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Trading Territories: Mapping the Early Modern World [Hardcover]

Jerry Brotton
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 Nov 1997
Offering an account of the status of maps and geographical knowledge in the Early Modern world, this work focuses on how early European geographers mapped the territories of the Old World (Africa and South-East Asia). It contends that the historical preoccupation with Columbus's "discovery" of the New World in 1492 has tended to obscure the importance of the mapping of territories which have been defined as "eastern". The author places the rise of Early Modern mapping within the context of the seaborne commercial adventures of the early maritime empires - the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Ottoman, the Dutch and the English. He explores the ways in which maps and globes were used to mediate in the commercial and diplomatic disputes between these empires, which came to value the map for what it told their power-brokers about their place in the world, over and above its objective depiction of the world. Brotton argues that it was trade, diplomacy and financial speculation which defined the development of early maps and globes, rather than disinterested intellectual pursuit of scientific accuracy and objectivity.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press (6 Nov 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801434998
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801434990
  • Product Dimensions: 24 x 16 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,906,898 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


`In this outstanding study of maps and mapping, Jerry Brotton reveals a dynamism in the transaction between East and West beyond anything we have previously appreciated.'
--Lisa Jardine, Queen Mary University of London --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Author

A history of the geography of Trading Territories
Trading Territories emerged from a perennial fascination with old maps and atlases. I've always been intrigued by the apparent accuracy of medieval and Renaissance maps, particularly as their accuracy always seemed rather nominal; the beauty of an Ortelius map or a Mercator Atlas is undeniable; but surely they never actually got people from A to B, in the way that our good old ordnance survey maps do today? This led me to do a little research...

The result was Trading Territories. What I discovered as I delved into the history of Renaissance cartography and geography was that these relatively insignificant and belittled disciplines came to increasing prominence as a result of their inextricable relationship to the so-called 'Great Discoveries' of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the voyages of da Gama, Columbus, Diaz and Magellan.

Two things struck me very strongly as I pursued the development of these early maps of discovery. Firstly, they were not necessarily valued for the territory they claimed to depict; European travellers invested an almost magical, talismanic significance to their maps, clutching them in the face of adversity and cultural difference as symbols of their learning and supposed cultural superiority. Secondly, I began to realize that the historical and geographical focus on Columbus' 'discovery' of the New World in 1492 was only one dimension the interest of Renaissance geographers in the changing shape of the world. Most of their maps were even more concerned with the opening up of the East, of Diaz's circumnavigation of the Cape of Good Hope in 1488, da Gama's arrival in India in 1497, and Magellan's first circumnavigation of the globe in 1522 (which turned out to be a commercial venture to corner the market in spices from the Moluccas Islands in the Indonesian Archipelago). The bogeymen of Renaissance Europe, the Ottomans, turned out to be enthusiastic patrons of geography, trading maps with their Italian counterparts. In Trading Territories they appear not as the antithesis to the development of Renaissance learning, but as one of its most lavish supporters.

The book therefore pursued a geography of its own, as the chapters followed the development of Renaissance geography and its maps, from Portugal, down the west coast of Africa, round the Cape of Good Hope, via Constantinople, and onwards to India and the maps of the precious spice trade of the Moluccas Islands. Along the way came tales of geographical skullduggery; maps stolen, hidden, forged, deliberately distorted to satisfy the desires of their patrons. Maps, it became clear, inhabited a particularly significant dimension of Renaissance thinking. As the shape of the world came into increasing focus throughout this period, maps and the geographical imagination became particularly prized possessions. Maps were often a symbol of one's wealth, status and almost magical ability to possess knowledge of faraway places and peoples. It didn't matter that you might never have been there -- it was enough that you possessed 'the knowledge'!

