America and Amerindians in Sebastian Münster’s Cosmographiae universalis libri VI, 1550

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Sebastian Münster's Cosmographiae universalis libri VI (1550) was produced in more sixteenth‐century editions that any book apart from the Bible. A descriptive geography prefaced by a series of maps, it offered the reader an overview of the world's peoples, natural history and geography. While German cosmographers had been instrumental in the emergence of the notion of America as the fourth part of the world, Münster considered America as part of Asia in a world with three, rather than four, parts.

This article investigates how Münster conceptualized America and Amerindians in the Cosmographia, and the ways in which he related them to the rest of the world. It shows how Münster's consideration of America as part of an island chain that included the Spice Islands or Moluccas fed into a broader discourse of long‐distance trade and exploration rather than indicating the limits of his ability to reconcile classical geography with contemporary exploration. It explains why Münster's delineation of America as an island was unsuccessful, but also why it consituted a reasonable model in the sixteenth century.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)351-73
Number of pages23
JournalRenaissance Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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