Cartography and Travel Literature in Europe (16th-17th Century): Mapping Space and Power
This article discusses the development of cartography and travel literature in Europe from the 16th to 17th century. Cartographers such as Waldseemüller and Mercator created large wall maps and atlases that linked space and power, with maps even determining the routes of armies invading countries. Travel literature became popular among the educated European elite, with printed itineraries and travel diaries. The size, comfort and cleanliness of inns, for example, were important to Montaigne.
Table of Contents
- Development of Cartography in Europe
- Cartographers Waldseemüller and Mercator
- Travel Literature Among the European Elite
- Printed Itineraries and Travel Diaries
- Role of Inns in Travel Literature
- Writing and Literacy in Europe
Development of Cartography in Europe
The 16th and early 17th century saw a significant expansion in the definition and distribution of knowledge, and the transportation of knowledge was transformed by innovations in travel, postal systems, and printing. Access to information was promoted by reference works such as atlases, gazetteers, dictionaries, and encyclopedias. Map-making was one of the many ways in which the growing horizon of knowledge was exemplified.
Cartographers Waldseemüller and Mercator
Cartographers such as Waldseemüller and Mercator created large wall maps and atlases that linked space and power. The Dutch East India Company’s geographical intelligence is measured in the maps distributed by its Amsterdam cartographic publisher. Prodigious amounts of detail were added to maps as a result of collated information from pilots, sailors, captains, explorers, cartographers, and mathematicians. Waldseemüller, an educated humanist from Freiburg, initially led the way, and his work influenced other cartographers for years.
Travel Literature Among the European Elite
Travel literature became popular among the educated European elite. The travel diaries of Thomas Coryat and Fynes Moryson were among the earliest and most famous examples of this expanding genre. The accounts were written with humor and anecdotes and were informative as well as entertaining. They combined adventure, curiosities, ethnography, scientific inquiry, and moral edification and included stories from the New World that were the equivalent of science fiction.
Printed Itineraries and Travel Diaries
Printed itineraries and travel diaries became important staples for publishers. They were often tailored to the non-specialist reader and featured a combination of informative and entertaining content. Printed accounts of travels to the Holy Land during the Crusades, for example, were popular and were widely circulated throughout Europe.
Role of Inns in Travel Literature
The size, comfort, and cleanliness of inns were an important feature of travel literature. Montaigne, the French philosopher, was a vocal critic of inns and wrote about his experiences in his essays. The diarists who traveled after him followed the advice contained in the advice-books on the ‘science of travel’ (ars apodemica) and recorded their experiences in a more systematic way.
Writing and Literacy in Europe
Historians suggest that half the population of 16th-century London could read and write, but literacy in Europe was most marked in towns. Writing was a harder and more time-consuming skill to acquire, but writing-masters and school-masters published copybooks to democratize the process. Trade guilds demanded literacy from their apprentices, and technical manuals were published for a literate, artisan laity who had acquired functional literacy. Functional literacy was often first-generation literacy and accommodated well-established patterns of sociability where reading was carried out aloud.
In conclusion, the development of cartography and travel literature played a significant role in shaping the perception and understanding of space and power in Europe. Cartographers created detailed and accurate maps that were used to determine the routes of armies invading countries, while travel literature provided an entertaining and informative look into the lives and experiences of those who travelled. The development of cartography and travel literature was a reflection of the expanding definition and distribution of knowledge, and how it was transformed by innovations in travel, postal systems, and printing.