Map Collection, University of Melbourne Library
The term ‘Age of Discovery’ is applied loosely to the voyages of exploration that occurred from the 15th to the 18th centuries. These voyages resulted in new lands being brought to light for Europeans. Consequently, their maps had to be updated with more accurately defined landmasses.
This map of the world by Stopendael is an updated version of Nicolas Visscher’s Orbis terrarum nova et accuritissima tabula(A new and very accurate map of the world) published in 1658. In Visscher’s map the world is depicted in four spheres: two large spheres for the northern and southern hemispheres, and two smaller circular projections of the poles. But in Stopendael’s version the two poles have been remade into depictions of planetary systems.
Showing the world as a double hemisphere became a cartographic convention, yet this map was not published in a standard atlas, but in a Bible. There are inaccuracies in both maps that would later be corrected; for example, California is shown as an island.
The elaborate border indicates this map’s role as a decorative document. The scenes and figures from classical mythology are the rape of Persephone (top left), Zeus in an eagle-drawn chariot (top right), Poseidon (bottom left) and Demeter (bottom right).
The University of Melbourne’s curriculum is rich and varied, and changes from year to year. For more teaching ideas, contact a collection manager.
Visit the Map Collection to view various examples of world maps. Compare a variety of examples at first hand and identify the differences.
Imaging the Environment
Describe the characteristics of different landmass-imaging techniques used in historical maps. Consider the role of decoration and colour, and the commercial imperatives of map production.
Migration and Development
In maps at the university, what evidence can you find of circumstances that can lead to human mobility?
Interpreting the Ancient World
How do maps reveal social, ethical and cultural contexts in studying the past and present? Compare a map based on Ptolemy with a 17th-century world map: how is the ancient past portrayed in each?
Discuss how landmasses have been affected by natural hazards on Earth. How are they reflected on the world’s map?
The Global Environment
Present a poster based on the evolution of our global environment as depicted in world maps. Pay attention to the influence of ancient astronomy, and the depiction of continents.
A History of Nature
Find five examples from the Map Collection that illustrate your knowledge of changes in the understanding of lands that have occurred in the Western world over the last 500 years.
Knowledge, Learning and Culture
Visit the Map Collection and, working in groups, examine maps and discuss how they transmit knowledge.
To learn more, visit the website of the Map Collection.
University of Melbourne Library, Plotting the island: Dreams, discovery and disaster (forthcoming, 2017).
National Library of Australia, Mapping our world: Terra Incognita to Australia, Canberra: National Library of Australia, 2013.