Terra Cognita: The Mental Discovery of America

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Most of us are fascinated by the conventional storybook account of Christopher Columbus' heroic discovery of America in 1492. Yet, should the credit for discovering America go to a man who insisted it was but a few islands off the shores of China? In Terra Cognita, Eviatar Zerubavel argues that physical encounters are only one part of the complex, multifaceted process of discovery. Such encounters must be complemented by an understanding of the true identity of what is being discovered. The small group of islands claimed by Columbus to have been discovered off the shores of Asia was a far cry from what we now call America. The discovery of the New World was not achieved in a single day but was a slow process—mental as well as physical—that lasted almost three hundred years. By celebrating 1492 as a year of discovery, we inevitably distort the reality of history.

In vividly documenting how a slowly emerging New World gradually forced itself into Europe's consciousness, Zerubavel shows that Columbus did not discover America on October 12, 1492. Supplemented by fascinating old maps and a new preface written for this paperback edition, Terra Cognita will be of interest to historians, geographers, cognitive scientists, sociologists, and students of culture.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Eviatar Zerubavel is one of the most original and versatile scholars in the field of sociology, the kind of man who sees important patterns and relationships where others see only the banalities of everyday life. [Terra Cognita] pulls together history and geography with the sociology of culture, and the result is one that gives new meaning and depth to the notion of discovery." – David S. Landes, Coolidge Professor Emeritus of History and Economics, Harvard University “A fascinating, brightly written and cogently argued work on the power of the geographical imagination to discover and fabricate reality…will delight and stimulate all cognitive geographers and students of the world map, and those concerned with the epistemological standing and psychology of exploration and discovery.” – Yi-Fu Tuan, J.K., University of Wisconsin, Madison
Library Journal
Here comes yet another Columbiana publication. The author's thesis is that the New World was discovered not by Columbus, and not in a single day, but rather in a slow, 300-year process that ended when Europeans finally figured out that the land they had encountered wasn't connected to Asia. The writing is good, as is the reasoning, and the use of maps to prove points is effective. These black-and-white maps could have been sharper, but there are 31 of them, each an important pre-1600 document; while they would be far more effective in color, the black-and-white versions keep the cost down. This voice of realism--``What's the fuss all about?''--would provide a good contrast in a collection on the quincentennial.-- Mary L. Larsgaard, Univ. of California-Santa Barbara Map & Imagery Lab Lib.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780765809872
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/31/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 164
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.02 (h) x 0.53 (d)

Meet the Author

Eviatar Zerubavel is professor of sociology at Rutgers University. He is also the author of Patterns of Time in Hospital Life, The Seven-Day Circle, Social Mindscapes, The Clockwork Muse, and Time Maps. Eviatar Zerubavel is professor of sociology at Rutgers University. He is also the author of Patterns of Time in Hospital Life, The Seven-Day Circle, Social Mindscapes, The Clockwork Muse, and Time Maps.

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Table of Contents

Preface to the Transaction Edition
Introduction 1
Ch. 1 Did Columbus Discover America? 11
Ch. 2 The Mental Discovery of America 36
Ch. 3 The Psychology of Discovering America 67
Conclusion 113
Notes 119
List Of Maps 137
Bibliography 145
Index 155
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