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Maps: Our Place in the World

Maps: Our Place in the World

Many of us can’t help but be obsessed with maps – including Dan. They tell us where we are in the world and let us know how our environment has changed overtime. History, geography and philosophy – maps cross all these fields of study.

The history of mapmaking has its roots in the ancient world, with a Greek who lived during the 2nd century AD - when the Roman Empire had reached its zenith. His name was Ptolemy, the father of cartography.

Working in Alexandria, one of the key centres of learning in the world, in c.150 AD Ptolemy finished his main work: a book he called ‘the Geography’.

In his work he documents the existence of tribes and peoples living in lands stretching from the very tip of Scotland all the way to the Canary Islands in the furthest west and Korea in the furthest east.

The extent of knowledge in Ptolemy’s map proves that the saying, the Romans conquered the world, is far from the truth - even by the evidence of their own time.

Despite creating this manuscript nearly 2,000 years ago, Ptolemy remains to this day one of the giants of cartography.

To find out more about the history of maps and why we are so fascinated by them, Dan visited the Bodleian Library in Oxford, home to one and a quarter million historic maps. Aided by professor Jerry Brotton, together they discuss the significance of Ptolemy’s work and look at some of the jewels of the collection.

Jerry Brotton is a Professor of Renaissance Studies at the Queen Mary University of London. His book, ‘History of the World in Twelve Maps’ was a New York Times Bestseller and he has appeared as a guest and contributor on various television and radio programmes.

 Read more Read less Duration: 21 Min