The 'Cosmographia' of Sebastian Münster
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The sixteenth century was a time in which knowledge about the world grew exponentially in both its material content and the enthusiasm with which works treating of it were received. One of the most popular, long-lived and influential books of the kind was Sebastian Munster's Cosmographia, printed from 1544 to 1628, in 35 editions and five languages. The Cosmographia attempted nothing less than a geography of the whole known world, an encyclopaedia of its contents and a history of all its peoples. Based upon a close reading of the Latin 1550 edition of the Cosmographia. and supported by Munster's correspondence and other primary texts, this study examines several aspects of Munster's great work. A biographical chapter describes his Hebrew scholarship, the ethos of his humanist community and their influence upon his cosmography. The genre of cosmography, its ancient origins and development, are traced in the following chapter, as too are the alternative formulations favoured by his contemporaries. An account of the means by which Munster assembled the information for his book is next constructed, attending especially to his own empirical surveys and his creation of a learned network of those willing to do likewise. This chapter also surveys the printing, editions and reception of the Cosmographia. The final two chapters examine the contents and values of the book. They describe the organisation of the material and Munster's treatment of geography, history, ethnography, zoology and of prodigies of nature. The understanding of the world which emerges is analysed, addressing tolerance, identity, the high esteem of learning, and the reconciliation of faith with a burgeoning science. Also examined is Munster's concept of providence, which admonished the reader with the lessons of the fallen civilisations described in his Cosmographia, designed as a book of the world, an ark for its knowledge, and a Wunderkammer for its glories.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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