Moll’s “New and Correct Map of the World”
Herman Moll, A New and Correct Map of the World, Laid Down According to the Newest Discoveries, and from the Most Exact Observations (London: John Bowles, Thomas Bowles, Philip Overton, and John King, 1727–1748) ~ SM-1709-2
Maps can be many things to many people. At the most basic level they are tools, used to orient their readers to their surroundings. Many maps are ornate, and valued for decorative purposes. Others have a more educational bent, informing the reader about things such as religions around the world, or the socioeconomic breakdown within a state. To the keen observer, most maps will reveal things about the culture that produced them. Consider, for example, how this eighteenth-century British world map manifests a burgeoning sense of Britain’s global destiny.
A New and Correct Map of the World was originally created by Herman Moll in 1707. The original dedicatee was Prince George of Denmark, husband to Queen Anne and Lord High Admiral; this particular impression is dedicated to “his most sacred majesty George II”, which allows us define it as representing the ninth state of Moll’s map, made after George II’s ascension to the throne in 1727 but before the map’s list of publishers changed yet again in 1748 (Armitage and Baynton-Williams 2012, map 3.9).
It is a double-hemisphere map, made on a transverse stereographic projection, as was standard for the time. Geographically speaking, it is representative of its era, featuring six continents (Antarctica not having been explored yet), with North America neither fully nor accurately sketched out, and Australia even less so. In the map’s margins, we find a lot of interesting details: across the top of the hemispheres, diagrams of the cosmologies of Ptolemy and Copernicus lie in the upper corners with, nestled in the middle, a map of the North Pole; along the bottom are drawings of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter, together with the Sun and Moon.
Moll offered some explanations about the map in four symmetrically positioned paragraphs of text. The two at the top explain the depiction of the trade winds (which Moll had taken, without credit, from Edmond Halley), and justify the absence of several otherwise minor islands from the map because their existence could not be confirmed. The lower two were further concerned to promote the accuracies of his map with respect to the inaccuracies perpetrated by others. (Moll is renowned for this practice: see Reinhartz 1997.) Moll condemned the “notoriously false” work of Nicolas Sanson and indicated on the map itself where Sanson has misplaced key coastlines, such as the eastern coast of south Africa:
Moll also called out Dutch map makers, claiming that they had copied his maps and had sold them as their own. (As accusations go, this was actually quite rich, as Moll himself had often copied Dutch maps earlier in his career!) Moll’s commentaries point to the chief geographical priority of the era—namely knowledge, and the acquisition thereof. Especially with resect to the New World, geographic accuracy was not a given at the time, and competition in the mapping industry was fierce.
At bottom center is a comparatively ornate cartouche, dedicating the map to George II of Great Britain. The cartouche is supported by two principal figures—a merman, with a wreath of seaweed on his head and blowing a conch shell, and a crowned, trident-wielding man, i.e., Neptune or Poseidon—and surmounted by a crest, a herald angel, and several banners. The crest and the standard flying from Neptune’s trident have both been updated in this state of the map to show the royal standard of the house of Hanover. The other banners are (left to right) a naval ensign, the fouled anchor of the Admiralty, the Union Flag, and the English flag. Behind the cartouche and its supporters lies a fleet of ships on the ocean.
All of this imagery celebrates a culture of bold marine power, in an era when, with the blessing of God (the herald angel) and Neptune, the Royal Navy was developing into a force with global reach. This rather conventional and jingoistic sentiment acquired further significance, however, when juxtaposed with the incomplete map of the world. Britain’s global navigation was not only claiming new markets and territories but also, as Moll proclaimed, correcting and refining geographical knowledge. It held out the prospect for the mapping of new lands, too. Moll labeled the northern and southern polar regions as “Parts Unknown.” The implied, second part to that label was “for Now.”
Armitage, Geoff, and Ashley Baynton-Williams. 2012. The World at Their Fingertips: Eighteenth-Century British Two-Sheet Double-Hemisphere World Maps. London: Sylvia Ioannou Foundation and the British Library. OML ref GA236 .A76 2012
Reinhartz, Dennis. 1997. The Cartographer and the Literati: Herman Moll and His Intellectual Circle. Lampeter, Wales: Edwin Mellen Press. OML ref GA793.6 .M65 R45 1997
Ryan Barber (BA Media Studies; USM 2017)
Prepared for GEO 170, “Global History”