ARCH 566 /AAS 406

Jan. 25 - Maps and Mapping

A map says to you, "Read me carefully, follow me closely, doubt me not." It says, "I am the earth in the palm of your hand. Without me, you are lost and alone." And indeed you are. Were all the maps in this world destroyed and vanished under the direction of some malevolent hand, each man would be blind again, each city be made a stranger to the next, each landmark become a meaningless signpost pointing to nothing. Yet looking at it, feeling it, running a finger along its lines, it is a cold thing, a map, humourless and dull, born of calipers and a draughtsman's board. The coastline there, that ragged scrawl of scarlet ink, shows neither sand nor sea nor rock; it speaks of no mariner, blundering full sail in wakeless seas, to bequeath, on sheepskin or a slab of wood, a priceless scribble to posterity. This brown blot that marks a mountain has, for the casual eye, no other significance, though twenty men, or ten, or only one, may have squandered a life to climb it. Here is a valley, there a swamp, and there a desert; and here is a river that some curious and courageous soul, like a pencil in the hand of God, first traced bleeding feet.

-- Beryl Markham, West with the Night, 1983

Assigned Readings

  • J.B. Harley, "Deconstructing the Map," Cartography (Summer 1989): 1-20

  • Tamara Giles-Vernick, On the Road of History: Mapping Out the Past and Present in M'Bres Region, Central African Republic," Ethnohistory (Spring 1996): 245-268

Class Outline

We will meet in Minor 108
  • Five-minute presentations of Perceptions of Africa / First Encounters with Cape Coast assignment, followed by discussion (1 hour, 20 minutes)
  • Break (10 minutes)
  • Discussion of assigned readings/introduction to Cape Coast maps (40 minutes)
  • Issue short assignment #2 on mapping (10 minutes)
  • Introduction to Geographical Information Systems (GIS) mapping through online Suriname exhibit (30 minutes)

Discussion points

Relate the following quotes, drawn from the article "Deconstructing the Map," to the highlighted segments from a nineteenth-century map of Africa below. [JUMP TO MAPS]

1. "Pick a printed map or manuscript map from the drawer almost at random and what stands out is the unfailing way its text is as much a commentary on the social structure of a particular nation or place as it is on its topography. The map-maker is often as busy recording the contours of feudalism, the shape of a religious hierarchy, or the steps in the tiers of a social class, as the topography of the physical and human landscape." (Harley, p. 6)

2. "... [I]t is taken for granted in a society that the place of the king is more important than the place of a lesser baron, that a castle is more important than a peasant's house, that the town of an archbishop is more important than a minor prelate, or that the estate of a landed gentleman is more worthy of emphasis than that of a plain farmer. Cartography deploys its vocabulary accordingly so that it embodies a systematic social inequality. The distinctions of class and power are engineered, reified and legitimated in the map by means of cartographic signs. The rule seems to be 'the more powerful, the more prominent.' To those who have strength in the world shall be added strength in the map."(Harley, p. 7)

3. "A good example of how we could deconstruct an early map -- by beginning with what have hitherto been regarded as its 'casual metaphors' and 'footnotes' -- is provided by recent studies reinterpreting the status of decorative art on the European maps of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Rather than being inconsequential marginalia, the emblems in cartouches and decorative title pages can be regarded as basic to the way they convey their cultural meaning." (Harley, p. 9)

4. "All maps strive to frame their message in the context of an audience. All maps state an argument about the world and they are propositional in nature. All maps employ the common devices of rhetoric such as invocations of authority and appeals to a potential readership through the use of colors, decoration, typography, dedications, and written justifications of their metthod. Rhetoric may be concealed, but it is always present, for there is no description without performance." (Harley, p. 11)

5. "Power is exerted on cartography. Behind most cartographers there is a patron; in innumerable instances the makers of cartographic texts were responding to external needs. Power is also exercised with cartography. Monarchs, ministers, state institutions, the Church, have all initiated programs of mapping for their own ends. In modern Western society maps quickly became crucial to the maintenance of state power -- to its boundaries, to its commerce, to its internal administration, to the control of populations, and to its military strength." (Harley, p. 12)




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