When more than a year ago Caroline De Candt asked me if I might be interested in taking over the Presidency from her in 2021, my initial reaction was a negative one. Not that I didn’t want to, on the contrary I was honoured by her initiative, but rather I thought (and still think) that my multiple professional occupations would prevent me of doing the job as it should be done. For the past years I have been scientific advisor to the Brussels Map Circle and in so doing was able to have a look behind the scenes of the Circle’s organisation. And although we are a fairly small circle, with a defined yearly programme, although the President can count on a trustworthy and dynamic Executive Committee, the Presidency requires great availability of its incumbent. And I wasn’t sure – actually, I am still not very sure – if I could guarantee such availability. In addition I would have loved to see Caroline continuing the Presidency. But she had made up her mind and couldn’t be persuaded to stay on. Furthermore, with the health crisis forcing her to cancel the Circle’s trip to Venice, which should have been the final act of her then almost ten-year Presidency, she decided to step down early, in October 2020. So, as the saying goes, what must be, must be, and I agreed to be a candidate for the Presidency of the Circle on condition that I could be, following Eric Leenders’ example (MiH No 31, May 2008), a transitional President in the hope that within a reasonable lapse of time a younger, and more available, candidate will put him/herself forward. Under these conditions I was elected President in October 2020.
In the nine years of her Presidency (19 March 2011 - 07 October 2020), Caroline profoundly changed the organisation of the Circle. On 24 March 2012 its original name, BIMCC – Brussels International Map Collectors’ Circle, changed into the more straightforward Brussels Map Circle (MiH No 43, May 2012). She also put some order into the Circle’s statutes. From January 2012 onwards the traditional Newsletter became Maps in History; and thanks to her brother Paul it now boasts a new layout and is published in colour (MiH No 42, January 2012). She arranged for General Assemblies and Map Afternoons (MAPAF) to be held at the Royal Library of Belgium, and the Meetings of the Executive Committee at the premises of Arenberg Auctions (MiH No 60, January 2018). But Caroline not only took initiatives regarding the formal aspects of our organisation, she also put her stamp on its content. For instance, every second year she embedded the Circle’s conference into the framework of Europalia, the prestigious international cultural festival held in Belgium every two years which each time takes a different country/region as a focus. For many years she had an excellent partner in the geography department of Ghent University, more particularly its head, Prof. De Maeyer, with whom she organised the lecture series in Ghent on Reading old maps (October 2011 - May 2012; MiH No 41, September 2011). At the Mercator conference in Sint-Niklaas, another initiative of the Geography department, several of our Members presented their personal research (25 - 28 April 2012; MiH No 43 and 44) and in 2015 the Circle sponsored the organisation of the ICHC conference in Antwerp (12 - 17 July 2015; MiH No 53, September 2015). In the same city, she organised a well-attended reception at the Plantin-Moretus Museum to celebrate the Circle’s twentieth anniversary (MiH No 61, January 2019). Another joint venture, this time with the Royal Library and the Davidsfonds editing house, formed the framework within which the book Vlaanderen in 100 kaarten [Flanders in 100 maps], under the direction of Eric Leenders and myself, could be written. And we went to Rome … another joint venture, this time with the Associazione Culturale Roberto Almagià (MiH No 56, September 2016). Under her Presidency the monthly digital WhatsMap? was launched, bringing our Members the latest news on what is going on in the world of the history of cartography. Her last initiative were the occasional talks on aspects of the history of cartography she wanted to organise, of which, unfortunately, due to the health crisis, only one could actually take place, at the Royal Library of Belgium on 6 February 2020. Perhaps I have forgotten one or two more initiatives she took, but even as it stands now, the list of achievements is impressive and sets the bar very high for her successor(s), to say the least.
I realise this is not the easiest period to take over, nor is it the time to be very ambitious. Our Circle’s aim is above all to meet, to come together, to exchange ideas, look at maps, listen to scholars, colleagues and friends talking about their research into an aspect of the history of cartography, a specific collection or a particular map. Today it has become very difficult to plan such meetings or get-togethers. We cannot arrange map evenings, conferences, or trips. Many societies, museums and other cultural organisations try to replace the physical with the virtual; podcasts and webinars are proposed online. It is obvious to all of you we cannot offer that. But it doesn’t mean the Circle’s activities are necessarily on hold. On the contrary, we have our website, which is updated on a regular basis, as is our WhatsMap? Our magazine Maps in History will bring you the latest news of our reading, our ideas, our research and that of others. And … we are working on our future. In October 2021 we will host the 38th IMCoS Conference on Belgium’s contribution to cartography. Do have a look at the apposite webpage. Probably it will be the first time we can meet again physically. We are determined to make it a party!
