The Worldmakers: Global Imagining in Early Modern Europe

University of Chicago Press, 2015


Published in 2015, The Worldmakers is the first scholarly book to grapple with the challenge of comprehending the modern world by taking the term itself as its primary subject. Looking beyond signs of global transformation and their historical catalysts, I attend to the conceptual, imaginative and metaphysical challenges posed by the pursuit of a comprehensive global vision in Europe between 1550 and 1700.

My book shows how “the world” emerged as a cultural keyword by tracing its appearance across a range of disciplines including cartography, philosophy, literature, science and theology. Gathering a diverse cast of characters, from Dutch cartographers and French philosophers to Portuguese and English poets, the book describes a literary and visual history of “firsts”: the first world atlas, the first modern essay, the first global epic, and the first modern attempt to develop a systematic natural philosophy—all born of the effort to capture the world on the page. Ranging across three centuries and several languages, The Worldmakers explores how “the world” itself became an artifact: no longer divinely created, the world by 1700 is something self-consciously shaped by human skill and subject to historical transformation.

Prizes for The Worldmakers


with gratitude to the University of Chicago Press

Title Page, Table of Contents, and Figures List

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Introduction (pp 1–21)

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Introduction End Notes

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Praise for The Worldmakers

The Worldmakers is a lucid, elegant addition to our understanding of the genealogy of our attitudes to the globe and to our picture of the history of the geographical and intellectual culture of the Renaissance.
— Journal of Historical Geography
Anything Ayesha Ramachandran writes is worth reading for her rich intellectual responses to her topics, for her learning, and for the elegance of her prose. The Worldmakers is a fruitful, masterful book.
— Spenser Review
The Worldmakers makes a powerful intervention into the early modern literary study of epic poetry and essayistic and philosophical prose; into conceptions of ‘world’ within those genres as well as in the Western history of ideas; into conceptions of modernity governing Western science, philosophy, literature, and ethics; and, not least, into the postcolonial project of decentering European culture through a globalized view of the world. Among recent books on these topics, it joins the fine company of such works as Roland Greene’s Five Words and Timothy Hampton’s Fictions of Embassy. Ramachandran approaches the task from her own distinctive perspective, based in fine-grained literary analysis with a firm grasp of cultural and intellectual history and the theoretical consequences that follow from juxtaposing texts against that history.
— William J. Kennedy, Cornell University 
The Worldmakers is an impressive, wide-ranging, beautifully researched book with a skillfully articulated argument about a momentous shift in ‘global imaginings’ in early modern thought and literature. The topic is one that could easily become vague and elusive, but Ramachandran succeeds time and time again in giving it clear focus and definition. In the process, she also makes genuinely fresh, compelling critical statements about some major, much-studied texts and authors.
— Gordon Braden, University of Virginia
The Worldmakers demonstrates how scientific advances in the early modern period shaped European concepts of God, nation and self. It provides a fresh perspective from which to evaluate the motivations behind the worldmaking project, and its ensuing implications for the epistemology of the modern age. Those interested in the impact of early modern science on literature and philosophy will find it a stimulating read.
— British Journal for the History of Science
Ramachandran lays out her argument and buttresses it through a series of five case histories sandwiched between a brief introduction and even shorter conclusion. As in all good sandwiches, the bread is fine but the really good stuff is in the middle....As might be expected of a work of such scope, The Worldmakers is not an easy read; it requires many readings to fully appreciate the riches it has to offer. To return to the sandwich analogy for a second, a single bite may feel like too much, more than one can comfortably chew. But with each layer offering a completely different dimension of flavour and texture, one really does need to read all the parts lest they miss certain elements altogether.
— British Society for Literature and Science Reviews