Wednesday’s Book Review: “Apollo’s Eye: A Cartographic Genealogy of the Earth in the Western Imagination”

300x300_9780801864919Apollo’s Eye: A Cartographic Genealogy of the Earth in the Western Imagination. By Denis Cosgrove. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

Astronaut Joseph Allen recently made the observation that exploring the Moon in the 1960s was never really about going to the Moon. “With all the arguments, pro and con, for going to the Moon,” he commented, “no one suggested that we should do it to look at the Earth. But that may in fact be the one important reason.” This observation is useful in focusing attention on the Earth as a wholistic object in the cosmos and the consideration of Western Civilization’s relationship to it. Denis Cosgrove has contributed in this excellent book a discussion of how the Earth as a globe has been perceived throughout history.

Cosgrove builds his discussion around the key concepts of the globe as classical, Christian, oceanic, visionary, emblematic, enlightened, modern, and virtual. Each of these themes is explored in a chapter and the narrative marches through these ideas as individual epochs. They were not really contained in this way, of course, but it is useful methodology for analysis.

Most importantly, Cosgrove asks how conceiving of the Earth as a Christian globe, or a modern globe, or whatever else it has been envisioned over time has affected the evolution of Western Civilization. This book is very much focused on the West and western thought about the Earth; very little is considered concerning Asia, Africa, or other regions of the world.

Finally, Apollo’s Eye: A Cartographic Genealogy of the Earth in the Western Imagination offers a real contribution by focusing on the globalization of the recent past as a means to connect the peoples of the world into a larger whole. At some level Cosgrove invokes the Spaceship Earth concept in suggesting that human developments over time may be reaching a unity never seen before.

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