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cartography, history of

  The history of cartography documents and explanation of the motives for making maps, the agents and processes used to make them, their functions, and their role in forming society\'s views of space and place. Maps may be broadly regarded as codified images of all kinds by which humans formally articulate, represent, or construct their spatial knowledge of the world (cf. map image and map). They are thus one of the primary agents of human geography.

The field of study may be distinguished from three other highly related activities: historical cartography (the compilation of maps showing historical events); historical geography (the reconstruction of past geographies); and the history of geography (the intellectual history of the discipline of geography: Skelton, 1972 — see geography, history of). Another, secondary, meaning of the \'history of cartography\' is the history of the subject of cartography itself from the word\'s coining in 1839 to mean the historical study of maps to its present rapidly changing relationship with the field of geographical information systems.

The history of cartography seeks to understand how maps function under two broad and often conflicting assumptions. The first assumes that there is a positive structural likeness between the map and the territory, an affinity from which it derives its meaning. In this view, the map is seen as a natural system. The second assumes that maps can be understood only as self-referential systems. They are still representations, not of an independent \'real\' world but of relativistic human knowledge, \'constructed according to culturally defined semiotic codes; the knowledge is constructed using various intellectual and instrumental technologies; the knowledge and its representation are both constructed by individuals who work for and within various social institutions\' (Edney, 1996; cf. relativism). In this view, the \'natural\' and objective appearance of maps is seen as a mask covering what is mostly a cultural and social agenda favouring those in positions of power in a variety of ideological contexts (Harley, 1988). Between these two assumptions and interacting with both is the idea that maps can provide evidence of both human cognitive spatial thought and technological and material culture. The concepts and artefacts thus created have been studied along the realist/constructivist spectrum. Few students of the subject place themselves at either extreme of it.

Early maps have been used successfully as sources of documentary evidence to reconstruct where things were. Maps have helped to reconstruct field systems, land-use change, changing urban morphology (see townscape), place names, or simply to locate lost settlements, roads, vessels, or buildings in connection with studies of local history, historical geography, archaeology, or historical reconstruction (Blakemore and Harley, 1980); they have provided legal evidence in boundary disputes (De Vorsey, 1982) and as records of geographical exploration (Skelton, 1970; Harley, 1990; de Vorsey, 1992). Physical changes in the landscape, such as coastal change, migrating meanders, ecological and vegetation change, have also employed early maps.

When maps are seen as part of the story of human technological and material culture, the lens focuses more on the artifact itself and less on the content of the image, in what might be called the internal \'cartographic\' aspects of technique and style. Some studies have examined how maps have been physically produced at various stages of surveying, drafting and printing, publishing and consumption (Woodward, 1974; cf. map image and map). The technical processes of surveying and the associated art of navigation have been well documented; indeed, the histories of these two activities have their respective professional organizations and literature. The traditional approach has been to develop objective methods of measuring the accuracy of maps derived from such survey data or the precision of various survey and navigation instruments and methods (Blakemore and Harley, 1980). More recently, however, interest has extended to the social construction or rhetoric of accuracy in the development of a profession of technical practitioners (Fletcher, 1995). Early maps may also be studied in order to trace the changing elements of cartographic style, whether with the semantic elements of map signs (Delano Smith, 1985), colour (Ehrensvdrd, 1987), and lettering (Woodward, 1987), or their syntactic transformation through generalization and projection (Snyder, 1993). In this, they inform the relationship between geography and art (see also art, geography and). The study of the physical form of maps — maps as paper, ink, pigment, etc. together with the associated technology of drafting, printing, or publishing paraphernalia — is part of the technical history of printing (Woodward, 1975). Their relevance to the history of cartography lies in the effect that style and physical format have on our understanding of the content of maps. Thus, studies have focused on analysing the chemical composition of the ink or paper of single maps or groups of maps, often to answer questions regarding authenticity (Skelton et al., 1995) or the workshop economics and practices behind their production (Woodward, 1996).