Until then, keep safe!
At the October 2020 auction organised by Reiss & Sohn in Königstein im Taunus, Germany, the Royal Library of Belgium acquired a rare state of an Italian copy of Mercator’s map of the county of Flanders. The cartouche in the lower right corner bears the Latin title Exactissima Flandriae descriptio, a short description of the county by Nicolaas Stopius followed by the impressum Venetiis MDLVIII (1558). It is attributed to the Venetian bookseller and publisher Giovanni Francesco Camocio on the basis of a more common later state of the map that does mention Camocio’s name (1559). A coloured copy of the map is kept at the Bibliothèque nationale de France and can be viewed in Gallica.
Members of the Brussels Map Circle will remember the scoop presented by Jacques Mille in Maps in HistoryNo 59 (September 2017): A recently discovered portolan chart. Maybe one of the oldest extant? The Avignon chart.
See also the article of Jacques Mille and Paul Fermon on our website
Jacques has continued to research the subject and he had planned to present an update at our MAPAF in March this year; unfortunately, the event had to be cancelled … Instead, he is now going to publish a book on this portolan.
This book, privately published, will feature 350 pages and 160 illustrations. Limited edition: 400 copies, each copy numbered and signed by the author.
La carte d’Avignon describes the author’s research on nautical medieval charts and portolans, particularly of the French Mediterranean coasts, from Italy to Spain (1st part), and studies (2nd and 3rd parts) an exceptional nautical chart recently discovered in the Archives of Vaucluse, Avignon.
The book aims to prove that this chart, now referred to as La carte d’Avignon, is one of the oldest known to us from that period (along with Pisan and Cortona examples), datable to ca 1300 - 1310, and that it could be the first to map the North Sea as far as Scotland and Gotland island in the Baltic Sea.
The author demonstrates that the chart’s anonymous maker was a professional and that his work was both innovative and conducted in secret, more than a quarter of a century before the nautical charts of Vesconte (1311 - 13), Carignano and Dulcert (1330), considered until now as the first to map these regions.
A subscription opens now, allowing you to receive the book (in May 2021) at a subscription price of EUR 40.00 (including shipping costs upon publication), instead of the retail price of EUR 60.00.
If you are interested in this subscription, please express your interest by email to Jacques Mille, before 31 December 2020; you will be sent a copy of the subscription form, with a more detailed description of the forthcoming volume.
Or, better, transfer directly EUR 40.00 to Jacques Mille’s account IBAN FR 94 30002 02815 0000000167M 30, BIC CRLYFRPP and inform Jacques Mille. This will give rise to an acknowledgement of receipt with the sending of a few sample pages of the book.
Our Member, Christiane De Craecker-Dussart, has just published an article in the latest issue of Le Moyen-Âge, revue d’histoire et de philologie, 3-4/2019, tome CXXVII (Université de Liège, Quai Roosevelt 1b, 4000 Liège).
The article goes a long way to prove that the Vikings managed to navigate without maps — nor written itineraries, or compasses — and that, nevertheless, they crossed the North Atlantic and reached Northeast America five centuries before Christopher Columbus discovered Central America; it should, nevertheless, appeal to our Members! Indeed, this article gives a lot of insight on ancient navigation techniques, which were probably also applied in other parts of Europe in the Middle-Ages. It is very well documented on the history of the Vikings’ explorations, as well as on the scientific and technical aspects of their navigation instruments (sunstones, sundials, hourglasses, logs, sounding weights, and weather vanes) and navigation techniques (rudimentary dead-reckoning, horizontal navigation, and particularly visual navigation — without the use of instruments), as well as their ship-building skills.
The author manages to present these very erudite notions in an attractive way, thus making the 33 pages article an instructive and pleasant reading.
Last month Caroline De Candt stepped down from the presidency of the Brussels Map Circle. The Circle's Executive Committee elected Wouter Bracke as her successor. Wouter Bracke is curator of cartographic collections in the Royal Library of Belgium (KBR). He has been involved in the Circle's activities for many years. The January 2021 issue of Maps in History, the Circle's magazine, will offer an overview of the achievements of Caroline's presidency. We all look forward to an opportunity to express our thanks to her, face to face, glass in hand!
