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Frank Manasek: “The Birth of Moon Maps: Looking Through the Telescope, 1610-1696"

  • Wednesday, December 14, 2022
  • 7:00 PM - 8:30 PM
  • Zoom

Sponsored in partnership with the California, Chicago, New York, Philip Lee Phillips, Rocky Mountain, and Texas Map Societies

Location: Zoom

Time:  7:00 pm ET/6:00 pm CT/5:00 pm MT/4:00 pm PT

Title: The Birth of Moon Maps: Looking Through the Telescope, 1610-1696

Speaker:  Francis (Frank) Manasek, retired professor, Dartmouth Medical School; former antiquarian map dealer; author of Collecting Old Maps and A Treatise on Moon Maps

Moon maps had a discrete beginning in 1610 when the telescope was first turned to the Moon. Selenography (Moon mapping, lunar geography) is not in the lineage of terrestrial cartography but was the product of natural philosophy and the “scientific revolution” of the 17th century. The images produced by the newly invented telescope revealed terrain that was completely alien, having never before been seen by humankind and having no coherent theoretical basis. Such images are not self-declarative. Comprehending telescopic images in the early 17th century required a new paradigm that also required both a new visual and linguistic vocabulary if there was to be creation of meaning and a representation of that meaning. This is in stark contrast to the “New Worlds” of terrestrial exploration where the languages of both Europeans and existing inhabitants had adequate descriptors. Moreover, Moon maps were made by intercalating a new instrument, the telescope, between object and observer, requiring new tacit knowledge. This was revolutionary and not part of terrestrial mapmaking which had a long evolutionary history. With fifteen Moon maps from 1610 to 1696, I explore some different visual languages used to portray the lunar surface, and implicitly ask if there are any defining elements that link Moon maps to the historiography of terrestrial maps. I also attempt to argue against a presentist approach to selenography and try to show the validity of each image in its context.

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