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News  from  project Worldview

For Release: March 1, 2018

project Worldview  in Vienna

 On the Trail of Cosmographers? Vienna Waits for You!

By Stephen P. Cook

Cosmographer—perhaps it’s an archaic term. In describing the 1507 book Introduction to Cosmography, Toby Lester writes, “It was the job of the cosmographer—who was at once a geographer, an astronomer, a mathematician , and even a philosopher—to describe the visible makeup of the cosmos and to explain how its various parts fit together.” Based on this old definition, I’d say I’ve been on the trail of cosmographers for years.

In Athens I’ve studied the 2000+ year old Antikythera computer-like mechanism—perhaps built with help from Hipparchus.  In Florence I’ve looked at telescopes Galileo used to discover the moons of Jupiter. In Prague I’ve walked from the Tycho and Kepler monument to the house Einstein lived in as he formulated the theory of general relativity. Each of these experiences were planned—not so with my recent visit to a cosmography paradise in Vienna: I bumbled into it.

It refers to the Globe Museum, housed in eight rooms of the Hofburg’s magnificent Palais Mollard and run by the Austrian National Library. Perhaps the 750 objects it exhibits—including “exclusive terrestrial and celestial globes, globes of the moon and other planets as well as numerous astronomical instruments” represent the world’s best cosmography collection.  There I learned that it became a tradition for globe makers to produce both terrestrial and celestial globes. Thus in one room you’ll find two globes made by Gerard Mercator in 1541 and 1551; in another are two 1621 creations of Willem Blauuw, who studied astronomy and making precision instruments with Tycho in Denmark for two years before returning to Amsterdam in 1596.

The astronomy teacher in me appreciated numerous old mechanical solar system models  (orreys).  As a geography enthusiast I liked the 100+ year old replica of perhaps the world’s most famous terrestrial globe: created by Columbus’ friend Martin Behaim just before the famous 1492 voyage. And the state of the art multi-media educational aids that touch on everything, from globe making to historic use of globes as (among other things) analog computers, were great! 

I spent two hours looking over it all—including stunning artwork on the walls and ceiling from the royal palace era. What brought me there to begin with was the expectation of seeing the famous Ephesus collection as part of a package that cost around 20 Euros (~$25).  That was closed (until November 2018).  But the consolation package (at a tiny fraction of the price!) of the Globe Museum and two others—one devoted to Egyptian Papyrus, the other to the Esperanto language­— provided  a wonderful way for a cosmography / history buff to spend a cold February afternoon.

Soon after I got home I was already planning another visit: to Washington DC to see the (Waldseemüller) map that accompanied that 1507 publication I mentioned.  This map—which supposedly gave America its name—was purchased by the Library of Congress in 2003 for $10 million.

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