world map in which information of different periods is presented side by side. Several of the points Randles raises have long since been elucidated in the classical and medieval volume of the History of Cartography (mentioned only as a source for an illustration) and since then more fully in the contributions of new groups of classicists and medievalists interested in cartography. Some details have been cleared up by later work: Gasraldi's 1561 map, reported as lost (xix, 79) is now in the British Library; Roger Bacon's device for mapping (i, 113) has now been clarified in a chapter in Jeremiah Hackett's book of essays on Roger Bacon and the Sciences.

No less avoidable in a collection of this kind are the overlaps in subject matter and illustration, particularly in those articles dealing with the concepts of the Atlantic around the time of the Columbian voyages. Despite these and the other disadvantages of the format, the collection provides a most useful window into the work of a distinguished historian whose work has not only crossed several fields but also several linguistic and national traditions of Renaissance scholarship.
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Author:Woodward, David
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2003
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