Selected Maps from the Exhibit:

Moses Pitt (ca. 1654-96), The English Atlas (1680)
Moses Pitt was neither a cartographer nor a scholar, yet in 1670 he undertook a project that came to be called The English Atlas. Based on the concept of the Grand Atlas by Joan Blaeu, Pitt’s atlas was to consist of eleven volumes, but only four were completed (covering places “next to the North-pole,” Muscovy, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and the seventeen provinces of the Low Countries). Despite the seemingly difficult, if not unrealistic, task at hand, Pitt’s endeavor was backed by Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke. Pitt looked forward to printing a reissue of a Dutch atlas in an “English guise,” whereas his partners looked forward to the prospect of printing an up-to-date atlas. Conflicts of interest, economics, and lack of feasibility of the envisioned project eventually led to its demise. Courtesy of the Wisconsin State Historical Society.

Herman Moll (ca. 1655-1732), The World Described (1715-20)
Herman Moll’s atlas is considered an outstanding general atlas of the period. The collection of maps illustrates Moll’s engraving skills as well as excellent examples of his notation. The significance of The World Described lay in the quality of the individual maps, several of which were know known for their additions and details, for example, insets illustrating harbors and coastal details as seen here. Courtesy of the Wisconsin State Historical Society.

John Ogilby (1600-1676), The Road from London to Dover
John Ogilby’s book of the road-systems of England and Wales has been described as the first precursor to the modern road atlas. Its construction is indeed similar to a contemporary trip-tik. It was drawn from a measured survey on a scale of one inch to the mile. The particular genius of the strip map format that Ogilby adopted in his work is its ability to narrate stages along a particular route by pointing out the landmarks, crossroads, and countryside that the traveler would pass and noting the distance in miles along the route between each. The resulting volume emphasized the pathways of movement throughout the English countryside, rather than regional or local detail and orientation. Their structure reflects the new need for maps at a time when domestic travel for business had rapidly grown–as suggested by the labeling of “the Post Roads for conveying Letters missive to and from this Great Center [i.e., London].” Roads are marked by three scales: distance as measured by customary reckoning, by the “direct horizontal” mile measured off of a map, and by the measurements he had taken of roads with a “wheel dimensurator.” Ogilby’s was the first atlas to consistently record the “postal miles” whose length (1760 yards) had been prescribed by statute in 1593. Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library.

Peter Apian (1495-1552), Cosmographia (1574)
The work of Peter Apian was informed by his studies of mathematics at Vienna during the 1520s. He began to publish maps immediately after finishing his degree. As with much of his later work, his maps were largely based on astronomy and mathematical geography. The Cosmographicus liber was first printed in Landshut, in Bavaria, in 1524, and was reissued and enlarged by Apian’s student Gemma Frisius in 1533. It followed the common labor-saving practice of integrating stereotype metal labels in wood-block. Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library.

Braun and Hogenberg, Civitates orbis terrarum (1572-1618)
The popular Civitates orbis terrarum was compiled by Georg Braun (1541-1622) of Cologne and Frans Hogenberg (1535-1622) of Mechlen, Belgium, and includes maps of over 500 cities, most of which are European. The book was such a commercial success that it was reprinted repeatedly over forty-five years and expanded by its editors to six volumes. Hogenberg helped compile the plates for the volumes and personally engraved 363 of the plates, many from the drawings of the artist Jovis Hoefnagel (1542-1600) and later from those of Hoefnagel’s son Jacob. Most of the maps are oblique or bird’s-eye views depicting the roads, streets, and prominent buildings, churches, and monuments of each city. The wealth of detail in these images suggests the economic vitality of each town and the status and costume of citizens from all sectors of society. The idealized tranquility of each city belies the fact that the maps were made during violent wars of religion and independence.
The view of Venice is that of 1565 by Bolognino Zaltieri (fl. 1560-80))—a feast for the eyes reflecting the wealth and architectural richness of the Serenissima. It references 188 buildings, bridges, and areas of the city by number, and it individually identifies many more of the canals, churches, and surrounding islands. Few have changed today. The image is a celebration of the city’s political power as much as a spatial guide to its monuments and form. The wide variety of ships in the image underscores Venice’s naval and economic dominance in the Adriatic. The political identity of the city is emphasized by the inclusion of a ceremonial procession of the Doge and members of the patriciate Senate of the city, here shown in formal dress, depicted in the center insert in the image’s lower panel. Courtesy of the Wisconsin State Historical Society.

