The Curious Cartographical Case Of The Island Of California
We've become firmly accustomed to the instant gratification of Internet Time, which can be roughly summarised as "I want it now, dammit". Nowhere is this more evident than in maps. If something is wrong on a map, we expect it to be fixed. Now. Ten or so years ago, it would be common to wait somewhere between 12 and 18 months for a map's updates to be collected, validated and published. These days, thanks to our modern digital maps, we get our updates in more or less Internet Time and that means fast. It hasn't always been that way.
Although waiting over a year for a map update seems almost unthinkable now, consider for a moment having to wait almost half a century for a map to be updated. Yet this is what happened in the curious cartographical case of the Island of California.
I should state up front that I've been to California, quite a few times. The weather is fine (apart from San Francisco's fog), it's home to the technical hub of Silicon Valley and the local food and wine are rather good. It is most definitely not an island and what's more, there's a distinct lack of tribes of beautiful Amazonian warriors wielding gold tools and weaponry. Yet in 1510, Spanish author Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo published a novel entitled Las Sergas de Esplandián, or The Adventures Of Esplandián, which mentions the Island of California, populated by the aforementioned female warriors. The name and concept of an island stuck and early Spanish explorers of what we now call Baja California were convinced the new territory they had found was part of the Island of California.
In retrospect, early maps of the New World actually got the geography of California right. Both Mercator, he of web map projection controversy, in 1538 and Ortelius, in 1570, made maps that correctly showed California as a peninsula.