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Mapping Early Modern Worlds

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Mapping Terminology

The first sentence of Ptolemy’s Geography defines geography as "a picture of the whole part of the known world." By the time western Europeans could read a translation of Ptolemy, the "known world" was a lot larger than Ptolemy had ever imagined it could be, and it seemed to be expanding every year. Ptolemy’s distinction between Geography and Chorography made so much sense that it was adapted by Renaissance writers. To explain the difference, Ptolemy used an analogy with drawing: "geography is concerned with the depiction of the entire head, chorography with individual features such as an eye or an ear." That is, geography is concerned with the mapping of countries, chorography with the mapping and description of counties, cities, and other smaller divisions. Cartography refers to the actual science of drawing maps—carts or charts—from the Greek word meaning "leaf of paper."



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Peter Apian. Cosmographia. Antwerp, 1550.

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