13 January 2013

Triviality I: Geography

This is a random topic to talk about, mainly because it's rather disconnected from what I've talked about. But this, I feel, needs to be written down, instead of my Moleskine-poster boy rants. :)
This will be a new "column", as it were, called Triviality, where I take a subject and expound a bit on something trivial about it. Hence Triviality. Today's topic? Geography.

 I love geography and cartography. A pastime of mine is making large-scale, detailed maps of fictional lands in my stories in a sketchbook I have. But I've always loved geography, too. When I was 4, I had this globe - talking, of course, and a Quantum Pad. That thing was the BEST! Before LeapFrog changed and dumbed-down and made Disney iPads (by the way, I should mention I HATE Disney with a PASSION, but that's a story for another time), there was the Quantum Pad.
Look. And revel in the beauty and complexity
that was 2003 technology for kids.

Amazing, isn't it? My favorite book for it was "World Geography". And it was there I learned my geography.

It taught me the 190 countries there were back then, with the countries' anthems, density, population, resources, cultures, and God knows what else. It was amazing.

And then there were stationery shops. As a kid when I would go to my family's ancestral town down in Mexico, I would keep journals. (Wonder where those are?) And I would buy notebooks and pens at these awesome stationery shops-convenience stores.  I remember 2 in particular. And I would buy my notebooks and pens and snacks there. And it was there I learned my geography further, for the shops would sell mapamundis (world maps) and astonishingly detailed maps of the continents.

Of course, they were in Spanish, so that gave me the added benefit of learning geography AND the Spanish name for countries, which in turn taught me about eponyms and such. But now, I'd like to talk about the main topic this evening: medieval maps, back when people were so woefully, sadly ignorant of the shape the world was.

There are 3 maps of special importance: Gerard Kremer (Gerardus Mercator)'s 1596 map, Albertinus de Virga's map in 1412, and Martin Waldseemuller's 1507 map. 

Waldseemuller's was the most accurate by far. de Virga's mappamundi disappeared or was taken by a Cahill, whether you believe history or a completely overpriced mainstream book series that attempts to explain medieval history to kids. Mercator's map was good, he invented the atlas, he Latinized his name to something cool, but his mapmaking techniques were just distorted. The "Mercator Technique" I believe it's called, creates distortions near the poles, making Greenland bigger than Africa. (It's smaller than Mexico, I'm sure. Correct me if I'm wrong.)

America? Ameryk? Whatevs.
That leaves the German cartographer Waldseemuller. Everyone gives old Martin the honour of "naming America after Amerigo Vespucci!" This is completely inaccurate. Let me explain.
Back then, people DID NOT name countries and territories after their first name. They did it after their last. So, "Vesperia" for Damien Vesper, :), "Mirandania" for me, ""Delaware" after Lord De La Warr, and "Bolivia" after the revolutionary Simon Bolivar. 

I follow with Messrs. John and Mitchinson (who wrote the brilliant "Book of General Ignorance" and whom I borrow their notes as I type this) when they say it was named after the captain Richard Ameryk, who traveled around that area. So, sorry Vespucci. (On the bright side, at least we're not the United States of Vespuccia.) 

But I digress. And that is today's topic. Hope you learned something.



  1. I would love to hear the Disney story.

  2. Hi Rob, great blogg you have here keep up the good work. Im from another country learning english so pardon my writing, I like learning new things and found this useful hope to read more. I hesitated to write I am very shy but people like you make the diference. I will keep reading your blog, cheers and good luck.
    By the way greenland is indeed bigger than mexico greenland having 836,109 sq mi and mexico having 761,606 sq mi

  3. @Erika: I will post it someday, someday indeed. And can I keep calling you that?

    @Anon: Thank you for your comment! Your English is very good, and I appreciate you commenting.

    I'll be making a Triviality segment every week or so, so if you want to know more, stick around! :) And I knew Greenland was big, but I didn't look it up. Thanks! :)

    1. Well, sooner rather than later. And yes, you may call me that.