A challenge I have found when doing my own research is where to find sources. I began with a few books from the library and then scoured the footnotes, writing down any titles that seemed to be of relevance or made interesting points. One of which was the article ‘Mapping an Empire: Cartographic and Colonial Rivalry in Seventeenth-Century Dutch and English North America’ by Benjamin Schmidt, that I am going to discuss within this article.

British Imperial Map, 1886

For many thinking about the history of maps, it is the British Imperial map of 1886 that is referred to, mainly because of the grandeur and power symbolised within this map. It has increasingly become the icon when addressing the subject of maps especially when studying Imperial maps and the advance of scientific cartography. This is most likely because, when at it’s peak, Britain possessed almost a third of the world’s land surface and a quarter of the world’s population. I also will not dispute the fact that I have only ever attended British educational institutes, so there is an immediate bias to my learning. However, what the article brought to my attention, was that in the early modern period and especially the 17th Century, it was Dutch cartography that flourished. Many of the maps, globes and atlases produced in the Dutch Republic were of such high quality that they were produced in multiple languages (including Latin) and then distributed throughout Europe (554) and that British equivalents were merely imitations.

I have often found that when studying the history of maps, something that as a geographer is done less often than you might think, we skip from the 1500’s, with the introduction of longitude and latitude, briefly through the 1600’s with the evolution of the world map drawn with two hemispheres to the 1900’s and the introduction of the colonial map drawn using scientific understanding and the focus remains upon Britain mapping her colonies. Yet within the 17th century, England had relatively little experience in engraving, printing and disseminating maps, meaning that they could not compete with the cartographic trade coming from Amsterdam. (563) This is especially important when the Dutch Republic and England were fighting over control for a section of America that ultimately became New York. Moreover, it is important to understand the importance of Dutch maps in influencing map-making within a European context and what became of the British Imperial Map.

Initially, a map of ‘New Netherland’, in America, possessed recognisable Dutch names and therefore, geography supported the idea that this territory must be within Dutch possession. Because, of the cartographic power of the Dutch Republic and the fact that the English version of the maps of ‘New England’ were inferior, many then supported the Dutch claim that this territory belonged to them. (551-63) Even the English equivalent, produced during the early years of English control (1664-1674) was based upon Dutch model’s and borrowed decorative models from the Dutch series by Jansson-Visscher.

Restitutio-Allard, 1673

Yet the English equivalent pales significantly in comparison to Restitutio-Allard, which appeared after the Dutch recapture of the colony in 1673. The map’s ornate cartouche coupled with the famous “Restitutio” view of New Amsterdam lavishly declares the restoration of Dutch power. With the depictions of Athena, Hermes and the Maiden of Holland, this is one of the finest examples of 17th century cartographic art and emphasises how easily the Dutch could out-map the English. (568-70)

There are many similarities between the “Restitutio” map of 1673 and the Imperial map of 1886 that highlight the influence that Dutch cartography had within the world of map-making and global politics.



Schmidt, B. (1997). Mapping an Empire: Cartographic and Colonial Rivalry in Seventeenth-Century Dutch and English North America. The William and Mary Quarterly, 54(3), pp.549-578.

Unexpected Discoveries