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Cosmographia was written by Peter Apian (or Petrus Apianus in the more common Latin version of his name), and was such a popular text that it eventually went through 45 separate editions. In Cosmographia, Apianus gave for lay readers an introduction to the discipline of cosmography, which blended concepts in astronomy, astrology, navigation, cartography, geography, and instrument design in order to plot the positions of astronomical and terrestrial masses (such as stars, planets, or continents).

A few years after the first edition appeared, mathematician Gemma Frisius published an edited version of Cosmographia and added his own corrections and additions to Apianus’ original text. Special Collections’ new acquisition is Frisius’ version of 1540. Frisius added many illustrations to the text, as well as complex volvelles (stacks of paper discs strung together on a page and rotated to compute calculations in geographical, astronomical, or mathematical problems). In our 1540 version there are four complete working volvelles, which helped the reader determine calculations about distance, altitude, and even time of day. The volvelles are supplemented by many striking woodcuts.

Apianus discussed many basic elements of cosmography in his work, illustrating them so that a beginners in the field could easily understand. Here, he plays with a visual analogy: geography is similar to drawing the whole head; chorography (or topography) is similiar to looking closely at the detail of an eye or ear. Apianus introduces several practical ways to measure distance, such as these illustrating how to measure by using one’s hands or by paces.