Monday, April 30, 2007

A 500-year-old map of the world that used the name “America” for the first time soon will be on display for all to see, after the German chancellor yesterday officially handed it over to U.S. lawmakers and the Library of Congress.

Chancellor Angela Merkel formally presented U.S. officials with the 1507 map by German cartographer Martin Waldseemueller, which is the first document to assign the name “America” to the New World.

The Library of Congress purchased the map in 2003 from a German prince for $10 million, using money from Congress and private sources. The ceremony yesterday completed the transaction.

The map goes on permanent public display in the Library of Congress beginning in December.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, thanked Germany and accepted the map, which often is called “America’s birth certificate.”

“This is an important day for our country and for this library,” said Mr. Hoyer, calling the map a “treasure.”

Mrs. Merkel thanked the United States for helping Germany rebuild after World War II and for the ongoing friendly relationship between the two countries.

“This is truly a great day,” she said. “We will send a lot of visitors over from Germany to see this.”

The map is the first image outlining the continents as known today, according to the Library of Congress, and consists of 12 panels that together measure 4 feet by 8 feet. Its Latin title is “Universalis cosmographia secunda Ptholemei traditionem et Americi Vespucci aliorum que lustrationes,” which translates as “a drawing of the whole Earth following the tradition of Ptolemy and the travels of Amerigo Vespucci and others.”

It is the first map to show the Pacific Ocean as a separate body of water, and the first to depict a separate and full Western Hemisphere, according to the Library of Congress.

Waldseemueller and a team created the map in France, based on information from voyages of Vespucci, Christopher Columbus and others, according to the Library of Congress. It had been lost until 1901, when it was rediscovered at Waldburg Castle in Wolfegg in the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg.

Although its depictions of continents look “remarkably accurate” today, it probably caused “quite a stir” in Europe for departing from the accepted views of the world at that time, which were based on the work of Greek geographer Claudius Ptolemy, stated a 2003 article by John R. Hebert, chief of the Library of Congress’ Geography and Map Division.

“Its appearance undoubtedly ignited considerable debate in Europe regarding its conclusions that an unknown continent … existed between two huge bodies of water, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and was separated from the classical world of Ptolemy, which had been confined to the continents of Europe, Africa and Asia,” Mr. Hebert wrote.

Waldseemueller used the term America to honor Vespucci’s view that the land Columbus reached in 1492 and subsequent voyages was a previously unknown continent, Mr. Hebert said. Columbus thought he had reached the eastern fringes of Asia.

Mr. Hebert said mysteries are still associated with the map, including how Waldseemueller was able to calculate the width of South America with 80 percent accuracy when trips to the west coast of South America aren’t recorded until later.

“It certainly is a historically significant and important map,” said H.C. Erik Midelfort, a University of Virginia history professor. “It’s just astonishing.”

Mr. Midelfort said the map displays information about Africa and other areas that would have generated “fascination” in Europe at the time. He said the word “America” is placed in South America, so the United States claiming it as its own may be “contentious or problematic” to some.

Mr. Herbert said the term “America” refers to both North and South America.

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide