There's something magical about a globe: the way it takes the whole vast world and situates it neatly on your desk; the transporting feeling you get when you trace your finger from one ocean into the next. A new book, "Globes: 400 years of exploration, navigation, and power" by Sylvia Sumira, offers a beautifully photographed tour of the British Library's collection of globes, most of which date from the early 16th century to the 19th century. There are terrestrial globes, celestial globes, pocket globes, globes of the moon, and a decadent blue globe made in China in the early 1600s. Most of the globes were made with a scientific purpose, to aid navigation, or to demonstrate the parallax of the moon. But together, they suggest something beyond precision: a reverent effort to make sense of the mysterious place we plant our feet.
A pocket globe from 1793
A celestial globe from the early 1600s
Selenographia, a lunar globe from 1797 by John Russell, painter to George III. It is affixed with a small globe of the earth which could be positioned to show the moon's parallax.
The earliest extant terrestrial globe made in China
Images courtesy of the University of Chicago Press.
The author is solely responsible for the content.
Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.