I love maps, and I’m fascinated by the history of mapmaking. Check out this anonymous 17th century atlas I’ve come across, published in London in 1650. The title is succinct enough: A book and map of all Europe with the names of all the towns of note in that known quarter of the world: so that any one of the least capacity, finding the town in the alphabet, shall presently lay his finger upon the town in the map: a work very usefull for all schollars, marchants, mariners, tradesmen, and all that desire to know forreign parts, and especially in these times of warres and commotions that are now in Europe.
What I think is so wonderful about this “book and map” is first, the reader–who is perhaps new to the concept of maps and maybe even books–is given very explicit instructions on how to use an atlas:: “…any one of the least capacity, finding the town in the alphabet, shall presently lay his finger upon the town in the map.”
Second, this instruction connects seeing the map in the book with somehow experiencing the physical presence of any given town (“lay his finger upon the town”). In the hindsight of the 20th century this seems like a very Borgesian sentiment.
From the fable “Of Exactitude in Science” in The Maker (1960) by Jorge Luis Borges:
…In that Empire, the craft of Cartography attained such Perfection that the Map of a Single province covered the space of an entire City, and the Map of the Empire itself an entire Province. In the course of Time, these Extensive maps were found somehow wanting, and so the College of Cartographers evolved a Map of the Empire that was of the same Scale as the Empire and that coincided with it point for point. Less attentive to the Study of Cartography, succeeding Generations came to judge a map of such Magnitude cumbersome, and, not without Irreverence, they abandoned it to the Rigours of sun and Rain. In the western Deserts, tattered Fragments of the Map are still to be found, Sheltering an occasional Beast or beggar; in the whole Nation, no other relic is left of the Discipline of Geography.