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Australia has a major cartography exhibition, “Mapping Our World” until March 10, 2014.

Imagine more than 100 maps, atlases, and globes, some of the greatest works from the collection of the British Library, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the Vatican Library, and, naturally, the National Library of Australia.

As we – in the northern hemisphere – live on the other side of the world, it is unlikely that most of us will get a chance to go to Australia and enjoy it.

But fortunately, the National Library of Australia has put together some wonderful videos telling us the story of the exhibit and some of its maps.

The exhibition reminds us of the period when the Mediterranean world was the only known world. It takes us from the time when a “south land” (australis) was only a concept to the time of the first Dutch explorations and New Holland to the race between the French and the British to draw the first complete map of Australia.

Update 2023: Three of the original six videos are no longer available.

  • The first video was an overview of the exhibition.
  • The second video, “Putting Australia on the map” shares some gorgeous maps from the early depictions of the “south land” to maps of New Holland by the Dutch in the 17th and 18th centuries.

  • The third video presented the story of this spectacular map, “Archipelagus Orientalis,” acquired by the National Library of Australia in 2013, “Preserving Blaeu’s ‘Archipelagus Orientalis’ (1663)“. The map drawn by the famous Dutch cartographer Joan Blaeu is the most important map documenting the Dutch presence in Australia before the arrival of the British.
  • The 4th video tells the story of one of the most important and famous world maps of all times. Drawn by the monk Fra Mauro between 1390 and 1459, it is the first time in its almost 600-year history that it leaves Italy. It is unique and impressive in its details, surprising in its shape and size.

  • The 5th video took viewers behind the scenes to follow the trip of this map across oceans from the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice to the National Library of Australia.
  • Finally, the 6th video, “Flinders and Baudin’s race to map Australia,” reminds us of the story of two explorers who completed the charting of the coast of Australia. On April 8, 1802, two explorers – Frenchman Nicolas Baudin and Englishman Matthew Flinders – sighted each other during the conquest to explore the uncharted part of Australia. It reminds us how the history of cartography is so closely connected to the history of explorations and expeditions. French cartographer Louis de Freycinet and British captain Matthew Flinders were in a race to complete charting much of Australia’s Southern and Eastern parts. They both had access to the Dutch charts of Northern and Western Australia and used these to complete their work. But their maps were much more precise. A book has also been written about their expeditions: The Great Race: The Race Between the English and the French to Complete the Map of Australia.

If you had the chance to see the exhibit, we would love to know what you thought about it. Leave us a comment below!

Mapping our world

Mapping Our World: Terra Incognita to Australia
Lose Yourself in the World’s Greatest Maps.
National Library of Australia
Parkes Place
Canberra ACT 2600, Australia
Hours: 10 am to 6 pm daily
Admission: free, but you must book by phone at 02 6262 1271 or online

If you missed the exhibit, you can still buy the exhibition catalog: Mapping Our World catalog

For more photos of the exhibit, see the ABC article “Rare map exhibition attracts record crowds to National Library in Canberra“. When the exhibit closed on March 10, 2014, 118,264 people had seen it. This was a new record of visitors for an exhibit at the National Library of Australia, a record previously held by the 2001 exhibit “Treasures from the World’s Great Libraries“, which had attracted 115,081 visitors at the time.

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