Maps and History

Jeremy Black shows how historical atlases have for centuries recorded more than objective fact.

Historical atlases have been generally neglected as a subject for scholarly study. They have to be distinguished from historic atlases, which have been widely studied. Historical atlases are works that at any one time depict earlier periods, as opposed to historic atlases - old works that depict the then contemporary world.

The pre-history of the historical atlas was a long one, for the characteristic works of that genre were preceded by others Out are less easy to define, notably individual maps depicting the Holy Land at the time of Christ, or the classical world, such as the map of ancient Greece produced by the Venetian cartographer Ferdinando Bertelli in 1563. Such maps would not have been regarded as historical in the same way as they are today. Without exactly being contemporary, their contents made up so large a part of people's intellectual baggage as to give them a distinctly contemporary tincture.

The first known historical alias, the Parergon of Abraham Ortell {Ortelius), was published in Antwerp in 1579, initially as part of his general atlas, but from 1624 as a separate work. The Parergon was followed by a number of other works. They shared a common subject: the world of the Bible and the classics. Knowledge of this world was seen as a vital aspect of genteel education and there was a growing sense that a cartographic perspective was important to this process.

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