Monday, March 24, 2008

Martin Waldseemüller

Martin Waldseemüller was a German cartographer who owns the distinction of naming America. He had read journals by Amerigo Vespucci, a merchant who, in 1499, retraced the itinerary Columbus had followed. These journals talked of a "New World". On April 25th, 1507, Waldseemüller created the first map with the new continent called "America" (from the latinized version of Amerigo, Americus, made feminine, as all continents were feminine).

The choice of America as a name was contested from the beginning, with many journals calling it simply "Indies". Even Waldseemüller, by 1513, seemed to question his choice and thereafter referred to it as "Terra Incognita". But by this time it was too late and the "New World" was standardized as "America".

This is not the curious part. What is strange is that Waldseemüller's map contains a Pacific Ocean off the Western Coast of America, before anyone had any notion of its existence.

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