Browse Primary Sources

Locate primary sources, including images, objects, media, and texts. Annotations by scholars contextualize sources.

The Mercator Projection

Although the Flemish geographer and cartographer Gerardus Mercator's rendering of the earth has been criticized for the way it distorts reality, it was revolutionary in the way it organized space and distance.

The Jingban tianwen quantu Map of the World

Like many maps in the pre-modern and early-modern world, this map from China at the end of the 18th century reflected a deeply egocentric worldview.

Babylonian Map Tablet

This ancient map depicts the known world as imagined by the Babylonians of the 6th century BCE. Like many ancient maps, this cuneiform tablet is concerned less with mathematically plotting space and direction than with simply capturing the various places and peoples in the world around Babylon.

The Turin Beatus Map of the World

Before the modern age, maps offered more than just an objective, geographical survey. Often, as is the case with this world map from the 12th century, they also conveyed a set of stories that shaped the worldview of its viewers. This map, for instance, sought to convey allegorical, religious, and geographic information all at once.

Marshall Islands Stick Charts

The Marshall Island stick charts represent a unique and non-Western tradition of mapmaking. Whereas Western maps generally attempt to capture and visualize distance and space, the charts of the Marshallese dwelt not just on general direction, with shells representing nearby islands, but, more importantly, ocean currents and swell movements.

Plan for the City of Moscow

This 1793 map of Moscow shows a relatively modest and compact city when compared to the sprawling metropolis of the 21st century. From this perspective, the viewer can see the remains of a fortification wall that once encompassed the entirety of the city.

Map of Poverty in Mexico

Maps are often designed to visualize more than just space and distance. This map, for instance, visualizes how poverty is distributed throughout the various Mexican states in hopes of identifying those areas most in need. The form of this map, or the artistic way in which the map is drawn, is meant to tell the story of how deeply the issue of poverty affects the people in each region.

Ptolemy's World Map

Ptolemy was an ancient geographer working in Rome in the 2nd century AD.

Africae tabula noua

This standard map of Africa came from a popular Atlas in the late sixteenth century. In a dramatic age of exploration, new information poured in from around the world through books and travel accounts that artists and geographers, like Abraham Ortelius, used to craft beautifully detailed maps of far off lands.

Excerpt from Aguinaldo’s Case Against The United States

The Philippines, an archipelago of over 7,000 islands in the western Pacific Ocean, had been a Spanish colony for over 300 years by the 1890s. Filipino nationalists led by Emilio Aguinaldo rebelled against Spanish rule beginning in 1896. When the United States declared war against Spain over events in Cuba in 1898, the U.S. Navy moved against Spanish colonies in the Pacific as well. U.S.

Bronze sculpture of Buddha sitting under a tree

Buddha Sheltered by a Naga

This small bronze statue made in Cambodia in the twelfth century shows the serpent king Muchilinda, a type of mythical half human and half cobra being known as a naga, protecting the Buddha. Images of this scene became popular in the twelfth century Khmer Kingdom of today’s Cambodia, sponsored by King Jayavarman VII (c. 1122–1218), a strong supporter of Buddhism.

Bronze sculpture of Shiva standing with a head dress.

The Half-Male, Half-Female Form of Shiva (Shiva Ardhanarishvara)

This sculpture is of Shiva, originally found in Kerala, southwestern India, shows the importance of religious symbols in Hinduism. Shiva is a major Hindu god who is associated with the opposing ideas of destruction and regeneration.

Illustration shows an island with a collection of buildings in the center

Kilwa Map Illustration

This illustration shows the trading city state of Kilwa or Kilwa Kiswani on an island off the Swahili Coast in East Africa (modern Tanzania), which flourished between the 12th and 15th century.

Stellar diagram features a drawing of a ship surrounded by Chinese characters

Navigational Charts Based on Those Used by Zheng He

These two woodblock prints are part of a map printed in a seventeenth-century military treatise, and thought to be based on the maps used by Zheng He in his voyages. The map is therefore usually known as “Zheng He Map.” It depicts the coastline from China to the central eastern coast of Africa arranged as a long strip.

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Excerpt from the Memoirs of Ma Huan

This excerpt is from the memoir of Ma Huan (1380-1460), a Chinese Muslim voyager and translator, who accompanied Admiral Zheng He on three of his seven voyages. The excerpt focuses on their time in Calicut (modern day Kozhikode, India) in the 1430s and highlights aspects of their experiences there.

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Excerpt from Ibn Battuta's Travels in Asia and Africa 1325-1354

This source comes from the travel book of Ibn Battuta (1304-1369), a Moroccan Berber scholar and explorer.

Copper-alloy cast crucifix, with two kneeling figures resting on bar above hands, with a third projecting below the central figure's feet.

Crucifix (Nkangi Kiditu)

This 17th-century brass Kongolese crucifix was based on European models, but transformed by the local artisan who made it. In the center is Jesus, but with large hands, flattened feet, and African facial features, including protruding eyes that convey spiritual connection. This way of representing Christ developed in Kongo during the sixteenth century, and continues to today.

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Excerpt of letter from Nzinga Mbemba to Portuguese King João III

In 1526, the king of the Kongo, Nzinga Mbemba (who by this time had adopted the Christian name of Afonso I) began writing a series of twenty-four letters to the Portuguese King Joao III appealing for an end to the slave trade.

A stone monument with a cross on top


In the 1480s, the Portuguese brought pillars (or padraos) with them in their explorations of western and southwestern Africa and placed them at prominent points, claiming these for Portugal. This is a replica of one of them, from what is now called Cape Cross, in Namibia. At the top is a cross and underneath this is the coat of arms of the kings of Portugal.

Close up image of Arabic script on a gold coin

A gold dinar of Abd al-Malik minted in Damascus in 697/98

Historians use coins to find evidence of change over time. This dinar coined in 697 or 698 was minted in Damascus by the Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn. Compared to a coin minted by the same state only a few years earlier we notice an interesting difference.