For centuries, people have debated the location of ultima Thule—a mysterious northern land. Residents of Smøla, Norway, believe they live in that fabled place; other contenders say not so fast.
An article by F. Salazar.
Published on 8 September 2020 in The Hakai magazine and available on https://www.hakaimagazine.com/features/claiming-ultima-thule/.
The Bibliothèque historique de l'Hôtel de Ville (BHDV) in Paris has endeavoured from its very beginnings to offer researchers and enthusiasts the richest and most varied collection of plans. Plans of the city as a whole, of neighbourhoods, streets or plots: the city had to be covered to the smallest possible scale, over the longest possible chronological span. The collection also had to cover the surroundings of Paris, as its territory could not be dissociated from that of the rest of the Île-de-France region.
A long article by Juliette Jestaz published in L'Échaugette, a publication of the Bibliothèque, and available here.
The Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris is located 24 rue Pavée, 75004 Paris.
Web site: https://www.paris.fr/equipements/bibliotheque-historique-de-la-ville-de-paris-bhvp-16
Link to his inventory: a href="https://bibliotheques-specialisees.paris.fr/archives-manuscrits/inventories.
Exploration History Scholarship: An “Untamable Beast” by Richard Weiner
The Founders of the SHD and a Special Member: Biographies: Thomas (Thom) Goldstein by Carol Urness, John (Jack) Parker by Carol Urness with help from Sarah Parker, Vsevolod (Steve) Slessarev by Carol Urness, Barbara Backus McCorkle by Ed Dahl.
A Brief History of the Society for the History of Discoveries on the Occasion of its Sixtieth Anniversary by Mirela Altić
Some Reflections on Terrae Incognitae to Mark its Fiftieth Anniversary by David Buisseret
The Map of the Yurumanguí Indians. Charting the Erasure of the Pacific Lowlands’ Indigenous Inhabitants, 1742-1780 by Juliet Wiersema. The little-known map of the Yurumanguí Indians, created in the late colonial period, preserves information about a remote gold mining region in New Granada. This essay represents the first attempt to link this map to the previously known and partially published Misioneros de Yurumanguí case file, which documents the discovery, attempted reducción, and ultimate erasure of the indigenous inhabitants living along the Naya and Yurumanguí rivers in Colombia’s Pacific Lowlands between 1742-1780. Reconnecting this map to the documents that once accompanied it makes it possible to ascribe a date and an author to the map, as well as link the map to scholarship on the Yurumanguí Indians. An examination of map and case file highlights failed attempts to implement Bourbon reforms in New Granada’s periphery, illuminating competing interests among miners, Franciscans, and colonial authorities, and suggesting that peripheral areas did not always equate to peripheral players or peripheral stakes.
Creating “Discovery”: The Myth of Columbus, 1777–1828” by Matthew H. Edney. The modern concept of “discovery” was the creation of the “second scientific revolution” in the decades to either side of 1800. The wholesale reconfiguration of knowledge practices emphasized the Romantic figure of the lone, daring adventurer who could interrogate the dynamic and ever-shifting world to discern new truths. “Discovery” was transformed from an act of investigation into an act laden with social and cultural significance, not least of Western intellectual superiority. The new conception was formulated through Anglophone reinterpretations of Columbus, within a stadial philosophy of history, as a heroic man of science, from William Robertson’s History of America (1777) to Washington Irving’s History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (1828). The new concept of “discovery” further required historical assessment and validation, giving rise to the new scholarly formation of “the history of discoveries.”
“Merchants, Monarchs and Sixteenth-Century Atlantic Exploration: New Insight into Henry VIII's Planned Voyage of 1521” by Lydia Towns. In 1521 Henry VIII of England and Cardinal Wolsey requested the Worshipful Company of Drapers and other London guilds to assistance in a westward voyage. After the Drapers’ repeated refusal to contribute the requested assistance the expedition was canceled. Previous scholarship points to the failure of this expedition as an indicator that Henry VIII was uninterested in exploration. However, by revisiting the details of this expedition, this article argues that this expedition reveals Henry’s active interest in the Atlantic world and deepens our understanding of Henry and sixteenth century exploration. Henry’s Atlantic forays, whether realized or not, highlight a much more well-rounded and strategic monarch than past narratives have led us towards. Revisiting the failed expeditions of the early sixteenth century, as exemplified by the voyage of 1521, adds greater depth to our understanding of Atlantic exploration, sixteenth century monarchical goals, and the attitudes of the guilds toward exploration.
Recent Literature in Discovery History by Austin Miller and Richard Weiner