Geography and guesswork

TitleA New and Accurat Map of the World
CreatorJohn Speed
Dimensions40 × 52 cm
LocationMapping Boston Collection
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As voyages returned to Europe with new information about distant lands and oceans, cartographers scrambled to revise world maps to account for the new knowledge and by the early seventeenth century, European exploration in the Western Hemisphere had confirmed that the Americas were in fact two large continents.

See other maps from John Speed in our Digital Collections Link →

The title of this 1626 “New and Accurat Map of the World” by John Speed advertises its own reputable status. The English word accurate originally meant “done with care”—suggesting that accuracy is as much about how a map was made as it is about what information it presents. Speed was a careful, diligent cartographer, but this map shows California as an island as Speed was relying on what limited knowledge was available to English mapmakers.

This map also shows another piece of truth that was undergoing a social shift at the time: a geocentric diagram of the planets orbiting the earth, published just at the same time that Galileo was fighting the church over whether astronomical observation or ancient authority held the most persuasive explanation for the universe’s orientation.