Around the World in 500 Years

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Are we more "global" today than people in the past were, better able to span and understand the entire planet?  Planetary consciousness, our awareness of living on a globe with finite resources, did not begin with those luminous, exquisitely beautiful Apollo 8 photographs of the Earth taken from space in 1968, as is often asserted. Rather, it began with the now-500-year-old tradition of going around the world, the longest human activity done on a planetary scale. Around-the-world travelers' long and self-aware tradition of engagement with the planet questions our sense of uniqueness and may teach us something worth knowing about why we think of the Earth the way we do.

Joyce E. Chaplin is the James Duncan Phillips Professor of Early American History at Harvard University and author of Round About the Earth: Circumnavigation from Magellan to Orbit.