Los Altos native and cartography researcher Chet Van Duzer delved into the deep for his latest book.
“Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps” (British Library, 2013) takes a closer look at the mysterious sea creatures that grace historical maps – from giant fish to dragons, serpents and amalgamations of the known and unknown.
Van Duzer, a research scholar at Brown University’s John Carter Brown Library and former Kislak Fellow at the Library of Congress, spent two years researching and writing the book. He has published extensively on medieval and Renaissance maps.
A few years ago at a library in Spain, Van Duzer found a map that included a sea monster. He began searching for other instances of the creatures and explored their decorative and educational functions.
“While it’s hard to generalize, some sea monsters do represent the dangers of the unknown, but others are shown in well-known areas,” he said. “Sea monsters on maps have multiple functions. They can represent the unknown or show the cartographer’s knowledge of sea creatures.”
Van Duzer said the process of researching was “enjoyable and fun” because the subject is engaging.
“When I’ve given talks about sea monsters, everyone goes away with a smile on their faces,” he said. “It’s really very satisfying to work with the subject.”
Van Duzer’s next project moves from past to future. He intends to research maps that hypothesize how the world would appear during the apocalypse.
“Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps” is available at Amazon.com.