Early Modern Futures

John Seller, Map of Regiones...About the North Pole

On this extraordinary map, obsolete by the time it was printed, an incomplete outline of “Groenland” terminates in a hesitant strait between it and “New North Wales” in the western portion of Baffin’s Bay, while a confidently peninsular Nova Zembla projects toward the pole.

Although Seller’s map was printed in 1676, he typically used Dutch plates first created by Jan Jansson in 1620, which may have been copies of still earlier plates. Thus, by the time this map was included as part of Seller’s Atlas Maritimus, it was already more than 50 years out of date. Despite its obsolescence and that of Seller’s other maps, they were successfully published as “New and Exact,” partially because of the comparative inexperience of the English with Arctic navigation. To the upper left, English navigators are memorialized as “Noteworthy persons that have Attempted ye Discouery of a North East Passage to CHINA and JAPAN.” This is almost certainly an addition of  Seller’s, part of the ongoing English nationalizing project of maritime cartography. Yet, even as these and other English explorers—such as Hugh Willoughby, Richard Chancellor, Stephen Borough Martin Frobisher, and John Davis—had made considerable progress while searching for Northeast and Northwest Passages, many of the dimensions drawn so purposefully on this map could only be prospective. In similar plates designed by Jansson, Nova Zembla is incomplete and an island; Seller or an associate seems to have taken the liberty of quite hopefully completing it.

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