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Rhumb Lines and Map WarsA Social History of the Mercator Projection$
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Mark Monmonier

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780226534312

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226534329.001.0001

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Early Sailing Charts

Early Sailing Charts

(p.17) 2 Early Sailing Charts
Rhumb Lines and Map Wars
University of Chicago Press

Portolan charts taught mariners to rely on sailing charts and also left a legacy of geographic detail for later mapmakers. In their handbook of cartographic innovations, map historians Helen Wallis and Arthur Robinson list four key characteristics of portolan charts. Foremost is the web of intersecting rhumb lines, typically originating on the circumference of a circle, around which sixteen equally spaced points represent the eight principal wind directions and the eight half-winds of the mariner's compass. Inked on treated animal skin called vellum, portolan charts withstood rough handling at sea better than paper navigation charts, which did not become common until the eighteenth century. Because tradition-bound mariners learned to live with its distortions, the plane chart dominated nautical charting for over a century after Mercator introduced his demonstrably superior 1569 world map.

Keywords:   Portolan charts, mariners, rhumb lines, compass, plane chart

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