Novi orbis pars borealis, America scilicet complectens Floridam, Baccalaon, Canadam, terram Corterialem, Virginiam, Norombecam, pluresque alias provincias

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This is a map entitled “Novi Orbis Pars Borealis America” by a mapmaker by the name of Matthias Quad. It was done in or about 1600 and was, like so many maps of the day, an effort to understand what the North American continent was all about using very, very limited information. Despite these limits, Quad was working with some important feedback and information from some of the great explorers of the day. They included Jacques Cartier, Sebastian Cabot, Giovanni Verrazano, and Sir Walter Raleigh, among others. The depiction of North America is, of course, very squashed and, to the modern eye, not at all realistic. But it is quite comprehensive, including that portion of the map that is today the United States and that portion of the map which is today Canada, identified almost throughout as “Francia Nova.”

Perhaps the most interesting and curious feature of the map is the long strip of sea that goes from East all the way to West. Here, the mapmaker was speculating. There was a great deal of hope on the part of many in Europe that there would, in fact, be a passageway – a so-called “Northwest Passage” – that would go transversely across the North American continent, providing an opportunity for European ships to reach the Orient directly without having to go all the way down around the bottom of South America and travel up along and across the sometimes-violent Pacific Ocean. So, in this particular case the wish became the fact, and Quad depicts a Northwest Passage that, in fact, did not exist. I think it’s interesting that in today’s modern times, with the enhanced ability of ships to traverse the Arctic region, ships are once again imagining regular commercial traffic through the icy waters of the Artic and, perhaps today, there is some version of a Northwest Passage that is actually shaping up.[1] [1] “Until 2009, the Arctic pack ice prevented regular marine shipping throughout most of the year. Arctic sea ice decline has rendered the waterways more navigable for ice navigation.” Accessed 24 Mar. 2021.



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