Maps may also be seen as bearing evidence of cognitive systems of human spatial thought and communication. Such activities include wayfinding or navigating from one point to another, spatial reckoning of generalized distances and directions (as in an awareness of the cardinal directions), often expressed in the intuitively attractive but multi-faceted term \'cognitive map\' (cf. cognitive mapping). The most prevalent theory of cognitive development as applied to the history of cartography is that of Wood (1977), who postulated that the development of hill signs on maps followed a similar path to the Piagetian stages in the development of a child\'s conceptions of space, a progression of types of relief representation from abstract profiles of hills, pictorial depictions, to formlines, to commensurable contours. This theory was expressed in more general terms by Harvey (1980), who saw \'maps\' as being a third, more advanced, stage following \'symbols\' and \'pictures\' — drawing his evidence particularly from a comparison of the mathematical structure of maps in the medieval and Renaissance periods. The problems in both interpretations of maps as indicators of cognitive growth lie in their inability to account for the changing functions needed by — and consequent different needs for precision among — societies in the past and present.

When early maps are historically situated in the societies that made them, their value as evidence of a culture\'s \'world view\' becomes apparent. Examples at global scales include the medieval mappaemundi, which have been studied for the secular and religious sources of their expression (Edson, 1997) or the concept of creating world maps using coordinates (Woodward, 1991). At local scales, maps have been used as indicators of how the character of landscapes and places has been visualized by different cultures (Woodward and Lewis, 1998).

In the last twenty years, attention has increasingly been paid to the function of maps as expressions of political and economic power in a variety of ideological contexts. This approach was pioneered by Brian Harley and others as an alternative epistemology to the self-referencing \'cartographic\' approach to the field stressing the \'accuracy model\'. Harley\'s goal was \'to search for the social forces that have structured cartography and to locate the presence of power — and its effects — in all map knowledge\' (Harley, 1989). These articulations of spatial power and control include the documentation of property boundaries, the surveillance of empire and the nation-state, as well as the subliminal geometry of maps expressed in the structure of the grid, centering, and orientation. They also include elements extraneous to the map frame, such as the role of iconographic decoration in reinforcing imperial and nationalist claims and stereotypes (Harley and Zandvliet, 1992). These elements are revealed not only by critically examining what was shown on maps, but reading \'between the lines … to discover the silences and contradictions that challenge the apparent honesty of the image\' (Harley, 1989). In challenging the model of the development of maps as progressively producing better delineations of reality, however, insufficient emphasis was paid to the importance of \'accuracy\' or at least \'perceived accuracy\' in theories of maps as expressions of power.

Until recently, in what could be termed an observation and comparative phase, historians of cartography often focused on individuals in a biographical approach without offering more widely applicable generalizations. They also encouraged the emphasis on the \'lone genius\' model that has long been abandoned in the history of science in recognition of a far more complex interwoven story of technological development. Associated with the biographical approach was an emphasis on reference carto-bibliographies and facsimile atlases (monumenta) for the national centres of cartography: recent multi-volume examples concern the Netherlands (Schilder, 1986-; van der Krogt, 1997-). These map descriptions and biographies are an invaluable legacy and, despite the frequently voiced ideal of basing such studies on less rigid divisions to reflect the constant interaction between national groups in early modern Europe, organization of major projects by national traditions — constrained by language, library and archival sources, and national interest, expertise, and funds — is likely to continue. Nevertheless, new trends have sought to supplement the observation/ comparative phase by searching for a set of connected statements explaining how a world system of cartography was structured and how it functioned in history. These include a movement from studies driven by personal interests to more broadly-based interdisciplinary links, especially with the history of art and the history of science.

There has also been an enlargement of scope from Euro-American cartography to a more global diversity of cartographic representation, resulting partly from a broad definition of map for the University of Wisconsin History of Cartography Project that includes any graphic representation that facilitates spatial understanding of the world. This definition includes depictions of metaphysical as well as physical landscapes and thus addresses maps of concepts (for example, population density), events (such as traditional creation myths or founding histories), as well as of the tangible terrain (as in topographic maps). Since a goal of the multi-volume History is to interpret the maps of each culture within that culture\'s own frame of reference, this has required devoting three books to the traditional cartography of non-western societies (Harley and Woodward, 1992, 1994; Woodward and Lewis, 1998).

