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Abraham Ortelius’s Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theatre of the Whole World ), published in Antwerp in 1570, is the first uniform, manageable modern atlas. Ortelius gathered together all the modern maps he could find and rendered them in a scale small enough to fit into the book. In doing so, he made the maps available to those who did not have the room to hang them on a wall; he brought the world to the reader in the format of a book that could fit on a table. Ortelius’s atlas was tremendously popular. Between 1570 and 1612, over 7300 copies were printed in 31 different editions and seven different languages. With this atlas, countless readers were able to explore the world from their armchairs.


Other maps enabled travelers to leave their chairs and to actually make their way to new destinations. John Ogilby’s Britannia is an atlas of all the principal roads in England and Wales. Depicting the roads between settlements in strip maps, and including landmarks and mileage, the maps allowed travelers to plan their routes from one place to the next. Although it was first printed in 1675 in a folio format, subsequent editions were pocket-sized, portable maps that kept their users on course during their voyages.


Like travelers over land, sailors needed reliable maps to guide them into port. In 1584-85, Lucas Janszoon Waghenaer published his Spieghel der Zeevaerdt (The Mariners Mirrour ) as a guide to those navigating ships along the costs of western Europe and the British Isles. Summarizing in one place all contemporary mathematical and astronomical knowledge necessary to position-finding, the book also included traditional sailing directions indicating channels, harbors, and other coastal features from a ship-board perspective. Waghenaer’s book was so popular that it gave rise to a new category of handbook, the “waggoner.”


The new form of the printed book—its portability, relative affordability, and mass production—created new uses for and users of maps.

Abraham Ortelius. Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. Antwerp, 1595

John Ogilby. Britannia Depicta. London, 1720.

Lucas Janszoon Waghenaer. Spieghel der Zeevaerdt. English. London, 1588?

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