Library displays America’s first map

The 500-year-old map is part of “The Map that Named America, 1507-2007” exhibit.

Amber Kispert

What’s in a name? To most Americans, the word “America” has a profound meaning. Would Americans still have the same sense of patriotism if America was named something else?

A new exhibit at the James Ford Bell Library seeks to answer that question with its exhibit “The Map that Named America, 1507-2007.”

The library, located on the fourth floor of Wilson Library on the West Bank campus, unveiled a 500-year-old map Monday, which is the first to include the word “America” on it.

“In 1507 ‘America’ meant a new, vibrant place that was full of untold possibilities,” Dr. Marguerite Ragnow, curator of the James Ford Bell Library said. “Today, ‘America’ still represents opportunity,” she said.

“The map is extraordinary because it is the first to include the word ‘America,’ assigned to land that we now call South America, and the first to depict these newly discovered lands as separate from Asia,” Ragnow said in a press release.

The map is being presented for public view to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Waldseemueller map.

Martin Waldseemueller was the German cartographer who created two maps in 1507. The maps were printed from engraved woodblocks that illustrated the newly discovered lands in the western Atlantic.

Waldseemueller drew the maps from sailors’ charts, including those of Amerigo Vespucci, who is credited as the founder of America.

James Ford Bell purchased the Waldseemueller map in 1954 for an undisclosed amount of money and donated it to the University, according to the exhibit. There are a total of three maps still in existence; the other two maps are in European collections.

In 2005, one of the maps in the European collections was auctioned off for $1 million. Ragnow said the Bell Library’s copy is considered to be more valuable than either of the European copies because it is in its original condition.

English junior Michelle Hurley said she thinks the exhibit will be really interesting.

Some Americans also have their own associations and connections to the word America, not just its origins.

“I think of the people that I know and their stories before I think about the big picture ideas, like freedom and liberty,” Hurley said.

The exhibit at Wilson Library will run through Dec. 31 and is open to anyone interested in seeing the map.

“I anticipate thousands of people being able to come and see it,” Ragnow said.