The epic story of the map that gave America its name
St-Dié-des-Vosges is a small, leafy town in the Meurthe valley in north-east France. It lies 68km south-west of Strasbourg in France, 93km north-west of Basel in Switzerland and 74km north-west of Freiburg in Germany. Today, due to modern maps and precise methods of measuring longitude and latitude, we can pinpoint exactly where it is on the planet. However, a few hundred years ago, when much of the world was mysterious and unknown, a group of European humanists came together here to produce an extraordinary map of the world – one that differed radically from what came before, and whose effects are still with us today. This town is responsible for giving the entire continent of America its name.
The map, printed in 1507, measured about 1.4m by 2.4m, a size that matched its grand ambition to portray the world in its entirety. And indeed, it did depict more of the world than ever before. For centuries, Europeans had believed that the world was made up of three landmasses: Asia, Africa and Europe, with Jerusalem at its centre. That’s why Italian explorer and coloniser for Spain, Christopher Columbus, had gone to his deathbed just a year earlier believing that where he had landed in the Americas was just another part of Asia. However, this new map depicted a fourth part of the world for the first time. To the left of Europe, it showed a long, thin version of South America, with a small-sized North America above it. The new continent was surrounded by water, and, on the part that is known today as Brazil, the map-makers placed a name: America.
This milestone in cartography is known as the Waldseemüller map, after the German humanist who drew it. But Martin Waldseemüller was just one of a group of scholars who Walter Lud, the canon of the church of St-Dié-des-Vosges, brought together in this town. Lud was particularly interested in cosmography – the study of the Earth and its place in the universe – and wanted to create a picture of the world that combined ancient knowledge with the new reports coming in from the voyages that were taking place at the time. To this end, he secured funding from René II, Duke of Lorraine, to set up a printing press called Gymnasium Vosagense and assembled a team that included Waldseemüller and another German humanist, Matthias Ringmann. According to Toby Lester, author of The Fourth Part of the World: The Race to the Ends of the Earth, and the Epic Story of the Map that Gave America its Name, Ringmann took the lead in writing the book that was printed along with the map and almost certainly coined the name America.
舆图绘制史上的里程碑当属瓦尔德泽米勒舆图（Waldseemüller map），它出自德邦人文主义者之手。不过瓦尔德泽米勒（Martin Waldseemüller）只是一群学者傍边的一员，这群学者正在孚日圣迪耶教堂咏礼司铎（天主教会圣职）谈德（Walter Lud）的集结下来到这座幼镇。谈德对宇宙学（研讨地球以及它正在宇宙中位置的科学）特别感兴致，想创作一幅世界图景，将古代知识和当下正正在举行的航海探险的新发明相结合。为此他从洛林公爵（Duke of Lorraine）勒內二世（René II）那里获得赞助，开办了一家名为吉姆纳士沃萨根（Gymnasium Vosagense）的印刷社，并组建了一个团队，团队成员蕴含瓦尔德泽米勒和另一位德邦人文主义者林曼（Matthias Ringmann）。《世界上的第四部分：通往地球尽头的竞逐，伟大的舆图史话，美洲之名的由来》（The Fourth Part of the World: The Race to the Ends of the Earth, and the Epic Story of the Map that Gave America）的作家莱斯特（Toby Lester）说，林曼带头编写了一本书，这本书和舆图一路印刷，的确能够注定的是，美洲得名正是因为这本书。