Of course, by the eighteenth century such speculative investment in maps became increasingly redundant, as the impact of the Scientific Revolution allowed for increasingly precise and specific forms of measurement to circumvent the need for the earlier maps of Ptolemy, Frisius, Mercator and Ortelius. But this earlier, magical, speculative investment in maps is what I think draws us to these early images of the world. This is what I have tried to capture in Trading Territories. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A little gem 6 Mar 2001
By A Customer
Although this book is difficult to find in library catalogues, as it is not listed in relation to mapping, once found it is well worth reading and keeping a little note about. It is well written and contains a number of quite fascinating insights, notably about the Ottoman Empire as the not-so-Other to early Renaissance Europe as well as maps as commodities (not unlike those of commodity fetishism). For anyone interested in old maps it wonderfully contextualises the maps for what they were and how they were perceived at their time - ranging from the New World to the Spice Islands, following loosely in the steps of western expansion and trade as it got colonial. The only disappointment was and is that the author has not written a similar book about a later period as one would very much like to follow the tale as it is being told further. In short, a book that is pleasure to read and allows one to actually learn something of significance; a must in any serious a pile of books!
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Extremely Flawed 28 Aug 2007
Looking through various academic reviews for this book, I wonder if any academic figure has actually read it. The universal glowing praise for this work betrays a laziness and lack of attention on the part of those called upon to review it for various journals.

While Brotton tackles an interesting subject, and does indeed make interesting points at times, I find it hard to overlook the various errors that are peppered throughout its pages. For instance, Brotton refers to Pedro and Jorge Reinel as brothers - any historian of cartography surely knows that two of the most famous cartographers from the early modern period were father and son. Astonishingly, Brotton quotes from a letter written by Lopez de Siqueira to Joao III, describing how "Pedro Reinel came to me [...] and told me that he has been invited together with his son to enter the Emperor's service", and refers to the Reinels (not for the first time in the same chapter) as brothers in the following sentence.(p. 133) It is an error repeated throughout the chapter, made all the more incredulous by the fact that Brotton quotes more than one source referring to Pedro and Jorge Reinel as father and son, yet seems to overlook or ignore this, continually referring to them as brothers. Brotton cites the excellent Portugaliae Monumenta Cartographica by Armando Cortesao and Avelino Teixeira da Mota as a source, yet one questions whether he actually read this 6-volume masterpiece, dealing as it does in detail with the life and work of both Reinels.

One repeated error it may be, yet it represents exactly what is wrong with this book - poor research, inaccurate (and often confusing) guesswork, awful editing (Magellan's voyage around the globe is given as 1522), and generally lazy academia.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A must read for any early map enthousiast ! 10 Jan 1999
By A Customer - Published on
This book is refreshing in that it presents new or original relations between historical facts which you might be aware of, but which you come to see in a new light while reading. The reading journey brings you to early Portugese mapmakers, sailors and kings, the Ottoman empire and its relatively sophisticated geographical knowledge and how "European" mapmakers were influenced thereby in the early days of the Renaissance, to end with such wellknown cartographers as Mercator and Ortelius. The story of the Portuguese and the Spaniards that try to solve their conflicts after the Treaty of Tordesillas also (or perhaps primarily) with the help of smart map-makers has been told before, but Brotton tells it very interestingly by describing the conflict over the Moluccas. There is quite some interesting historical detail provided, also by making use of quotes from original sources, yet at the same time the broad story to be told is not forgotten. The book is digestible (about 200 pages), nicely illustrated and printed. It contains references, a bibliography for those who want some clue what to read more on some subjects, and the book has a good index.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A hidden pearl 1 Aug 2002
By Ashwin - Published on
It was my fascination with maps that drew me to this book. After reading Hapgood's classic, I doubted that any other book could do justice to Map making and sea-faring, in the manner dealt with by Hapgood.
However, this book has put map-making, colonialism, Portugese adventurism and trade into one little fast paced book. The book is written in simple english and is extremely readable. Brotton has treated the book like a movie, and it begins with a tapestry in the amazing marriage of two countries' rulers... and then slowly travels back in time into the importance of the tapestry and the marriage. In doing so, he wonderfully charts out the importance of the voyages of the Portugese, the critical significance of maps as a means to establish ones' territorial rights, and the very fine relationship between cartographers and the rulers.
This book also does the task of smashing some of the myths of Islamic empires being "barbarians", who did not invest in knowledge of the world. The book also integrates many different views and perspectives, and motives that drove the making of maps.
All in all, a very interesting and complete book, a little pearl of joy for its small size, and wonderfully glossy pages, and plethora of illustrations.
Read it even if you dont plan on buying it.
2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Dry Read 6 Oct 2007
By Malcolm Cleggett - Published on
Factual analysis that is good and presents information well. A few anecdotes could lighten the book up a bit but that's not the point of this book.
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