Monday, July 29, 2013

Discovery vs. "Discovery"

What did Europeans actually discover during the Age of Discovery? According to American Indians, not much. But I've been curious about those isolated parts of the world that really were unknown to humans before the 15th century. So this weekend I went ahead and made a map of Europe's original contributions to geographical knowledge, as subject to peer review by the rest of humanity. It mostly shows a bunch of small islands and a whole lot of ice.

The take-away isn't just that humans had already spread around the world by the time that Europeans started looking for new trade routes and tropical riches. There's also an important lesson about the ability for non-Europeans to navigate vast distances and reach most of the world's islands first.

(Note that the research for this map was not always straightforward, as it required integrating present-day anthropology with sometimes-vague historical material. If you know something that I don't know, please let me know!)