509-Year-Old Map Is the Only Known Copy of First Time “America” Appears

waldseemuller map universalis cosmographia

The full world map, composed of 12 woodcuts.

We all know Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer after which the United States was named. But have you ever seen the first map to label parts of the world as America? Created in 1507, the so-called Waldseemüller map holds this distinction. Also known as Universalis Cosmographia, it's composed of 12 separate woodcut prints that were meant to be hung together. Though German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller stated that 1,000 copies were printed, the last known copy is in Washington, D.C. at the Library of Congress.

The precious map, which was rediscovered in Germany in 1901, was purchased by the Library of Congress for $10 million in 2001, and was symbolically turned over by German chancellor Angela Merkel in 2007. It’s now on permanent display in a specially-designed microclimate case.

Waldseemuller’s work is impressive in that it merged Vespucci’s recent discoveries with existing knowledge. Rather than omitting unexplored areas, he subscribed to the philosophy of theoretical geography. This allowed him to apply theory to areas of the world where information was lacking. In fact, it’s not the United States that’s labeled America on the Universalis Cosmographia. Unexplored parts of North America is named Parias. Instead, he baptized the South American coast stretching just south of São Paulo, Brazil with Vespucci’s modified name—America.

america waldseemuller map universalis cosmographia

Florida and the islands of the Caribbean.

america waldseemuller map universalis cosmographia

The Arctic coast of the Asian continent along with a miniature map of the known American continent.

The east coast of Asia.

The east coast of Asia.

america waldseemuller map universalis cosmographia

The northeastern coast of South America, with Hispaniola and other Caribbean islands and Cape Verde off of Africa.

america waldseemuller map universalis cosmographia

Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa.

america waldseemuller map universalis cosmographia

Asia.

Waldseemüller Map

Southeast Asia.

america waldseemuller map universalis cosmographia

The east coast of South America, the first known instance of “America” being used in a document.

Waldseemüller Map

Africa.

Waldseemüller Map

Madagascar and the Indian Ocean.

Waldseemüller Map

The East Indies.

h/t: [Mashable]

All images via the Library of Congress.

Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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