Browse content similar to Mapping the World. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
August 2007: A nuclear-powered
Russian icebreaker cuts its way through the Arctic Ocean.
On board a mini submarine.
It's about to dive two and a half miles to the seabed.
There the Russians will plant a titanium flag, directly beneath
the North Pole to symbolise Moscow's claims to the Arctic.
But Russia isn't alone. The United States,
Canada, Denmark and Norway are all staking similar claims.
As the polar ice melts, it's becoming much easier to gain
access to the gas, oil and minerals beneath the seabed.
The scramble is on to claim the right to exploit them.
And the first ever political map of the Arctic is being drawn up to identify the disputed territories.
I've been studying maps for most of my life and this is
the most intriguing attempt I've seen to map the future.
This is an extraordinary map.
What this map shows is all these different countries
looming up on to the North Pole...
Laying claim to different bits of the Pole.
All these different colours show competing political and economic interests.
Map-making has always been bound up with politics.
From attempts to map the known world in the middle ages,
to the age of exploration and discovery,
to Imperial Britain's claim to be the centre of the world.
And now the new 'Arctic Map'
brings together geography, economics and international law in an attempt
to settle the latest territorial dispute.
Map-makers are now at the heart of a really-charged struggle
around political influence and access to riches.
But it's not for the first time.
Because the history of maps is also the history of power, plunder and possession.
Christmas Day, in the year 1130.
A Norman warrior is crowned Roger II, King of Sicily...
One of the wealthiest and most influential kingdoms in Europe.
Roger's Kingdom was composed of a rather volatile mix of Christians, Greeks and Muslims.
And Roger wanted to stamp his authority across all of them.
But not just through brute force.
He commissioned a team of scholars dedicated to the mapping of the culture and territories of
the entire Mediterranean region and the world beyond it.
Roger entrusted the making of the map to the foremost Muslim scholar of the day, Muhammad Al-Idrisi.
Over 15 years Idrisi gathered travellers' accounts of distant
lands and the latest information about trade, transport and political power in each territory.
He then began work on a series of regional maps covering the whole of the known world.
The maps stretch all the way from China in the east
to Spain in the west.
In an accompanying text, Spain is described in great detail as a land of "fine estates",
defended by "well-fortified castles".
To the north...
Britain is located in the "sea of darkness"
and described as being the "shape of an ostrich head".
Its inhabitants are said to be "brave, active and enterprising,
"but all is in the grip of perpetual winter."
The western Mediterranean is dominated by Roger's Kingdom.
Sicily's size is exaggerated.
Idrisi calls it "the pearl of the age".
The maps were bound together with the text describing the regions the world
and became known as The Book of Roger.
This is the book that Roger asked him to write...
To put in all the information
that he had assembled about the inhabited world in his day.
And it consists of 70 - seven zero, maps
each accompanied by several pages of texts telling you about the cities.
How you get from one city to the next, how long it takes you, discussions of harbours.
A great deal about commodities, resources.
The Book of Roger is full of vivid geographical detail.
But Idrisi's maps clearly aren't the result of a scientific survey.
What we see here is North Africa.
This is the Mediterranean.
Look at this coast!
That is anything but accurate.
It's just a wavy line with the cities just lined up on them.
So what he's actually giving you
is the sequence of the harbours, probably along here.
So the text is necessary for any kind of detail. Text and map are integral.
Extremely clever, innovative.
-Simple but brilliant.
'While Idrisi was working on his maps, Roger was still expanding his kingdom.
'Gaining strategic footholds in Greece and North Africa.'
What do you think that Roger is trying to do with Idrisi?
He's trying to get as much information out of him as possible
about all of the areas of the world that Roger didn't rule.
So that the... Not only was Idrisi commissioned to draw a map,
but he was commissioned to find out everything he could about trade
and travel and distances between cities, fortresses.
All the sorts of things that someone wishing to conquer an area would need to know.
Roger, of course, had political designs himself, on Spain.
He dreamed of possibly conquering Spain, possibly North Africa.
So the knowledge that Idrisi had would have been very useful to Roger.
From his island kingdom in the middle of the Mediterranean, Roger was playing for high stakes
in international politics.
He'd realised that maps weren't just about the quest for knowledge.
And he appreciated that you could now use maps to put his tiny kingdom onto a much larger world stage.
