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Rare Books and Collections

Digital Collections

Description de l'Egypte

In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Egypt in an attempt to make it a French colony and to cut off British access to India. His expedition included an investigative team of more than 150 scientists and scholars. This team undertook a survey of all manner of phenomena in Egypt, including archaeological sites, flora and fauna, geology, water, and topography. They also studied the locals' dress, physiques, music, occupations, lifestyles, customs, measurement system, and currencyeverything there was to be observed and recorded of Egyptian civilization, both contemporary and ancient.

The French forces were defeated by the British navy, led by Horatio Nelson, at the Battle of Aboukir Bay. According to the terms of surrender laid out by the British, the French expedition was to hand over all of the artifacts and research materials that it had collected in Egypt. Many of the artifacts confiscated by the Britishincluding the Rosetta Stone and a number of mummies and statuesended up in the British Museum. However, the French held on tightly to their research materials. Napoleon had them published as the Description de l'Egypte ("Description of Egypt"), and they have since been handed down through the generations.

Publication of the Description de l'Egypte began in 1809. Taking 14 years to complete, this huge undertaking yielded 23 books incorporating 894 plates. Following Napoleon's fall from power and the restoration of the French monarchy, the publication of the Description de l'Egypte continued as a national project under Louis XVIII. It is now regarded as one of the greatest works ever published in France.
The volumes comprise Antiquities, the Modern State, Natural History, and Atlas. The Antiquities and Natural History volumes include hand-colored plates. Of particular interest are the superb illustrations of birds, fossils, and minerals, which evince the research team's high levels of skill.

Old Maps of Japan and Asia Drawn in the West

After Marco Polo introduced the Western world to "Jipang"the small island nation in the Far East that we now call Japanit was rendered on ancient maps as part of the New World. These maps were further revised after Columbus's discovery of the Americas. Even so, the islands scattered on the western side of the New World and drawn beneath the Tropic of Cancer retained the name Jipang. It wasn't until 1570 that Abraham Ortelius published a map that depicted Japan ("Iapan") in its proper location. Japan remained a mysterious island, with its mapped contours owing much to guesswork based on Marco Polo's travelogue.

With the Far East being visited by ever more Europeansincluding missionary Francis Xavier and explorer Fernão Mendes Pintopublished maps of Japan came to be based on first-hand surveys. One outstanding example is the Ortelius/Teixeira map of Japan published in 1595. Surveys of Japan followed events such as the washing ashore of the Dutch ship de Liefde on the coast of western Japan. Eventually, starting from the south, the Japanese archipelago came to be drawn accurately in maps. A map published by Jesuit missionary Martino Martini became the foundation of modern maps of Japan.

In the 18th century, the discovery of the Bering Straitalong with Adam Laxman's landing at Nemuro, Hokkaidoled to the depiction of Kamchatka in maps. The areas north of Japan also gradually became known via A.J. von Krusenstern's exploration of Sakhalin and La Pérouse's exploration of the Kuril Islands and Sakhalin. Eventually, Japan in its entirety came to be mapped in detail.

Kindai University's Central Library houses a collection of 124 ancient maps of Japan and Asia, all drawn by Western cartographers. The collection ranges from speculative maps based on world maps drawn by Claudius Ptolemy and Sebastian Münster, to maps based on studies by Luis Teixeira and Jesuit missionaries such as Martini. The collection also includes maps made between the mid-17th and 19th centuries, based on actual land surveys. Viewing each of the maps gives you an idea of how the Western world came to a fuller understanding of the Japanese archipelago.