Associated with the trend to broaden the definition of map away from the accepted Euro-American norms, there has been a tendency to think of the map less as a planimetrically accurate replication and more as a socially-constructed representation. The prevailing paradigm has been that mapmaking has followed a steady progression toward planimetric accuracy. This statement is broadly true when confined to the precise measurement of abstract position, yet there have been other functions of maps that have had very little to do with measured location and more with how the world is culturally constructed (Edney, 1993). For example, the paucity of sources in the Ancient and Medieval worlds has resulted in a controversy over the technical sophistication signalled by the possible uses of maps in everyday life. Some authors argue the position that maps were used more frequently than the evidence suggests. Others more sceptically challenge any suggestion that evidence points to the common use of maps in social administration. Thus, Dilke\'s implicitly generous view that the Roman Empire depended on such developed concepts as a \'map library\' (Dilke, 1987) has been challenged by other classicists who claim that there is very little evidence to support the notion of extensive military or administrative use of maps in the Roman Empire, and that the process of government (especially on the fringes of the empire) was far more ad hoc than has been supposed (Talbert, 1990; Brodersen, 1995).

In the context of China, where researchers have often assumed technological primacy in cartography (Needham, 1954), it is now more fruitful to regard the development of cartography in the Asian societies as more closely associated with the pursuit of general culture than with the cultivation of a specialized technique of measured mapping (Yee, 1994). What was communicated in maps — as in landscape paintings — did not have to be measurable. Thus, to view the development of Chinese cartography in terms only of maps drawn to scale with ever increasing verisimilitude was to tell only part — and perhaps not the most important part — of the story.

By enlarging the definition of maps to include representations of these non-metric worlds, the study of the history of cartography shows that this dual function of maps — the measured and the symbolic — has existed at every period from prehistory to the present day and in almost all cultures (Harley and Woodward, 1987). The field has thus been more open to social concerns, such as ethics, ideology, and colonialism, and writers in critical theory and literary criticism have been attracted to its subject matter (Conley, 1996; Helgerson, 1992; Mignolo, 1995; Tomasch and Gilles, 1998).

In general, the emphasis has also moved from the mapmaker to other agents in the cartographic process — attempting to answer the question why maps were made in the first place. These include an interest in the role of the patron, the role of maps in promoting world trade (Brotton, 1997), the role of the market for maps as prints as well as for geographical information made possible by the economies afforded by map printing (Eisenstein, 1979; Mukerji, 1983), and a broad interest in the extent to which maps became used as part of everyday life (Woodward, 1987).

Four reference gateways to the subject are recommended. For a general current guide on practitioners, literature, and general information about the field, the reader is referred to Who\'s Who in the History of Cartography (Lowenthal, 1998). The primary journal of the field is Imago Mundi (1935- ). Internet resources can best be accessed through Finally, the multi-volume History of Cartography redefines and expands the canon of early maps while providing a comprehensive work of reference (Harley and Woodward, 1987). (DW)