Roger's map of the known world was being used to describe and celebrate his expanding Empire.
But maps would later become much more powerful tools of conquest.
The great leap forward came at the turn of the 15th century with
the translation into Latin of a rediscovered classical work called simply, The Geography.
Its author was a Greek scholar called Claudius Ptolemy, also known as the "father of geography".
Working in the great library of Alexandria in Egypt
in the 2nd century, Ptolemy built up a vast knowledge of the world.
This is Bosham. Now a tiny village on the Sussex coast, it was once
a bustling port on the edge of the Roman Empire, called Magnus Portus.
And Ptolemy managed to plot its position in his Geography 2,000 years ago.
Someone has to come here. Someone has to do lots of observations.
Observing the stars, observing the sun.
Then it has to get back to Ptolemy
and then Ptolemy has to do the geometry.
He has to do the mathematics,
to work out what the correct latitude and longitude should be, given what the traveller has reported.
So one line in this is a huge amount of work.
Ptolemy's system of mapping was inspired by his knowledge of astronomy.
He'd devised a grid of intersecting lines to map the position
of the stars and then transferred this web-like grid to the globe.
Ptolemy used astronomy, geometry and mathematics
to plot the positions of 8,000 places in the known world.
He's sitting in Alexandria and he's actually marking Magnus Portus.
Bosham here... thousands of miles away.
He's like the spider sitting in the middle of the web, pulling it all in, isn't he?
It's a purely geometrical principle and that's the genius of what Ptolemy does.
He puts that across the Earth,
he allows us to understand where every location is in relation to every other location
and it's a fantastic enduring principle,
which takes us right through to the modern age of map making.
Ptolemy was tackling the greatest challenge of map-making - finding a
way to represent the spherical shape of the Earth on a flat surface.
As you can see a globe doesn't look very flat, does it?
And the question is whether you could actually take the surface of a sphere and flatten it out.
An easy way to see that is actually to peel off part of the surface...
This is probably a good enough bit... OK.
So, here's a piece of the Earth. It's about a quarter of the whole.
If I try and flatten this out, it doesn't want to go.
It really does not want to be flattened.
What that means is that if you are going to draw a map that's flat,
you can't get all of the geometry of the real globe correct.
'There's no way to map the globe exactly onto a flat surface.
'But Ptolemy perfected a working compromise we still use today...projection.'
Ptolemy's idea is very straightforward.
Draw a grid on a piece of paper.
It doesn't have to be exactly the same shape as the grid on the sphere.
We have here the diagram from his book, telling you how to do it.
These circles are lines of latitude.
These straight lines are the lines of longitude.
So those correspond to the lines on the sphere.
There is this catalogue of latitude and longitude for various points.
You can look at the grid and say,
"Ah, such and such a city should go here...there,"
and you mark all the cities in and all the points,
bits of coastlines, rivers - everything is listed.
Then you join up the dots and you've got your map.
We're going to test Ptolemy's calculations against the pin-point accuracy of 21st century GPS.
North 50 degrees, 49.6 minutes.
West, 0 degrees 51.5 minutes.
Let's have a look at what Ptolemy's geography tells us.
Magnus Portus has coordinates longitude 19, latitude 53.
So why is the longitude, it seems so far out and the answer is he didn't put his zero longitude where we do.
So this is co-ordinates from nearly 2,000 years ago and he's only a few degrees out.
So he's pretty close considering, you know, that the reports he's getting
from travellers will not be fantastically well-observed or fantastically accurate.
It's impressive for 2,000 years ago.
It's no wonder that Ptolemy was known as the Father of Geography because this map-making kit
he put together was one of the great achievements of the Classical World
and a pinnacle of Greek science.
For the next 14 centuries it remained seriously unchallenged.
Instead it was being used throughout that period to chart the known world,
to imagine it and to even start to control it.
Once translated, Ptolemy's Geography was distributed throughout renaissance Europe
and fuelled curiosity about the world beyond the Mediterranean.
An hour before dawn, 3rd of August 1492.
Three ships with a 90-strong crew are leaving the Spanish harbour of Palos and heading west.
Leading the expedition, Christopher Columbus.
A new age of exploration was just beginning.
Columbus was bound for China.
And he was inspired by the most up-to-date map of the day, the Martellus Map.
