[ISHMap-List] Salem and Selden

Robert Batchelor batchelo at georgiasouthern.edu
Fri Jun 13 03:04:51 CEST 2014

*Forwarding* on something I wrote to fellow lister Vera Dorofeeva-Lichtmann
about the supposed Salem Map to save her a stamp as it were:

The story became apocryphal by the late nineteenth century, in a often
quoted but rarely cited poem that was actually written as a footnote to
another poem in 1878:

"Some native merchant of the East, they say
(Whether Canton, Calcutta or Bombay),
Had in his counting-room a map, whereon
Across the field in capitals was drawn
The name of Salem, meant to represent
That Salem was the Western Continent,
While in an upper corner was put down
A dot named Boston, SALEM'S leading town."
Charles Brooks in "The Fifth Half Century of the Landing of John Endicott
at Salem Massachusetts" (Salem: Essex Institute, 1878), 113n.  As you can
see, it was already a joke in 1878, and it sounds like it was a joke much

That volume was part of the series "Historical Collections of the Essex
Institute."  All nicely digitized on Google Books

In almost all the stories, most of them post-dating 1878, the map is a
manuscript hanging on the wall of a merchant.  The story usually says
Calcutta, but as with most folklore there are Canton and Bombay versions.
 The only odd thing is the way it clearly goes from being a very self-aware
Orientalist joke with multiple referents to being local history.  The
inscription is supposed to be in English when the map is in Calcutta.  The
source of the Peabody Essex rumor about a Chinese map is David Ferguson,
"Cleopatra's Barge" (1976), whom I suspect read this poem in the
"Historical Collections" and then claimed the map was there.  His book,
while entertaining in its way, is somewhat notorious for this kind of

*Also, *as it may be of interest to list members, I just returned from Hong
Kong, where the Selden Map is on display at the Hong Kong Maritime Museum
as part of the exhibition "Mapping Ming China's Maritime World" and there
was a major conference  on the Selden Map.  A number of elaborations of
points made in the Imago Mundi articles by Stephen Davies and myself were
made.  Davies himself presented important new work questioning the
centrality of the compass to Chinese and East Asian navigation generally,
using the Selden Map to show a 'repertoire' of techniques in play.  Other
scholars presented equally important discoveries that can help with
provenance questions, confirming and elaborating much of what has
previously been presented as tentative.  It was very clear that for those
working in East Asia on maritime issues as well as cartography, this is a
very important map, helping to rework and shift direction in a number of
fields.  A group from the Philippines that has recently published a volume
on early modern cartography mapping those islands made the trip just for
the conference (in part because of the importance of the Selden Map's
depiction of the archipelago).  In general, it is a really exciting time to
be doing comparative work in East Asian maps.  The atmosphere was highly
dynamic in no small part thanks to the visionary people at HKMM, who are
very interested in maritime cartography.  It was clear by the end of the
conference that we are going to be seeing a lot more largely unknown East
Asian maps from the early modern period challenging and even overturning
many of our assumptions about cartography during this period.

The full program can be found at:

Bob Batchelor

Robert Batchelor
Associate Professor of History
Georgia Southern University
Forest Drive Building (Office 1211)
PO 8054
Statesboro, GA 30460
Phone: 912-660-6613
FAX: 912-478-0377
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