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You might call Henricus Martellus’s 1491 world map — which many believe Christopher Columbus consulted before setting out on his voyage — a symbol of the limits of human knowledge. Historians have long known it contained a bounty of information, but it had been obscured and darkened with age. Only recently have technological advancements allowed them to begin deciphering it — and its outdated details — more fully.
As reported by Smithsonian Magazine, a five-member team from the nonprofit Early Manuscripts Electronic Library has applied spectral imaging to the map, held by the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University, to reveal its invisible details. With funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and equipment from the Lazarus Project, the researchers took more than 50 overlapping photographs of the 6-by-4-foot map in 12 reflective hues of infrared and ultraviolet light. Next, they digitally combined them all to create a single image. It is, as they expected, chock-full of newly accessible information, including hundreds of names and 60 written descriptions of places.
But the world it presents seems drawn as much from fantasy as from fact. It’s inhabited by bizarre creatures like one-eyed sea monsters and beguiling sirens, as well as comically mythical foreign natives. A text box over northern Asia describes the Balor, a people who swear off alcohol and subsist entirely on deer meat. Another above southern Asia claims its inhabitants, the “Panoti,” have ears so big they can pull them down around their bodies for warmth.
It’s hard to know whether Columbus believed these tales, but he certainly seems to have used the map while planning his infamous 1492 voyage, as Chet Van Duzer, the map historian leading the project, told YaleNews. Duzer pointed to the evidence that Columbus’s son Ferdinand once recounted how his father had expected to find Japan in the west, where it appears on Martellus’s map. Also, a journal written by one of Columbus’s crew members describes southern Asia much as Martellus drew it.
Van Duzer told Smithsonian that the map is “a missing link in our understanding of people’s conception of the world.” It reveals the boundaries of knowledge in Columbus’s day and shows how misinformation can change the course of history. And given just how much bigger we now know the universe to be, it also suggests, by way of example, the potential magnitude of our own ignorance.
“Black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants—11.3 per 1,000 black babies, compared with 4.9 per 1,000 white babies, according to the most recent government data—a racial disparity that is actually wider than in 1850, 15 years before the end of slavery, when most black women were…
he ownership of images has a long and nuanced legal history, which has evolved dramatically in recent years as cultural standards and photographic technologies have rapidly advanced
The show, which honors the 50th anniversary of an exhibition history once ignored, continues a series of projects documenting Wilmington’s contemporary art scene.
Renty and his daughter Delia. Renty was an enslaved African, kidnapped from the Congo, sold and forced into slave labor on the South Carolina plantation of B.F. Taylor
What is the relation between possessing a person, possessing their image, and dispossessing their progeny
As a scholar of African American history and photography whose work has focused on the status of violent images in museums and archives, I fully support the validity of Ms. Tamara Lanier’s claim and the amicus brief.
Two K-12 art teachers will each receive a $1,000 cash gift and an additional $500 to put toward classroom art supplies. Nominations are due October 31.
The daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor, Delia, Drana, Alfred, Jack, George Fassena, and Jem remained in an unused storage cabinet until 1975, when it was discovered by an employee of the Peabody Museum.
I am writing in support of the amicus curiae brief submitted by Professor Ariella Aïsha Azoulay of Brown University for the full restitution of the daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor and his daughter Delia, currently held by Harvard University, to their familial descendant, Tamara Lanier.
We cannot be indifferent to the long-lasting effects of photography. The photographs at the center of Lanier v. Harvard are relentless in making Renty and Delia Taylor work and perform as slaves. The pain inflicted on them has not ceased. Photography has the capacity to propagate harm, and we have the moral obligation to interrupt…