The map extends from the Canaries in the west to the east coast of China.
It also shows the first sea route round the Cape of Good Hope to the Far East,
newly discovered by the Portuguese.
The Martellus Map convinced Columbus that he could open up
a faster sea route to the riches of Asia by sailing directly west.
The expedition was driven by Columbus's overweening desire for fame, titles and riches.
But this was an incredibly risky venture.
The sailors on board all three ships were full of doubts and fears
and referred to the voyage as, "this mad fantasy".
In 1989 Sir Robin Knox-Johnston single-handedly retraced Columbus' journey across the Atlantic,
using the same kind of instruments that Columbus had used.
What was it that inspired you to follow Columbus' voyage?
Primarily I wanted to see how accurately they could navigate in those days.
I'd sailed those waters before but never been focusing on that.
So I thought, if I just go and do nothing but think about Columbus,
do this voyage like Columbus, I'm going to pick stuff up.
Well, he leaves from near Cadiz and goes down to the Canary Islands,
which are also Spanish, so that's a voyage they make quite frequently.
But it's from here,
this is where he takes his last food and water on board and then sets off into the blue.
It's pretty risky.
Oh, certainly it's risky.
But he was right in a way that,
if you keep going west you would eventually reach Japan or China.
But he didn't know America was in the way. But the theory was right.
You know the Martellus Map would say to him if I keep going on
this latitude all the way around, I'll pop up that side of the map...
-Yes, somewhere here.
The Martellus Map convinced Columbus that China was much closer than it really was.
Following Ptolemy's calculations,
Martellus underestimated the circumference of the Earth.
And it turned out to be a massive 7,000 miles wider than he thought.
What we're missing totally is the extent of the Atlantic,
the whole of the Americas and the Pacific Ocean.
-Quite a lot missing!
-Ptolemy didn't know anything about it.
He sort of guessed it would be 21 maybe 28 days, ended-up being 35.
But, you know, in 21 days he's going to reach China. LAUGHTER
Well, that's OK. According to the distance he's calculated it to be,
but he passes that distance and it's still empty ocean.
And the days go on, one after another, still no land, still not sighting anything.
Crew getting fed up. "Hey, we don't want to die here."
Here I am, 25 days at sea on my own.
I haven't seen a ship now for well over a week,
and I think I've got about 1,000 miles to go.
'And at this speed...
'oh, I'll make it in about 10 days, I expect. Maybe 11.'
He just goes on until he starts seeing birds, wait a minute, they've got to come from land.
Watch where they go at night.
Because they always go home at night. OK, that's where land is.
About 20 minutes ago at 8:20 exactly, I sighted some land.
'And at first I wasn't sure but now I'm absolutely sure it is land.
'It's off to the north-west and I expected it to be down to the south-east if anything.'
Sir Robin Knox Johnston made land after 34 days at sea.
CHEERING AND SINGING
Columbus and his crew took a day longer.
# San Salvador, San Salvador
# May God forever keep me free. #
Well done. APPLAUSE
For Columbus it now seemed that the riches of the East were spread out before him.
He eagerly went ashore in an armed boat and was greeted by crowds
of curious local people eager to see the new arrival.
Columbus named the new territory San Salvador.
We now know it's an island in the Caribbean.
Columbus was convinced he'd landed in China.
And he had no idea that his massive miscalculation would make him the most famous explorer in history.
Columbus had discovered a new continent, America.
But such was the power of his belief in the map that he was using,
he went to his grave 14 years later still convinced he'd discovered a western passage to Asia.
To this day we still celebrate Columbus as the discoverer of
America, but it was a place that he never believed even existed.
When Columbus returned to Europe, the map of the world was re-drawn.
This strange but incredibly beautiful map is the first ever
that records the land discovered by Columbus on his first voyage.
You can see here the Bahamas and over here San Salvador.
It was made by Juan de la Cosa, who went with Columbus on his first
voyage and all his subsequent expeditions to the New World.
It was probably made to show to the Spanish sovereigns,
Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, here in Spain, to give them a sense
of the extent of the New World over here to the West.
And as if to emphasise the point,
the New World is like this big verdant green claw, in complete contrast to the rest of the map,
giving the Spaniards a sense of entitlement to the enticement of the New World.
As European powers vied for control of these lucrative new territories,
maps became vital tools in a global struggle for dominance.
