Ayesha Ramachandran, Yale University

Making Universals: Portuguese Manuscript Atlases, 1550-1580


What is the origin of the world atlas as we know it today? And why should this genealogy matter to us now? This talk focuses on the small corpus of surviving Portuguese portolan-style manuscript “universal atlases” from the second half of the sixteenth century, which offer an alternate history for the atlas in modernity. Rather than deriving from such printed compilations as Abraham Ortelius’sTheatrum orbis terrarum or Mercator’s Atlas, they tell a story about the affordances of manuscripts, of small-scale individual artisans, and the surprising inter-medial engagements of early modern cartography. Drawing on the work of Diogo Homem and Fernão vaz Dourado, I examine how this “genre” developed, why it persisted alongside the turn to printed atlases, and what it may tell us about the shaping of large-scale universalizing knowledge frameworks even today.