References Blakemore, M.J. and Harley, J.B. 1980: Concepts in the history of cartography: a review and perspective. Cartographica, 17: 4. Monograph 26. Brodersen, K. 1995: Terra Cognita. Studien zur raumischen Raumerfassung. Spudasmata 59. Hildesheim: G. Olms. Brotton, J. 1997: Trading territories: mapping the early modern world. London: Reaktion Books. Conley, T. 1996: The self-made map: cartographic writing in early modern France. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. De Vorsey, L., Jr. 1982: The Georgia-South Carolina boundary: a problem in historical geography. Athens: University of Georgia Press. Delano Smith, C. 1985: Cartographic signs on European maps and their explanation before 1700. Imago Mundi 37: 9-29. Dilke, O.A.W. 1987: Itineraries and geographical maps in the early and late Roman Empire. In J.B. Harley, and P. Woodward, eds, The History of Cartography: Cartography in Prehistoric, Ancient, and Medieval Europe and the Mediterranean, 1. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 234-57. Edney, M.H. 1993: Cartography without \'progress:\' reinterpreting the nature and historical development of mapmaking. Cartographica 30: 54-68. Edney, M.H. 1996: Theory and the history of cartography. Imago Mundi 48: 185-91. Edson, E. 1997: Mapping time and space: how medieval thinkers viewed their world. London: British Library. Ehrensvdrd, U. 1987: Color in cartography: a historical survey. In D. Woodward, ed., Art and Cartography: Six Historical Essays, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 123-46. Eisenstein, E. 1979: The printing press as an agent of change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Fletcher, D. 1995: The emergence of estate maps: Christ Church, Oxford, 1600 to 1840. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Harley, J.B. 1988: Maps, knowledge and power. In D. Cosgrove and S. Daniels, eds, The iconography of landscape: essays on the symbolic representation, design and use of past environments. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 277-312. Harley, J.B. 1989: Decarconstructing the Map. Cartographica 26 (2): 1-20. Harley, J.B. 1990: Maps and the Columbian encounter. Milwaukee: Golda Meir Library. Harley, J.B. 1992: Deconstructing the map. In T.J. Barnes, and J.S. Duncan, eds, Writing worlds: discourse, text and metaphor. London, 231-47. Harley, J.B. and Woodward, D. 1992: The history of Cartography, volume 2, book 1: Cartography in the Islamic and South Asian Societies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Harley, J.B. and Woodward, D. 1994: History of Cartography. Vol. 1. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Harley, J.B. and Zandvliet, K. 1992: Art, science, and power in 16th-century Dutch cartography. Cartographica 29 (2): 10-19. Harvey, P.D.A. 1980: The history of topographical maps: symbols, pictures and surveys. London: Thames & Hudson. Helgerson, R. 1986: The land speaks: cartography, chorography, and subversion in renaissance England. Representations 16: 50-85. Helgersan, R. 1992: Forms of nationhood: The Elizabethan writing of England. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Krogt, P. van der. 1997: Koeman\'s Atlantes Neerlandici, vol. 1 — Utrecht: H&S. Lowenthal, M.A., ed., 1998: Who\'s who in the history of cartography: the international guide to the subject. (D9) Map Collector Publications Ltd for Imago Mundi Ltd. Mignolo, W. 1995: The darker side of the Renaissance: literacy, territoriality, and colonization. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Mukerji, C. 1983: From graven images: patterns of modern materialism. New York: Columbia University Press. Needham, J. 1954: Science and civilisation in China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, esp. vol. 3. Schilder, G. 1986: Monumenta Cartographica Neerlandica (Alphen aan den Rijn: Uitgeverij \'Canaletto,\'), vols 1-5. Skelton, R.A. 1970: Explorers\' maps: chapters in the cartographic record of geographical discovery. Feltham, New York, Spring Books. Skelton, R.A. 1972: Maps: a historical survey of their study and collecting. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Skelton, R.A. et al. 1995: The Vinland Map and the Tartar relation. New Haven, CT.: Yale University Press. Snyder, J. 1993: Flattening the earth: two thousand years of map projections. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Talbert, R. 1990: Rome\'s empire and beyond: the spatial aspect. In Gouvernants et Gouvernis dans l\'Imperium Romanum, Cahiers des Etudes Anciennes XXVI. Universiti Laval, Departement d\'histoire, 215-23. Tomasch, S. and Gilles, S. 1998: Text and territory: geographical imagination in the European Middle Ages. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Wood, D. 1977: Now and then: comparisons of ordinary Americans\' Symbol conventions with those of past cartographers. Prologue: The Journal of the National Archives 9: 151-61. Woodward, D. 1974: The study of the history of cartography: a suggested framework. American Cartographer 1: 101-15. Woodward, D ed. 1975: Five centuries of map-printing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Woodward, D. 1987: The manuscript, engraved, and typographic traditions of map lettering. In Art and Cartography: Six Historical Essays. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Woodward, D. 1991: Maps and the rationalization of geographic space. In J.A. Levensan, ed., Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration. New Haven: Yale University Press, 83-7. Woodward, D. 1996: Maps as prints in the Italian Renaissance: Makers, Distributors & Consumers. London: British Library. Woodward, D. and Lewis. G.M., eds, 1998: The History of Cartography: Cartography in the Traditional African, American, Arctic, Australian, and Pacific Societies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Yee, C.D.K. 1994: Taking the world\'s measure: Chinese maps between observation and text. In J. B. Harley and D. Woodward, The History of Cartography, Volume 2, Book 2: Cartography in the Traditional East and Southeast Asian Societies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 96-127.

Suggested Reading Blakemore, M.J. and Harley, J.B. (1980). Harley, J.B. 1987: The map and the development of the history of cartography. In J.B. Harley, and D., Woodward, eds, The History of Cartography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1: 1-42. Harley, J.B. and Woodward, D. 1989: Why cartography needs its history. American Cartographer 16: 5-15.



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