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Author: Donyell Phillips
Title: The Image of the World
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
August 1999

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Source: The Image of the World
Donyell Phillips

vol. 2, no. 2, August 1999
Article Type: Software Review

The Image of the World

Donyell Phillips

An Interactive Exploration of Ten Historic World Maps for Windows and Macintosh. Developed as part of The Earth and the Heavens: The Art of the Mapmaker, an exhibition held in the British library galleries in October 1995. Copyright, Films for the Humanities & Sciences, 1997.

The Image of the World was relatively easy to load and run on the IBM platform. The installation process involved opening the README.TXT file and following the instructions. One word of caution: the program's older version of QuickTime must be installed or it will not run. Navigating through the program involved simply double clicking on the various maps. There is a Help icon that gives specific details about navigation. The images and sounds within the program were relatively clear, but specific details on the maps were at times difficult to see. Though the program's target audience is unclear, it could be effectively used in high school or introductory college level courses.

The Image of the World is based upon an exhibit held in the British library galleries as part of the exhibit entitled The Earth and the Heavens: The Art of the Mapmaker held in October 1995. The CD-ROM contains digital images of ten historical world maps dating from the thirteenth to the late twentieth centuries. All of the maps were part of the original exhibit that contained over one hundred fifty terrestrial and celestial maps. The CD-ROM program attempts to chart the evolution of the world map from the Medieval period to current times.

When the program first appears, there is a template depicting images of all ten maps plus a section labeled Introduction. The maps are ordered chronologically: c.1250, 1482, c.1490, 1530, 1550, 1668, 1787, 1822, 1886, and 1994. The best way to navigate through the program is to start with the Introduction. It contains brief explanations of each map and its historical context as well as an explanation of the origins of the map exhibit. There are five historical time periods included within the Introduction: Classical, Medieval, Renaissance, 18th & 19th centuries, and 20th century. There are also subheadings for the Bibliography and Further Info. While reading the information for each time period, it is possible to click on any underlined word and view the related part of the map. When that section appears, it is accompanied by an audio explanation. It is also possible to start at the map template and double click on each map, listen to the voice explanation and then read the information in the Introduction. The method of navigation depends on the learner... those who prefer the visual and auditory stimulation and have a basic understanding of historical world geography should begin with the maps and use the Introduction as a reference guide.

Unfortunately, the quality of each map and its related description vary. The first map, c.1250, is difficult to read. As the voice explanation continues, parts of the map are highlighted but still almost impossible to decipher. The second map, 1482 — also called Ptolemy's world map — is somewhat easier to read and gives more details. The audio explains the concept of longitude during this period and also explains that there were only three known continents at the time-Asia, Africa, and Europa. The audio explanation states that over eight thousand spots are detailed on this map, but one would be hard pressed to decipher those. The third map, 1490, is described as a manuscript map and an updated version of Ptolemy's 1482 map. At first glance, it more closely resembles current world maps but still includes only three continents. The 1530 map combines Ptolemy's world with a map of the New World obtained from the Voyages of Discovery. It is a heart shaped map and includes drawings on the lines of the Tropics. These particular drawings are more readable.

By 1550, map making had taken a decidedly different turn. Pierre Descelier's map, dedicated to Henri II, King of France, included text but most of the words were printed upside down. The audio explanation indicates that this may have been due to the fact that the map was intended to be placed on a table and walked around for viewing. The 1668 map, produced by Frederick de Wit and labeled a Dutch world map includes a double hemispheric projection. There are scenes drawn on the map that depict the fire, earth, air, and water. Sayar and Bennett created a 1787 map that was printed in London and included dense textual information. As a result, the map resembles an encyclopedia. By the first half of the nineteenth century, map making had changed to include the newly developed thematic approach. The 1822 map included on the CD followed the trend depicting the prevailing religion, government, state of civilization, and population of each country. Since the map also includes missionary sights, it holds a decidedly biased view in favor of evangelical Christianity. The 1886 map, designed to promote the Imperial Federation League, contrasts the British territories held in 1786 to those held in 1886. It also includes black lines showing the main sea routes that held the empire together. Finally, the 1994 section includes six smaller maps of the world in the twentieth century. These maps were created from remote sensing data collected by satellites. There is no audio explanation with the 1994 maps.

Combined, the maps and historical explanations provide a cursory glimpse into the evolution of world map making. The program lacks in-depth explanations and interactive dialogue. The student simply has to point, click, view, and read. There are no questions or activities included. At most, the program takes approximately thirty minutes to complete (this, of course, would vary based on reading speed). Since there is no supplementary text, high school teachers should be advised that they would have to create their own supplementary materials (handouts, worksheets, etc.).

Overall, The Image of the World provides students with a compact, easy to understand, view of the evolution of world maps. In its simplicity, the program fails to take students to a higher level of understanding. It does not make the leap from being informative to interactive. While it is a remarkable source for a compilation of world maps, it could use more historical background. The program does a fine job of telling the visual story, but needs to include a better textual framework. One problem encountered when running the program involved navigating from text to map. Once the student clicks on an underlined word or phrase and goes to the map, he or she must go back through the Introduction icon to get back to the text. Despite this minor problem, the program was easily navigable and understandable.

Donyell Phillips

Wake Forest University