In 1502, an Italian undercover agent smuggled this map out of Portugal.
It shows all the new Portuguese discoveries.
From India to the Persian Gulf.
East Africa to Brazil.
But like all maps of this era,
it marks the vast New World in the west as largely uncharted territory.
In 1503, an Italian explorer published a set of pamphlets
announcing his own discoveries in the New World.
His name was Amerigo Vespucci.
Vespucci wrote, "..and so we sailed on, till we reached a land which we deemed to be a continent,
"which is distant westwardly from the isles of Canary, beyond the inhabited regions."
This was a ground-breaking statement
because maps of the time suggested that the New World was somehow connected to Asia.
All of these maps showed that New World without a complete west coast.
They are somehow joining that New World to Asia.
So Vespucci's claim to have discovered a separate,
fourth continent was completely at odds with what everybody really believed.
Vespucci's description of a fourth continent fired the imagination of
a German map-maker, Martin Waldseemuller.
In 1507, he incorporated its outline into a pioneering new work.
Waldseemuller's map is absolutely vast - much bigger than this projection actually shows.
When these 12 printed sheets are all stuck together, it stands 1.5 metres tall and 2.5 metres wide.
And that was deliberate, because Waldseemuller wanted this map
to hang on the great aristocratic courtly walls of Europe.
No European had yet seen the ocean on the far side of the New World.
But here it was shown by Waldseemuller for the first time.
In contrast to all the other maps showing the latest discoveries,
this continent is shown completely surrounded by water,
it's totally navigable.
This is the first map ever that shows America as a separate fourth continent.
And Waldseemuller labels it for the very first time down here, "America"
in honour of Amerigo Vespucci.
The only surviving copy of Waldseemuller's map of the world
was bought by the US Library of Congress in 2003.
It is the first document of any kind that introduces the word 'America' to the world.
The map is now known as America's birth certificate.
Maps have played a crucial role in forging national identities across the world.
But sometimes map-makers purposefully bend the truth,
to serve the interests of powerful nations.
The year is 1529.
A fertile archipelago in the Pacific Ocean known as the Moluccas,
or Spice Islands, is at the heart of a bitter dispute.
Spain and Portugal were battling over two of the most valuable commodities in 16th century Europe.
Nutmeg and cloves.
This was a very serious business.
Cloves may not seem to be terribly prized today, but at the time,
in the 16th century, they were literally worth their weight in gold,
used for medicinal and also culinary purposes.
A summit was called to try to settle the dispute between the two imperial superpowers of the age.
The Portuguese initially had the upper hand. They were effectively in control of the Moluccas.
But as the super-powers' summit began, the Spanish King produced his trump card.
A new map of the world that claimed to be more authoritative than any other so far.
This beautiful hand-drawn map had been specially made for the King
by a virtuoso map-maker called Diego Ribeiro.
It features finely-drawn navigational and scientific instruments,
as if to emphasize its authority.
For the map's primary purpose was political.
Ribeiro's map shows how the two superpowers had previously agreed
to divide the world into two spheres of influence.
Here you can see the two flags of the contending empires - there's
the Portuguese flag, and there's the Spanish flag.
Everything to the east belongs to the Portuguese, and everything to
the west of this line belongs to the Spanish.
The Spice Islands had always been placed in the Portuguese
sphere of influence on the far eastern side of the world.
But on Ribeiro's new map, they've moved.
Here they are, the Moluccas Islands all picked out here.
So what he's done is put them in the Spanish half of the western hemisphere,
and you can tell because here is the Spanish flag,
and clearly laying claim to all these islands here - the Moluccas.
So convincing was Ribeiro's map that the Portuguese reluctantly
accepted that the Moluccas were in Spanish territory.
Ribeiro had pulled off a brilliant con trick.
His map had cooked the books.
And this is what I find so fascinating about world maps.
We look at them and THINK that we're seeing an accurate standardised representation of the Earth.
But the more we dig down beneath the layers of the map,
we start to see selection going on, we see manipulation and even deception.
Beautiful scientific objects they may be, but it is that ability of the map to fuse
all those different elements - high politics, science, art, commerce,
that makes them so irresistible to rulers throughout history.
In the early 16th century, navigating at sea was a perilous business.
Ships crossing the Atlantic could find themselves hundreds of miles off course,
with deadly consequences - starvation,
And maps were the problem.
