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Cartography as a Tool of Colonization: Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s 1583 Voyage to North America*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2018

Nate Probasco*
Affiliation:
Briar Cliff University

Abstract

An analysis of Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s 1583 expedition to North America, which was England’s first attempt at colonization beyond Britain, shows that the nation’s earliest expansionists perceived the significance of maps in supporting colonization. Gilbert recruited several specialists, including John Dee and Richard Hakluyt, who expended considerable time and resources conducting research for their maps and drawing up plans to survey the colony. A thorough examination of Gilbert’s sea chart and terrestrial maps clarifies how his circle used them to promote the expedition, to guide it to North America, and to assert their control over the territory. Scholars often depict early modern English colonizers as having little interest in cartographic materials, but Gilbert and his supporters proved that maps served a number of vital functions in preparing and executing a colonizing expedition.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Renaissance Society of America 2014

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Footnotes

*

This article derives from chapter 2 of my forthcoming PhD dissertation, and the research that made it possible was funded by fellowships from the University of Nebraska and from the Huntington Library. Professor Nancy Stara, the University of Nebraska Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program, and the University of Nebraska Department of History provided additional financial support. Thank you to my advisor, Professor Carole Levin; to my Supervisory Committee member, Professor Julia Schleck; and to the anonymous RQ readers for commenting upon versions of my essay. I am also grateful to the British Library, the British Museum, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the Huntington Library for granting me permission to publish the illustrations that follow. All translations are my own.

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