Instruments of Acquisition and Reflections of Desire: English Nautical Charts and Islamic Shores, 1650–1700

  • Alistair MaeerEmail author
Part of the Britain and the World book series (BAW)


In the seventeenth century, English maritime activity along Islamic shores played a vital role in the growth of English maritime prowess and empire. This chapter analyzes English nautical cartographic sources, in conjunction with Edward Barlow’s illustrated mariner’s journal (1659–1703), as visual records of the pragmatic attitudes and realities of English trade throughout the Islamic World during the late seventeenth century. In the English geographic imagination of the period, the Islamic World began at the Straits of Gibraltar, stretched along the southern shores of Mediterranean and Black Seas, continued all along the Northeastern shores of Africa, through the Red Sea, across India, and into the Spice Islands of the Banda Sea. The Islamic World, then, was vast, profitable, and necessary in the race for empire, as the exploits of the Levant Company and the infamous East India Company show. To do so, however, English merchants and mariners were required to embrace nautical cartography as a means to acquire and envision the fabled wealth of the Orient. Accordingly, surviving English cartographic sources, be they charts or coastal views, are as much embodiments of merchant and even ministerial interests as they are artistic and navigational artifacts, offering unrivalled insights into the conceptions and conventions of the period. English sailors thus helped to define the realities of English trade to the Islamic World by utilizing, expanding, and relaying their geographic knowledge. Edward Barlow’s unique journal includes several cartographic images among his innumerable illustrations and lengthy narrative of voyages across the globe. In addition to sailing to Tripoli and throughout the East Indies, Barlow fought off the notorious pirate Captain Kidd in the Red Sea before chronicling a month-long trading foray in Mocha, Yemen, and escorting local ships carrying pilgrims on the Hajj. Surviving English charts and Edward Barlow’s journal offer a distinct vantage point to visualize late seventeenth-century English activity along Islamic shores, reflecting an incessant commercial pragmatism amidst emergent imperial aspirations.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Texas Wesleyan UniversityFort WorthUSA

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