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Benjamin B. Olshin

Forfatter af The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps

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Benjamin B. Olshin, is a Professor of Philosophy, the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, and Design at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He has written in a broad range of areas, including the history of cartography, the sociology of technology, the philosophy of science, vis mere and design. vis mindre

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Benjamin Olshin tries as much as possible to be fair to these maps, though he leans to the idea that they are later (sixteenth century?) copies of earlier information dating back to Marco Polo and his daughters. The problem is, is that these maps are assuredly post 1500s. One map, donated to the Library of Congress decades ago, was C-14 dated to 1463-1633 (p. 38). The paleography, the style of the writing, does not look like the 1200s to 1300s, it is definitely 1500s or even later, in my studied opinion (I've read lots of 1500s-1800s documents).

Olshin does not seem to consider that the maps could be forgeries in the mold of the Zeno maps and Zeno narrative, which percolated right around the time these maps may have been made. (He does mention the sixteenth century fake Relación del descubrimiento del estrecho de Anian, but not the Italianate Zeno fakes!) They could also have been faked in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when lots of fakes popped up. Think the Vinland Map or Drake's Plate of Brass.

But, Olshin thinks the Rossi family, particularly Marcian (who popped up with the maps in the 1890s), had no motive to fake maps. At least not for money. Olshin does not seem to consider the big push in the late 1800s by Italian-Americans to ensure that Columbus was given primacy in the discovery of America (it's why we have Columbus Day and all those pesky statues). Giving primacy to another Italian, Marco Polo, would be beneficial as well, as it undercut attempts in the late 1800s to have the English, Portuguese, and Scots predate Columbus (think Henry Sinclair, et al.). (It's why, too, in the late 1800s, Scandinavian-Americans pushed the Vikings, and you get the iffy Kennsington Runestone. Also, the Chinese discoverers, predating Polo, would have been roundly ignored in the racist late 1800s.)

I lean toward these being forged or amalgams of the 1600s, or even outright fakes from the 1800s. But, there is a possibility that they are amalgams or copies from the 1500s-1600s. As such, some now-lost or hidden information from Polo and his contemporaries may have leaked through. The most interesting items in that vein are those that mention Fu-sang (chap. 7), a supposed Chinese discovery of the Americas, that have leaked into these maps somehow, apparently before the Chinese story reached Europe in the 1750s-1760s. This may be an indication that the story of Fu-sang reached Europe earlier. But, the sheer child-like copywork of the "Map of the New World" (Document 10), with the seemingly traced Europe, the made-up Antilla, and the crude rendering of North and South America that, though crude, is still too close to correct to be something from the 1200s to the 1600s. To me it looks like a forger of the 1800s, and one meaning to give primacy to Italians, calling North and South America "Columbia Septentrionalis" and "Columbia Meriodionalis" respectively.

But, anyway. A good book, a good explanation of these oddities, and lots of research thrown in. Olshin does the best he can and should be commended. It's a great addition to the bookshelf of anybody interested in Marco Polo, the Age of Discovery, or early modern cartography. Academic presses (this is published by the University of Chicago) should not shy away from fringe and speculative theories. This is much better than letting popular presses trumpet inanities, like Menzies's 1421, or the internet fostering conspiracy theories. Others should take it from there, and Olshin should continue too. Good images, footnote, bibliography, index.
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tuckerresearch | Mar 5, 2021 |
I got this book as research for my upcoming novel None of the Above. My book is about an American born Chinese man that runs for president. While my wife is Asian, as well as many of my friends, I wanted to make sure I got cultural differences down correctly.

He makes interesting points like how different generations of American Chinese are coming from different socio-economic groups. Like early Chinese immigrants were poor and spoke Toisanese. Then the next big wave was from Hong Kong and Canton (Guangdong) which spoke Cantonese. Then later waves were more affluent from the mainland speaking Mandarin. The Chinese bring China with them and maintain their culture in their new countries.

Treating elders with respect was something we used to do as part of American culture too.

He sums up the attitude of many Asian women when he writes: "What impressed a Chinese woman is if the man is responsible about money, works hard, doesn't make an ass of himself in public, and is good with children. In Chinese culture, work status is so important -- whether you're a plumber or a lawyer...matters less than whether you are a person who does their work with diligence and dignity."

There were a number of entertaining anecdotes in the book.

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pgSundling | Apr 30, 2019 |


½ 3.5