Anna Deavere Smith: Though small, this globe—one of the oldest known globes of the earth—is full of surprises for those who look closely. Michael Inman, Curator of Rare Books:
Michael Inman: You will see a great deal of geographic content, details, mountain ranges, rivers. You'll see ships being depicted, caravels very similar to the ones on which Columbus undertook his initial voyage to the Americas. You'll see sea monsters, very fancifully depicted.
What you do not see, however, is the North American landmass.
Anna Deavere Smith: This globe was created only a decade or two after Columbus’s first voyage.
Michael Inman: So, it really points to the fact that still at that time, while it was known to explorers and certain members of the public in Europe that North America was there, that knowledge still wasn't widely disseminated.
Anna Deavere Smith: The globe is a tangible link to that extraordinary historical moment.
Michael Inman: And to me, it speaks to the sense of wonder that Europeans at that time must have felt as these initial voyages were being taken to the Americas. It speaks to the larger rebirth of knowledge that the Renaissance embodied.
And yet at the same time, when I look at it, I can't help but be saddened as well, because it points to that earliest period of European exploration in the Americas. And it makes me always mindful of what then was to come, particularly in terms of the treatment of indigenous peoples in the Americas—and certainly with the rise of slavery. So my excitement, when looking at the globe, is always tempered to an extent by the knowledge of also what was to come over the ensuing five centuries.
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Michael Inman is Curator of Rare Books at The New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. We gratefully acknowledge the editorial guidance of Dr. Erin Blake of The Folger Shakespeare Library and Chet Van Duzer.
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