Due to the curvature of the Earth,
ships trying to follow a straight line on a map ended up
veering dangerously off course.
But in the mid 16th century there was a map-making revolution.
It would solve this navigational problem and inspire the creation of the most influential map in history.
It still defines our vision of the world in the 21st century.
The man behind this revolutionary projection is proudly celebrated
in his home town of Rupelmonde in Belgium.
The map-maker Gerard Mercator.
He's known as the prince of modern geographers, but Mercator had a humble start in life.
So, here we come at the house where Mercator was born on the 5th March 1512.
6 o'clock in the morning.
It was a hospital for poor people.
That was the original use?
-It was a hospital?
-Yes. It was a hospital.
And his uncle was here a priest in the hospital.
Taught him here mathematics and Latin.
And Mercator's uncle made it possible for this young boy, poor boy, brilliant boy,
to go to university and become what he has become.
The mapmaker of the navigation.
As a boy Mercator often came here to the quayside on the river Scheldt.
So this is the harbour where the young Mercator, 5-6 years old,
got in touch with the world, the sea, the sailing.
Of course Columbus had discovered America, and certainly he must have talked about it with the sailors,
talking about navigation, he had all that in mind.
And where does the river take us?
Well, the river takes us from here to Antwerp, then to the sea, and then to the whole world.
After studying mathematics, geography and astronomy, Mercator
began making globes for European royalty and other wealthy patrons.
To do this he outlined the countries of the world onto a series of long segments of paper, called gores.
When joined together they would fit perfectly around a globe.
This globe is made in 1541 by Mercator.
It's beautiful, it's absolutely exquisite.
So how would you make a globe like this?
When you make a globe like this, you had to put on plaster, and then you
had to put on it the gores who were engraved on copper.
To make a gore, it has to be very accurate.
What's amazing is that the stream continues on another sheet.
I can't see the joins on the gores. It's done with incredible skill.
Building on his work as a globe maker, in 1569 Mercator devised a new method of projection,
on to a flat surface, to help navigators at sea.
Mercator began by straightening the lines of longitude, or meridians.
He then increased the spaces between the lines of latitude moving away from the equator.
Here is the famous world map from Mercator. He made this map in 1569.
A new map for sailors in his time.
For the first time navigators would be able to plot a straight line
between two points on a map and safely reach their destination.
To achieve this, Mercator had struck a cartographic compromise.
To ensure navigational accuracy, his projection increasingly distorts
the size of countries the further they are from the equator.
They are actually mapped to infinity. I mean, they are vast.
And it's the same down here, so the South Pole goes like this.
So it way of stretching the world.
But as a result you do get this massive distortion.
Mercator distorts the globe in other ways, too.
By deliberately placing the equator south of the centre, he gives Europe a dominant position in the world.
These distortions have been retained as the map projection has been updated over the centuries.
There's no doubt, as far as I'm concerned, that the Mercator map is the most important one ever made.
It defines the history of cartography for the next four centuries, and is used everywhere -
in school atlases, the British Empire even adopts it to get a sense of its imperial dominion.
This is the map which for us in the West defines the world as we understand it, still to this day.
Mercator was a brilliant scientist.
But his strange map of the Arctic reveals that he also believed in
all the myths and superstitions of his age.
Nobody had been to the North Pole,
so it shows an entirely imaginary geography.
In the centre is a huge black mountain.
Around the Pole are the northern countries of the Arctic Circle.
It was this mythical Arctic map that caught the imagination of an Englishman called John Dee.
Dee had studied with Mercator and was now an influential adviser to Queen Elizabeth I.
He was driven by a desire to build a British Empire.
Dee was fascinated but also really puzzled by
Mercator's map so he demanded an explanation from his old friend.
Mercator wrote back describing the ancient travellers tales and strange myths that inspired his map.
In the midst is a whirlpool, wrote Mercator, onto which there
empty four in-drawing seas.
Little people live there, pygmies, not above four feet tall.
Dee was delighted by this tale, but was even more excited when Mercator suggested that the lands
of the Arctic had been colonised by ancient Britons 1,000 years earlier.
For Dee, this provided historical justification for the English to reclaim these northern lands.
Dee now made his own map to convince the Queen.
