Scientist of the Day - Sebastian Münster
Sebastian Münster, a German scholar, was born Jan. 20, 1488. In 1544, Münster published the first edition of one of the most popular encyclopedias of the century. He called his book Cosmographia, using a word that meant, at the time, a combination of geography, history, natural history, and cartography. Basically, Münster tried to describe every place and neary every thing in the world, for the benefit of readers who wanted to know more about the world. The book was published in Basel and was a runaway best-seller, so that it was immediately reprinted and enlarged, and then translated, and by 1628, when it last appeared, it had gone through 35 editions, an astonishing number for a book that was the size of a toaster oven and contained nearly 1500 pages in most printings. We have a 1572 Latin edition in the History of Science Collection, and it is a monster to behold and an experience to peruse. The index alone is bigger than most stand-alone books--176 folio pages. When you consider that the first edition had no index at all, it is clear that the book evolved dramatically in its first 28 years.
Our copy has hundreds of woodcuts: country maps, city views, portraits of historical figures, battle scenes, and exotic animals. The images above offer a selection, including a map of the New World, a view of Rome, a portrait of Erasmus, a scene of a dowser looking for metals, and a rhinoceros. You may recognize the rhino as a copy of a famous woodcut by Albrecht Dürer (1515). In early editions of the Cosmographia, the rhinoceros woodblock was intact, but somewhere along the line it developed a major crack. This was often the fate of woodblocks used again and again for works issued in multiple editions.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City