“New Skies And New Stars”

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“History cannot be written in the presence of documents alone. The role of the historian is less to discover and catalog documents than to interpret and explain them; he must try to fill in the gaps left by missing links in the chain of documentary evidence. In order to do this the historian has to seek the help of the study of the natural sciences and the historical sciences as well as that of the study of the history of science itself… We know that there have been many historical events about which no documents are known to exist. Nevertheless, the historian cannot ignore such events; he has to study and interpret them, and this can only be done on the basis of other historical evidence and scientific analysis.”

Such “other historical evidence,” Professor Cortesão believes, exists to buttress his claim that mariners sailed to the New World long before Columbus. It goes far to justify the boast of the Fifteenth Century Portuguese cosmographer, who cried—in words that have an Elizabethan lilt to them, a century and a half before the age of Elizabeth:

“The Portuguese dared to attack the great Ocean sea. They entered it without fear. They discovered new islands, new lands, new seas, new peoples; and furthermore, new skies and new stars. And they so completely lost their fear of it, that neither the great heat of the torrid zone, nor even the terrific cold of the extreme southern parts, with which the writers of yore used to frighten us, could deter them.”

The Nautical Chart of 1424 and the early Discovery and Cartographical Representation of America, by Armando Cortesão. With color plates and maps. 123 pp. The University of Coimbra, Portugal.