National Library of Australia, Mapping Our World: Terra Incognita to Australia.
National Library of Australia, Canberra: 2013. Paperback, xxix & 256 pp., ISBN 9780642278098. $50.00
The exhibition catalogue Mapping Our World: Terra Incognita to Australia accompanies the map exhibition of the same title at the National Library of Australia (NLA), from 7 November 2013 to 10 March 2014. The catalogue features the earliest known world map, the Late Babylonian Map of the World (c. 6th century BC) to such "transitional" maps as Fra Mauro's Map of the World (1448-1453) and illustrates how Australia emerged as an idea from terra incognita to a delineated continent. The catalogue is segmented into five sections: "Ancient Conceptions of the World," "Medieval Religious Mapping," "The Age of Discovery," "The Dutch Golden Age," and "Europe and the South Pacific" and contains a select bibliography, glossary, and contributing authors, among other details. The colour maps and their provenance along with corresponding informative essays document a landmark exhibition. The maps are from various institutions, including the NLA's collections, the British Library, Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, National Museum of Australia, and private collections. The independent cartographic essays allow for dipping in and out of the catalogue, or, because the series of cartographic essays relate a narrative of Australia's history, for reading it from beginning to end. Additionally, the essays "Mapping Our World" by Nat Williams, "Terra Incognita to Australia" by Martin Woods and Susannah Helman, and "The Early Printed Maps Collection of the National Library of Australia" by Martin Woods introduce the catalogue. The last of these essays presents a history of the NLA's map collection, which began with a donation of 15,000 items from Edward Augustus Petherick (1847-1917) in 1911, and describes how the exhibition draws on a map exhibition held in London in 1895, organized by a committee that included Petherick. Just as the exhibition has ties to Petherick's efforts and experiences, the significance of this catalogue rests not only on its presentation of numerous beautiful cartographic specimens, but also on the relationship between mapping and human experience.
The first section "Ancient Conceptions of the World" consists of the previously mentioned Babylonian world map as well as examples of Aboriginal maps and maps as art, such as Five Dreamings (1984) by Michael Nelson Jakamarra assisted by Marjorie Napaltjarri. Peter Sutton describes Five Dreamings as a vision that "is not geocentric so much as egocentric and 'story-centric.' It is biographical as much as geographical, as much a narrative performance as a graphic act." (p.11). These maps that show early conceptions of the world introduce maps as both constructions and narratives to set the stage for later maps as they constructed the world and finally Australia as the catalogue demonstrates. The next section, "Medieval Religious Mapping" also illustrates these conceptions except more specifically through the geographic imagination of the medieval period, such as St. Isidore of Seville's T-O map in his The Etymologies (1500-1510) and the Psalter World Map (c.1265). On the other hand, ibn Ahmad Khalafs Astrolabe (10th century) demonstrates the sophistication of measuring instruments that were well-known and commonly used for terrestrial and maritime navigation.
Focusing on the east, the third section on the "Age of Discovery" explores the Mediterranean, India, the Indian Ocean, and Asia. This section presents maps by Fra. Mauro and Andreas Walsperger. The Mauro map, a centrepiece of the exhibition, is on loan outside the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice for the first time. Nat Williams describes this map as "a 'transitional' map of the world, a remarkably informative bridge between the late medieval period and the Renaissance" (p.47). Such "transitional" maps blended components of Portolan charts, Ptolemy's Geographia, and biblical themes. Similarly, Walsperger's World Map (1448) integrates elements of mappamundi with contemporaneous discoveries, a sea chart, and conventions of Arab geography and cosmography.
This section also addresses the "Age of Discovery" through celestial maps such as Johannes Honter's The Southern Constellations (1541) and Willem Jansz. Blaeu's Celestial Globe (1602).
