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Globalism and Tolerance in Early Modern Geography

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Geography's voice within the debates on cosmopolitan citizenship initiated by Martha Nussbaum's 1994 restatement of Stoic cosmopolitanism has been strangely muted, especially given the significance of spatiality and cultural specificity within recent geographical theory. David Harvey's (2000) contribution is an exception, but while his argument that geographical education should be propaedeutic to cosmopolitanism is politically powerful and timely, his presentation of it begs some historical questions. The principal ones concern his neglect of the neo-Stoic tradition in Renaissance geography and his narrow embrace of geography as a political project. This article addresses these issues through an examination of Abraham Ortelius's Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (1570) , a distinctly Renaissance cosmographic project of representing the world's unity and diversity. The work is placed in the context of sixteenth-century neo-Stoicism, humanist rhetoric, and the metaphor of the world theater as a moral space. Knowledge of the world theater involves various forms of “distanciation,” promoting a quest for wisdom and tolerance of difference. Such geography is primarily a moral project that emphasizes the poetics as much as the politics of reason and understanding. Philosophical ideas and practices relating to global knowledge and vision, molded in the context of the early Roman empire, were reworked in the early years of European (especially Iberian) oceanic empire, and also in the context of religious intolerance within Europe itself. The article argues that geography's own contributions to cosmopolitanism are deeper and more complex than a reading confined to post-Enlightenment disciplinary geography would suggest.

Keywords: Ortelius; atlas; cosmography; cosmopolitanism; renaissance geography

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography, University of California Los Angeles

Publication date: 2003-12-01

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