At 11am, on the 3rd October 1580, John Dee presented himself to the royal court at Richmond Palace.
He solemnly gave the Queen a rolled up map very similar to this one.
And it showed all the northern regions that he laid claim to on behalf of the Queen,
stretching all the way from the New World here,
right over here to the Arctic.
On the back of the map he also listed all the foreign lands
that he laid claim to on behalf of the English crown.
The Queen did not want to risk provoking imperial Portugal and Spain with such claims.
But some were less cautious.
The boldness of Dee's vision encouraged other members of the court to think big,
and start putting the British Empire on the map.
Sir Walter Raleigh was one of the great explorers of the Elizabethan Age, and a favourite of the Queen.
She presented Raleigh with a townhouse in London, lands in Ireland and the magnificent
Sherborne Castle here in Dorset.
Sir Walter Raleigh and John Dee would sit up talking deep into the night here in this study.
They discussed all the pressing questions of the day - religion, sorcery, exploration and empire.
Both men were eager to establish an English Empire that would rival Portugal and the great enemy Spain.
Raleigh had heard travellers tales about a rich and beautiful empire called Guiana in South America,
with a great and golden city called El Dorado.
Its people were said to blow gold dust on to their naked bodies at drunken feasts.
Raleigh wanted to win this territory for the Queen and bring her treasures from across the seas.
In February 1595, Raleigh set off with three ships
in search of the legendary city in what is now Venezuela.
And as he made his perilous journey, Raleigh drew a map.
This is a copy of Sir Walter Raleigh's extraordinary treasure map of Guyana.
It's got north at the bottom because that is how Raleigh would first have encountered the coastline.
And then it gets increasingly blank the further into the interior you go
because, of course, it's virgin, unmapped territory.
Then looking at it right in the centre is this huge lake with these tributaries coming off,
they're like tentacles.
And down here cutting in to the territory is the river Orenoque,
this is the Orinoco, flowing right across the map.
Raleigh wrote this book about his travels which is called The Discoverie Of Guiana,
and in it he describes how his tiny fleet of vessels arrived at "The great river of Orenoque,"
which he describes as being 300 miles wide at its entrance the sea.
Raleigh also describes a series of islands which
he says are "Very great, many of them as big as the Isle of Wight."
And he believed that if he travelled up the Orenoque - or Orinoco River,
he would finally reach his destination, the fabled city of El Dorado.
Raleigh's expedition sailed on hundreds of miles through the jungle.
Throughout his voyage, Raleigh kept hearing ever more fabulous accounts of the treasures of El Dorado.
He even felt confident enough to mark its location on this map.
And here just off the great lake, a tributary runs along here
and in faded letters I can just make out El Dorado. Here it is.
This is the location where Raleigh believed he would find the great treasures of the city of El Dorado.
But then the furious storms of the rainy season set in.
The Orinoco flooded and the expedition was forced to turn back.
On his return, Raleigh pleaded with the Queen to claim the treasures of
El Dorado for England and declare herself Empress of Guiana.
But the Queen was reluctant to antagonise the Spanish, who already had prior claims to the area.
So instead she did nothing.
And when she died, Raleigh's luck finally ran out.
Her successor King James I immediately allied himself to the Spanish.
He charged Raleigh with treason,
confiscating all his assets including Sherborne Castle,
and imprisoned him in the Tower of London.
Raleigh spent 13 years in the Tower, but the dream of El Dorado never died.
In 1617, James I became desperate for money and gold.
He released Raleigh to make one more attempt to find the golden city.
The King had only one condition - Raleigh mustn't antagonise the Spanish.
But as they sailed further up the Orinoco than ever before,
Raleigh's men found themselves in Spanish territory.
After a bloody encounter with Spanish settlers,
Raleigh was once again forced to return home empty-handed.
And he wouldn't get another chance.
Furious at the failure of the mission and at his disobedience, the King ordered Raleigh's execution.
He was beheaded in 1618.
El Dorado was a dream that brought Sir Walter Raleigh nothing but trouble -
no wealth, no colonies, not even a pardon from the King.
But over the next 200 years, the legend of his map of El Dorado would inspire countless adventurers
to embark on reckless missions of plunder and possession.
While Raleigh and the English were pursuing fantasies of El Dorado,
Dutch merchants were using the latest maps to unlock real treasure,
the exotic spices of the East.
