The Road to There: Mapmakers and Their Stories

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2009-09-08
  • Publisher: McClelland & Stewart Ltd

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Winner of the 2004 Norma Fleck Award for Canadian children's non-fiction Honor Book for the Society of School Librarians International's Best Book Award Social Studies, Grades 7-12 Shortlisted for the Children's Literature Roundtable Information Book of the Year 2003 winner of the Mr. Christie's Book Award Seal Shortlisted for the 2004 Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children's Non-fiction Included onVOYA's ninth annual Nonfiction Honor List Selected for inclusion inCCBC Choices 2004:the best-of-the-yearlist published by the Cooperative Children's Book center of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Named Notable Book by the International Reading Association's Children's Book Award in the intermediate nonfiction category Road maps; sailor's charts; quilts; songlines; gilded parchment covered with jewel-like colors; computer printouts to guide us through the strange, vast, beautiful, and mysterious frontiers of the world of maps, Val Ross presents the men and women who made them. Here are some of the unexpected stories of history's great mapmakers: the fraud artists who deliberately distorted maps for political gain, Captain Cook, the slaves on the run who found their way thanks to specially-pieced quilts, the woman who mapped London's streets, princes, doctors, and warriors. These are the people who helped us chart our way in the world, under the sea, and on to the stars. With reproductions of some of the most important maps in history, this extraordinary book, packed with information, is as fascinating and suspenseful as a novel. From the Hardcover edition.

Author Biography

Val Ross was a renowned journalist and won a National Newspaper Award. She was highly respected throughout the publishing industry for her coverage of books and the people who create them. She was an arts reporter at The Globe and Mail and her first book, The Road to There: Mapmakers and Their Stories was nominated for many awards and won the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s non-fiction. Val Ross passed away in 2008.

From the Hardcover edition.



The Vinland Map

Some time in the first half of the 20th century, someone picks up a pen and begins to fake an antique map. The forgery will “prove” that the Norsemen, or Vikings, had sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to America long before Christopher Columbus’s arrival in 1492.

The forger’s pen hovers for a moment above a blank piece of parchment (animal skin prepared as a writing surface). The parchment is no fake. And, although it dates from about 1440
long after the Norse voyages to “Wineland” or Vinland (the Norse name for North America) around the year 1000the forger is not worried, since many mapmakers based their maps on earlier maps. What is important is that his map will seem to predate Columbus.

The forger works carefully, writing in Latin and watering his ink so it will appear faded. He knows that medieval mapmakers used inks mixed from iron compounds that erode and leave a rusty stain, and plans to fake such stains with yellowish dye. He might even add holes to the parchment, to make it look like it was eaten by bookworms.

He draws the Mediterranean Sea, Northern Europe, Iceland, and Greenland. Then he dips his pen again, pauses, and commits himself to making the squiggly line that will turn his map into front-page headlines. Beyond Greenland, he draws a line showing the east coast of North America.

He adds notes to his map. One mentions the discovery of “a new land, extremely fertile and having vines” by the Norseman Leif Eriksson. Another note tells of a journey to Vinland around 1100 by Bishop Eirik Gnupsson of Greenland, who claimed the new land for the Holy Church.

The forger knows a lot about mapmakers of the past. He knows that the first map to use the word “America” was drawn by a German priest named Martin Waldseemüller in 1507. And he knows that any map older than Waldseemüller’s that shows North America will be a cartographic bombshell.

In 1957, book dealers tried to sell a “Vinland Map” to the British Museum in London. The map they offered was bound into an old book about an Italian priest’s travels to Mongolia. The British Museum experts took a look at the book. They thought the Italian priest part looked genuine. But as for the Vinland Map – they smelled a rat and said, “No, thank you.”

So the book dealers decided to unload their Vinland Map in North America. This time, the map convinced people – perhaps because people were ready to be convinced. Scholars had speculated for some time that the Norse had beat Columbus to America because old Icelandic sagas, such as the Greenland Saga and Erik the Red’s Saga, described voyages to Vinland around the year 1000. In the late 1950s, archeologists announced that they had found ruins of the Vinland settlement in northern Newfoundland.

North Americans were ready for some hold-in-your-hand proof of the Norse presence in North America. When the book dealers offered the map for sale in North America, a billionaire named Paul Mellon snapped it up for $1 million and donated it to Yale University.

The map was made public in November 1965, just before Columbus Day. This was bad timing for Italian and Spanish Americans who took pride in Columbus, the Italian who had sailed for Spain. They felt it was rude to steal Columbus’s thunder, and joined the chorus of English scientists who were already crying “Fake!”

In 1966 the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC invited experts from all over the world to stop fighting and calmly discuss the map’s authenticity. The assembled experts began by questioning the book dealer who sold the map to Paul Mellon. He refused to reveal his sources, but this was not unusual. During World War II, the Nazis had stolen art and bo

Excerpted from The Road to There: Mapmakers and Their Stories by Val Ross
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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