Dare to Make an Empty Map

1459 Map of the World

Have you ever seen an ancient map? Many of them showed the edge of the Earth, sea monsters, or coastlines that were more imaginary than real. Others, such as the one above, claimed to show the whole world but showed only Europe, Asia and Africa.

The book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, has something interesting to say about this (emphases mine).

During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Europeans began to draw world maps with lots of empty spaces — one indication of the development of the scientific mindset, as well as of the European imperial drive. The empty maps were a psychological and ideological breakthrough, a clear admission that Europeans were ignorant of large parts of the world.

…Amerigo Vespucci … took part in several expeditions to America in the years 1499-1504. …[Two] texts describing those expeditions were published [and] attributed to Vespucci. These texts argued that the new lands discovered by Columbus were not islands off the East Asian cost, but rather an entire continent unknown to the Scriptures, classical geographers, and contemporary Europeans. In 1507, a mapmaker named Martin Waldseemuller published an updated world map, the first to show the place where Europe’s westward-sailing fleets had landed as a separate continent. … Erroneously believing that Amerigo Vespucci had been the person who discovered it, Waldseemuller named the continent in his honor — America. …

There is poetic justice in the fact that a quarter of the world, and two of its seven continents, are named after a little-known Italian whose sole claim to fame is that he had the courage to say, “We don’t know.”

So, America, our name is due to a mistake about a man who was argued that his people had been ignorant.

Let’s see if we can keep the humility going. If you were to draw a map of everything you know, where would you dare to leave empty spaces?

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