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Redeeming the Truth: Robert Morden and the Marketing of Authority in Early World Atlases


By its very nature as a "book of the world"--a product simultaneously artistic and intellectual--the world atlas of the seventeenth century promoted a totalizing global view designed to inform, educate, and delight readers by describing the entire world through science and imagination, mathematics and wonder. Yet early modern atlas makers faced two important challenges to commercial success. First, there were many similar products available from competitors at home and abroad. Secondly, they faced consumer skepticism about the authority of any work claiming to describe the entire world, in the period before standards of publishing credibility were established, and before the transition from trust in premodern geographic authorities to trust in modern authorities was complete. This study argues that commercial world atlas compilers of London and Paris strove to meet these challenges through marketing strategies of authorial self-presentation designed to promote their authority to create a trustworthy world atlas. It identifies and examines several key personas that, deployed through atlas texts and portraits, together formed a self-presentation asserting the atlas producer's cultural authority. As an inquiry into how successful world atlases reveal the changing values of the cultures in which they were produced, sold, and consumed, this study analyzes the self-presentations of four atlas makers of London (Herman Moll, Robert Morden, John Senex, and John Speed) and four Parisian atlas makers (Jean Boisseau, Nicolas de Fer, Alexis-Hubert Jaillot, and Allain Manesson Mallet). Examining atlases published between 1627 and 1721, I demonstrate how atlas compilers created personas advertising not only their geographic knowledge, but also other desirable characteristics and affiliations. After reviewing the intellectual origins of the early modern world atlas, I offer thematic analyses of the three most common personas: the patron's servant, the artisanal geographic expert, and the scholarly geographic expert. These are followed by a case study of the vivid and layered self-presentation created by Robert Morden. The Conclusions consider the cross-cultural contexts influencing the choices atlas makers faced when presenting themselves to readers.

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