The section also includes portolan charts and other elaborate manuscript maps. For example, the Dieppe Harleian or Dauphin Map (c. 1547) may have increased speculation about Australia, while maps like Oronce Fine's WorldMap (1532) perpetuated this speculation about the continent. Other important maps are those by Gerard Mercator and Abraham Ortelius. The final map in this section, Cyriaco Jacob zum Barth's Sphere of the Winds (1545), a windhead map, shows one of the earliest appearances of the term "Australia," 250 years prior to Matthew Flinders' circumnavigation of the continent. While highlighting transitional maps, this section reveals this age as one of transition in conceptions of cosmography, the world, and mapping. Likewise, the "Age of Discovery" functions as a transition within the catalogue.
The fourth section, "The Dutch Golden Age," focuses on Dutch mapping and includes maps by Petrus Plancius, Jan Huygen van Linschoten, Hessel Gerritsz, Johannes Janssonius, and Henricus Hondius. In addition to Dutch maps and charts, substantial content is devoted to the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (United East India Company, or VOC), established in 1602. The catalogue shows images of artefacts from the company, such as bowls, a VOC ship's log, and charts by Isaak de Graaf, the VOC's official mapmaker from 1705 until his death in 1743. Lastly, this section displays what Martin Woods describes as "New Holland's [Australia's] birth certificate" (p.139), Joan Blaeu's Eastern and Asian Archipelago (1663), because the map details Australia for the first time. Significantly, this map is based upon the discoveries of Abel Janszoon Tasman whose maps are also represented in the catalogue.
The final part of the catalogue, "Europe and the South Pacific," illumines maps predominately by the British and French who had competing interests in Australia. Other items of interest are the chronometer, journals, and illustrations. This section begins with Sir Robert Dudley's Carta particolare della costa Australe scoperta dall'Olandesi (1661) and John Thornton's A Draught of the Coast of New Holland, and Parts Adjacent (1703) and follows with Herman Moll's A Map of the World in William Dampier's A New Voyage Round the World (1697). In the accompanying essay, Granville Allen Mawer writes of the literary connection between Dampier's work and Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, which also incorporates maps by Moll. The catalogue displays Moll's map of the fanciful Houyhnhnms Land (1726). The manuscript charts by James Cook and details about his Pacific voyages are of particular interest for Australian discovery. In the corresponding entry, Susannah Helman discusses the collaborative nature of mapmaking, because of the controversy over the authorship of some of Cook's charts. Of note are the reference libraries carried on ships, such as Cook's and Dampier's. A couple of outstanding charts for their aesthetic appeal are Louis Claude de Saulces Freycinet's Chart of the North River, Van Diemen's Land (1802) and William Westall's views on the coasts of Australia (1802). Westall was an English landscape painter and a member of Flinders' expedition (1801-1803). This section, and thus the catalogue, closes with the charts of Flinders, who was inspired by Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe to join the Royal Navy in 1789 when he was fifteen. He began to draw his charts of Australia while incarcerated for six and a half years in Mauritius (1803-1810) for having offended Governor Charles Decaen. Flinders died four years later, the day after the publication of his A Voyage to Terra Australis in which he named Australia.
This catalogue uncovers the fascinating lives of various explorers and cartographers, their failures, disappointments, and achievements inscribed in their maps. For, Rupert Gerritsen observes, "The third sketch reflects Flinders' grief over the loss of eight crew members close to the aptly named Cape Catastrophe; he clearly cared a great deal for these men, and they all had islands named in their honouf' (p.220). As such, the catalogue carries the reader through human history entangled with its geography recorded in cartographic moments. Upon finishing reading the catalogue, the reader has not only time-travelled but also taken a cartographic journey from the cosmos to Australia. The catalogue consists of far too many important cartographic materials to do them justice in this review and is really about maps, their creators, and their milieux. Most significantly, this book successfully expands the Age of Discovery and resituates this discovery in the Pacific.
PhD Candidate: Media, Art, and Text
Virginia Commonwealth University
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2014|
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