The Dutch East India Company was set up in 1602 and quickly became a mighty global force.
Maps were vital to the company's success.
Well, at the beginning of the 17th century,
maps stop being or become less, gorgeous hand-painted objects
to be exchanged, to be presented as gifts by ambassadors,
and become part of the paraphernalia and business of travel.
So they are part of a commercial tool box for exploring the globe with a view to making profit.
The vast corporate empire of the Dutch East India Company
- or VOC as it was known - stretched from Africa to Japan.
It was run from its headquarters here in Amsterdam.
This was the hub of a global information network where
the company's own cartographers drew up their own maps.
These maps were closely-guarded commercial secrets.
The ships of the Dutch East India Company had a combination of
small scale maps and large scale maps on board.
The small scale maps for crossing the big oceans,
the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean.
This one was used for crossing the Atlantic,
although there's only a little piece left.
When they had crossed the ocean, they needed larger scale maps.
Of course the inland is hardly visible because that was of no use,
but everything on the shore or in front of the shore was very clear and very accurate.
This is really a map about commerce, about marking the coastline
and working out where you can land and can trade your goods.
When you were nearing your goal it was very essential that you had a very accurate map.
In fact, there was a whole circulation of communication that took place so the pilots, they
took their charts back to Amsterdam and they said, "This is wrong, this is better, I made that one better."
The chief chart maker,
he improved the maps and sent the ships with new improved maps.
As the Dutch mapped the world with increasing accuracy,
they were also staking their claim on new territory.
They are using the equivalent of the Tube map.
They can get wherever they want.
They can confidently trade across the hinterlands of before uncharted territories.
They know where people are.
That is a very modern idea - that you are somewhere extremely remote
that you arrived at by sea but you know where other people are,
other Westerners, in relation to yourself.
In 1633 the VOC hired Willem Blaeu as its chief map-maker.
Blaeu had his own successful map making business, and his new job
gave him access to highly classified information.
Rather odd that a man like Willem Bleau
both had his own business, he made atlas maps, and next to that he
was the chief cartographer of the Dutch East India Company.
And whereas these maps were secret, that was commercial capital, these maps were in the end little puzzle
pieces that fitted into the big puzzle of the world map, that improved steadily on and on.
So Bleau is using this kind of raw material to then put together an updated version of the world map?
Blaeu's atlas was a luxury object, beautifully bound and engraved,
full of colour and intricate typography.
Blaeu used the latest data gathered by the Dutch East India Company to
update the map of the world using Mercator's projection.
This was the first time that a Mercator projection was included in a world atlas.
In this way he popularised a projection that wasn't popular at all.
It was a projection that was made for the seafaring people, for the pilots.
Now he included the map of which he was apparently so proud in this atlas.
In the 1630s, Blaeu's atlas was translated into many languages and became a huge success.
And the Dutch East India Company
was now eclipsing Portugal and Spain in global trade.
The big innovation from the middle of the 17th century for the Dutch is that they stop carrying in gold
and silver simply to buy and sell in the Indies and carry the trade back,
they now trade across the Indies with other nations,
with other Dutch parts of the East India Company.
They transact goods for other goods,
they use copper, they use silk for spices, there is a whole burgeoning
really commercial marketplace which is remote from Holland.
They are an autonomous bazaar in the East Indies,
and the maps have enabled that.
By the end of the 18th century the VOC had sent over a million people to work in the Asian trade.
They'd dispatched nearly 5,000 ships and netted millions of tonnes of goods and commodities.
The VOC brought huge prosperity to Holland and kick-started a sophisticated international market.
But in the nineteenth century, the failure to standardise maps began to
hold back the development of an efficient global economy.
Navigation relied on comparing the time at your current location
with the time on a fixed line of longitude called prime meridian.
Britain's prime meridian ran through Greenwich, where the time was marked
once a day by the time ball at Flamsteed House.
Passing Flamsteed House as the time ball fell here, ships leaving the London docks could now quite
accurately set their clocks to 1pm Greenwich Mean Time.
But that of course was just the British ships - trading nations all the way from France right through
to Japan were still using their own measurements of time according to their own prime meridians.
It was absolute chaos.
So could the world's maps be standardised around a single line?
In 1884, representatives of 25 countries came together to
decide where the world's prime meridian should be.