Le Neptune François (1693)
A commissioned group of mathematicians and astronomers from the Académie Royale des Sciences worked together to map the coasts of the European continent from Norway to Gibraltar. Their efforts resulted in this magnificently engraved nautical atlas of twenty-nine leaves published in Amsterdam. The person responsible for the production of the maps, Alexis-Hubert Jaillot (1632-1712), started his career as a sculptor but soon followed his father-in-law into the mapmaking profession and later assumed the position of royal geographer. Courtesy of the Wisconsin State Historical Society.

Theodore de Bry (1528-98), Map of Africa (1599)
De Bry was an engraver in Cologne who took advantage of the increased commerce in maps during the sixteenth century. His maps of the Americas were so popular that they were reprinted and adapted through the mid-seventeenth century because of their rich naturalistic and ethnographic information. This map is from a volume that describes the Congo and uses an Italian map printed in 1591 and designed by Filippo Pigafetta as its source. Whereas DeBry’s images of the Americas provided a common view of other cultures and valorized present-day Europe over the customs of native culture, this map does not contain ethnographic information. The map is a remarkably accurate view of the coast and Horn of Africa although much of the interior is fictional. Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library.

Reinier Ottens (1698-1750) and Josua Ottens (1704-65), Atlas Major (1745)
Joachim Ottens, father and founder of the print- and map-sellers firm, was by profession a copper engraver. After his death in 1719, two of his sons, Reinier and Josua, along with his widow continued the business. Otten’s greatest fame came from the multi-volume atlases of Dutch maps assembled to order like the Atlas Major. This atlas contains star maps for both the northern and southern hemispheres in flat planispheric form centered on the ecliptic poles. The Southern hemisphere, shown above, depicts constellations with strong color images that nearly overwhelm the astronomical details. Courtesy of the Wisconsin State Historical Society.

Aaron Rathborne (1572-1618), The Surveyor in Foure Bookes (1616)
Rathborne was a prominent engraver and professional surveyor. His book belongs to a rich tradition of surveying treatises that appeared in England from 1577 to the mid-seventeenth century, following Leonard Digges’s publication of instruments for topographical measurements (prototypes of the modern theodolite) in the 1570s. Rathborne’s praise of Digges’s “theodolite” and his description of a new “instrument topographicall” suggest the increasing interest in surveying skills among those who were not specifically trained in mathematics. Although written in a highly technical style for the period, which tended to make the book more appealing to the trained and educated writer than the practicing surveyor, it remained in constant use for over a quarter of a century. Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library.

Abraham Ortelius, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Antwerp, 1570)
Abraham Ortelius compiled the first systematic atlas in which maps from different sources were edited and reduced to a common format. His world map, a simplified one-sheet reduction of Mercator’s famous 1569 world map but now on an oval projection, was copied widely in the sixteenth century. Three plates were used for the world map, of which this is the first. Four printings of the atlas in which it appeared (here preserved in its original full leather binding) were made in 1570. The quotation by Cicero at the foot of the map asks the reader what power they will see in a map that shows all of eternity and the whole world as being great in human affairs. Courtesy of the Wisconsin State Historical Society.

Lorenz Fries from Ptolemy’s Geographicae (1541)
The printing history of these woodcut maps for Ptolemy’s ancient text suggest the strong interest in mapping Europe during the middle of the sixteenth century. This map reuses one of several plates designed in Strasbourg by Lorenz Fries. These, in turn, were reduced versions of the twenty “modern” or revised maps of Martin Waldseemüller (1513). Fries was an Alsatian physician and astrologer who had studied in Italy, had written a treatise on the spas in Germany and Switzerland, and became involved in the republication of Waldseemüller’s maps with Peter Apian in 1520. This particular edition was edited in Lyons by Michael Villanovus (or Servetus), who was tried for heresy and burned at the stake by Calvinists in Geneva in 1553. One of the accusations for which he was tried was ostensibly using the label “infertile” in his 1522 map of the Holy Land. Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library.

Nicolas Sanson d’Abbeville (1600-1667), Ameriqve Septentrionale (1650)
First published in 1650 and considered one of the most important maps of North America during the seventeenth century, Ameriqve Septentrionaleoffered several insights into the New World. The single-sheet copper engraved map depicts North America, the Caribbean islands, and part of the northern coast of South America. Sanson relied primarily on reports from missionaries, explorers, and travel accounts to gather the information. All five Great Lakes are depicted, and lakes Ontario and Superior are named for the first time. Courtesy of the Wisconsin State Historical Society.

