Maps of the South East Part of Asia for Illustrating Dr. Robertson’s Historical Disquisition


An interesting example of comparative cartography from the late 18th century.

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These two maps show roughly the same geographic location, from the Red Sea to the Gulf of Thailand, but represent cartography from two very different time periods. The first shows southeast Asia according to maps proposed by the Greek scholar Ptolemy, who lived during the 2nd century A.D. Although he was familiar with India and the Far East, Ptolemy thought the Indian Ocean was enclosed by land, which explains the continental extensions on either side of the sheet. Taprobana (Sri Lanka) is also exaggerated in size to reflect its almost mythological status from being discovered (and described as 3 times the size of Great Britain) nearly 400 years before Ptolemy!

The second map shows southeast Asia according to contemporary cartographers in the 18th century. It’s a much more accurate outline, but nevertheless the geographic knowledge of the Greeks is duly impressive. Interior details are sparse on both maps, and likely reflect place names referenced in the book in which the maps were published.

An Historical Disquisition Concerning the Knowledge Which the Ancients Had of India, by William Robertson, was first published in London in 1791 and covers the history and exploration of the area depicted in great detail. In addition to maps, the volume contains numerous printed plates, charts, and indices. It was printed in several different editions through the early 1820’s, but most copies have a publisher’s imprint somewhere within the image. These particular examples do not, so I believe they were issued in an 1812 edition published in Philadelphia by John Bioren and Thomas Plowman.

Map Details

Publication Date: c. 1812

Author: William Robertson?

Sheet Width (in): 22.10

Sheet Height (in): 15.00

Condition: B-

Condition Description: The maps are in good condition, with the most significant defect being the narrowed right margins and fraying into the neatline. Otherwise there is moderate offsetting and minor creasing along the fold lines. One or two spots of foxing on either map.