The meridian lines that had ranged across the world's maps since Ptolemy
were now symbols of imperial prestige.
Proceedings were dominated by Britain and France, who were by now the pre-eminent
imperial powers of the age, with each lobbying for the supremacy of their own prime meridian.
The French delegates regarded themselves
as part of a long and extremely distinguished tradition of scientific map making.
They were going to fight their corner really hard.
They had no intention of giving up the prime meridian here in Paris to the British.
But Britain's claim found support from the United States' delegate, Commander William Sampson.
Commander Sampson argued that, "The meridian should be selected which is now in most general use.
"More than 70% of all the shipping of the world uses the Greenwich Meridian."
Britain now had the advantage.
When it came to the vote, only San Domingo opposed the British claim.
The French abstained.
Britain was absolutely triumphant, and this 1886 British Empire map shows
Britain right at the centre of the world, with the Greenwich Meridian running right down the middle.
And across the map in red, British Imperial Dominions.
And just to make the point very clear about what is happening here,
Britannia is shown lounging on a globe.
The French delegation returned home to Paris with their tails between their legs,
but they still refused to concede defeat.
This French world map produced eight years after the Meridian Conference
stubbornly sticks to Paris as the prime meridian and, by implication, France as the centre of the world.
It would be another quarter of a century before the French map-makers
adopted Greenwich as their prime meridian.
The international battle over the prime meridian is long over,
and the mapping of the whole world is almost complete.
But disputes over unclaimed territory continue.
In 2007, the age of discovery and plunder
was given a new lease of life
when a Russian submarine planted a titanium flag on the seabed directly beneath the North Pole.
And the rush by other nations to claim rights over natural resources
beneath the Arctic ice is now putting today's map-makers
at the heart of a new struggle for power and wealth.
The International Boundaries Research Unit at Durham University
is drawing up new maps of the Arctic in an effort to resolve potential territorial disputes.
This is the political map and this is the physical map?
-That's correct, yes.
-Why is this map so important now?
The need for the physical mapping is because so little is known about
what lies under the Arctic because it has been covered by ice.
So global warming is creating a much more politically charged area around claims to the North Pole?
To some extent, the opening up of the Arctic waters means
that areas where there are potential resources are becoming much clearer.
So, what are the resources involved here?
It's huge, I think it was something like 20 billion barrels of oil and gas in the Arctic in region.
Areas likely to be rich in gas and oil have already been partially mapped.
But who owns these resources?
It all depends on who can establish their claim to the seabed.
The Durham team have created the first political map of the Arctic
to show who is currently laying claim to what.
We have the land territories of Russia,
which has the longest coastal frontage on the Arctic,
the USA through its sovereignty over Alaska,
we have Canada with the Canadian Archipelago.
Then we have Greenland under the sovereignty of Denmark,
and finally Norway,
through its sovereignty over the Svalbard Archipelago.
States have rights over the resources up to 200 nautical miles from their coastline.
But in exceptional circumstances,
it's possible for a country to extend this boundary.
And that's what the Russians are trying to do.
They're laying claim to a raised area of the seabed
extending all the way from Siberia to the North Pole.
It's called the Lomonosov Ridge.
The famous flag-planting incident on the North Pole seabed came as part of Russia's attempt
to gather more evidence that the Lomonosov Ridge
really is physically connected to the continental margin of Russian land territory.
Which caused quite a hostile reaction from some of its neighbours,
particularly Canada, which said, "Why was Russia claiming the North Pole as Russian?"
Legally, it has no effect at all.
Planting a flag, certainly these days, does not say anything about title to territory.
I think having a good map on the table in a negotiation is extremely important.
As that ocean becomes more navigable,
there is a risk of naval incidents
and who knows what kind of geo-political games could be played in the region.
From medieval times to the age of discovery and the era of empire,
map-making has always been bound up with conquest, imperial expansion and conflict.
This modern "map in progress" depicts the fault lines of the future.
It's a warning of potential conflict ahead as the Arctic ice melts.
The lessons of history would suggest that where there's a world map, plunder will surely follow.
But this time the map-makers are ahead of the game,
because when the ice melts and the exploitation really starts,
there will be an internationally recognised chart of the region
to take the heat out of the conflicts over mineral wealth which will surely take place.
In the 21st century, map-makers have become peacemakers.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]