European Medieval and Renaissance Cosmography: A Story of Multiple Voices

Asian Review of World Histories
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  • 1 New University of Lisbon

The objective of this essay is to propose a cultural history of cosmography and cartography from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries. It focuses on some of the processes that characterized these fields of knowledge, using mainly western European sources. First, it elucidates the meaning that the term cosmography held during the period under consideration, and the scientific status that this composite field of knowledge enjoyed, pointing to the main processes that structured cosmography between the thirteenth century and the sixteenth century. I then move on to expound the circulation of cosmographic knowledge among Portugal, Venice and Lisbon in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. This analysis will show how cartography and cosmography were produced at the interface of articulated commercial, diplomatic and scholarly networks; finally, the last part of the essay focuses on the specific and quite distinctive use of cosmography in fifteenth-century European culture: the representation of “geo-political” projects on the world through the reformulation of the very concepts of sea and maritime networks. This last topic will be developed through the study of Fra Mauro’s mid-fifteenth-century visionary project about changing the world connectivity through the linking of several maritime and fluvial networks in the Indian Ocean, Central Asia, and the Mediterranean Sea basin, involving the circumnavigation of Africa. This unprecedented project was based on a variety of sources accumulated in the Mediterranean Sea basin as well as in Asia and in the Indian Ocean over the course of several centuries.

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