W[illiam] Folkingham, Feudigraphia (1610)
The term “surveying” originally applied only to the description and assessment of land as the subtitles of Folkingham’s book suggests (“Anatomizing the whole corps of the facultie, viz. the materiall, mathematicall, mechanicall and legall parts: intimating all the incidents to fees and possessions, and whatsoeuer may be comprized vnder their matter, forme, proprietie, and valuation: very pertinent to be perused of all those, whom the right, reuenewe, estimation, farming, occupation, manurance, subduing, preparing and imploying of arable, medow, pasture, and all other plots doe concerne….”). Measurement and mapping were added only later. William Folkingham’s book, which was intended as a guide for those acquiring land in Ireland or Virginia, contains little in the way of mapping methods except the use of the plane table and chain. Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library.

Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514), Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)
This map of northern Europe follows an earlier prototype designed by Claudius Clavus (Swart, Svartbo) (b. 1388), who sought to provide a map of an area of Europe not described by Ptolemy in the Geography. The humanist Schedel used the map as an endpaper for the world chronicle that he designed at great expense; the prominent position he gave Clavus’s map in the volume shows his interest in Ptolemy’s techniques of cartographic projection. The volume was printed in Nuremberg and unites a range of city views and regional maps to Schedel’s specifications. Many of its maps were borrowed from other sources. The cost of its production made it prohibitively expensive, and it failed as a publishing venture. Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library.

Guillaume Delisle (1675-1726), La Louisiane (1718)
This map was issued in Paris by Delisle and proved to be perhaps his most influential. He used it to support French authority in the New World, claiming the Carolinas for France, and to illustrate how the British Colonies were surrounding the French possessions in the west. The map has several features that contributed to its influence. In addition to presenting the first detailed depiction of the Mississippi Valley and delta, Delisle included the routes of early explorers, including De Soto and La Salle, as well as the phrase “Mission de los Teijas etablie en 1716,” an early form of the place-name Texas. Courtesy of the Wisconsin State Historical Society.

Willam Faden (1750-1836), The North American Atlas (1777)
Published in London, this atlas is considered important for its treatment of the American Revolutionary War. Regional maps as well as detailed battle plans drawn by eyewitness observers are included in the atlas. The British made use of several of the maps, including “A Plan of Boston Harbor from an Accurate Survey.” Courtesy of the Wisconsin State Historical Society.

 About the Exhibit

“Windows on the World” reveals to the general public and university community some of the many historical map resources currently available in University of Wisconsin library collections. These cartographic treasures are often overlooked, embedded as they are in a huge library system that must respond to dozens of demanding undergraduate and graduate programs. We hope that this exhibit will remind scholars not only in the history of cartography and the historical geography of the Midwest but the general public as well of these rich primary collections.

The collections of early atlases at the Wisconsin State Historical Society rivals that of any other historical society. We find there the first edition of Ortelius’s famous 1570 atlas, often called the “first modern atlas.” Moreover, there is a selection of the standard sixteenth to eighteenth century atlases acquired at the turn of the twentieth century when they were still available as whole volumes. (Shortly after these acquisitions, dealers began to break up the volumes.) That selection includes works by some of the most well-known cartographers and publishers.

In the UW Memorial Library Department of Special Collections cartographic and history of science resources (often but not always in the magnificent Chester H. Thordarson Collection), we find editions of Ptolemy, Ogilby, and De Bry, a growing number of rare surveying manuals and works on astronomical cartography, and a large collection of separate maps of Ireland. These holdings are in addition to the hundreds of rare maps in travel books of the period. One can consult the exhibition catalog for “Images of Asia,” an exhibit the History of Cartography Project organized in 1987, for a hint of the richness of this collection.

The “Windows on the World” exhibit launched on the occasion of the 24th annual Institute for Research in the Humanities Burdick-Vary symposium (6-8 April 2000). The symposium focused on cartography in the European Renaissance and was intended as a forum for issues arising out of the research for Volume Three of the History of Cartography Project.


Karen Bianucci expertly bore the brunt of most of the organization, aided by Beth Freundlich, Jude Leimer, Daniel Brownstein, Howard Schwartz, and Dana Freiburger. The Project also thanks Robin Rider of Special Collections and Geraldine Strey of the State Historical Society, from whose repositories the maps were selected, and to Cheryl Peterson of the Lake Mills-Aztalan Historical Society Museum for the loan of a surveyor’s compass, for their fruitful collaboration and enthusiastic help.