Gerardus Mercator I
Program InformationSeries: A Moment in Time
Year Produced: 2008
Despite the discoveries of explorers such as Christopher Columbus, a true understanding of the shape of the natural world did not immediately emerge. Resistance came from a variety of forces.
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Lead: Despite the discoveries of explorers such as Christopher Columbus, a true understanding of the shape of the natural world did not immediately emerge. Resistance came from a variety of forces.
Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.
Content: As Europe emerged from the medieval period and began the great era of exploration, two great forces served to impede the enormous task facing those who wished to understand, describe, and investigate the world beyond the waters immediately adjacent to the European coast.
The first impediment to understanding the natural world was continued dependence upon the writings of second century Alexandrian astronomer and mathematician, Claudius Ptolemaeus who in turn was influenced by the geographical speculations of Greek philosopher, Aristotle. In his seminal work, Guide to Geography that dominated thinking about the world for more than 1500 years, Ptolemy actually projected a world much larger than his contemporaries, but his maps were filled with guesswork and his world was still much too small. Despite the findings of explorers such as Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan, deep into the 1500s, thinkers still depended upon the wrong-headed ideas of Ptolemy.
The second great force holding back a true understanding of the world was the church. The clerical bureaucracy was convinced that the earth was the center of the universe and that new ideas about cultures beyond the confines of Europe and suggestions that the natural world was different from that described in the Bible and Church writings were a threat to their hegemony.
Helping to overcome Ptolemy’s influence and the church’s resistance to learning and progress were geographers and scientists such as Gerardus Mercator. Mercator was born Gerhard Kremer in Rupelmode, now a part of Belgium, in 1512. He originally studied for the priesthood, attaining a Master’s Degree in philosophy and humanities from the University of Louvain in 1532, but genuine doubts about his own faith, and a growing fascination with geography compelled him in a different direction. Next time: a new kind of map.
Research assistance by Dawn Palmer, at the University of Richmond, this is Dan Roberts.