The following is the script for my opening remarks for 地图学史前沿论坛暨“《地图学史》翻译工程”国际研讨会会议手册 (“Frontier Forum on Cartographic History & International Seminar on The History of Cartography Translation Project”), held at Yunnan University on 25–26 August 2019. I edited lightly when speaking, for the benefit of the simultaneous translators. I expect this to be translated for publication in the conference proceedings.
• The conference was a truly excellent experience, if very short and intense, and I very much look forward to returning in 2020 to continue the relationship.
• image in the blog roll is of myself and Prof. Li Xiaocong 李孝聪 with the conference poster
I am very honored to be able to participate in this innovative and exciting conference. Having directed the History of Cartography Project since 2005, I can appreciate the magnitude and importance of the effort to translate Volumes One through Three into Mandarin. It seems appropriate now for me to explain how The History of Cartography series came to be such a large and definitive work that it is worthy of translation.
First, I must thank Professor Cheng Yinong 成一农 for organizing this conference and for kindly inviting me, and the Institute of History of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences for providing the necessary support. I am also most grateful to Bao Su 包甦 for her excellent organizational work.
This conference, in effect, celebrates the vision for a global map history created by the founding editors of The History of Cartography: Brian Harley (1932–1991) and David Woodward (1942–2004). When they first met in 1969, they must have seemed an unlikely couple of collaborators. Harley was an established historical geographer who studied the large-scale maps of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century England for the insights they offer about pre-industrial landscapes; among many publications, he had already written two articles to explicate and codify the methodology of map history (Harley 1967, 1968). Woodward was then still a doctoral student in cartography, deeply interested in the novel topic of the history and aesthetic results of different techniques of map printing. About all they had in common, other than having both been born in England, was a desire to see the history of cartography flourish as an academic discipline in its own right. As they pursued that goal, their conception of the desired discipline expanded and unfurled. It developed from a still limited and circumscribed program, one that was anchored in traditional notions of maps and cartography, into a sweeping vision of wide intellectual fields open to as broad an academic community as possible.
Other map historians thought the same way, though, and a variety of “big plans” would soon be afoot. Woodward himself had plans to pursue an innovative history of map printing. But he held off on this project because he thought that new intellectual structures for the history of cartography were imminent, and he did not want to have to completely redesign and rewrite the book to accommodate whatever structures the field finally adopted. [n1] In the event, Harley and Woodward were the ones who would take the lead in developing a new intellectual structure and they did so, in large part, through The History of Cartography. The irony, of course, is that as they pushed ahead with the History, Harley and Woodward would have to rework it to meet their new intellectual structures. The issue is that they followed two principles to implement the necessary changes, and those principles were in fact contradictory.
The first principle was to be bibliographically and empirically minded. Several commentators had observed, as early as Leo Bagrow in 1911 and Max Eckert in 1921, that the literature in the history of cartography was widely scattered across multiple languages and several academic disciplines. The field was thus incoherent. Historians of cartography worked in isolated groups, often rehashing the same major events. Harley and Woodward therefore asked their authors to summarize as much of the literature as possible, to establish what was known and what was uncertain and contested. In the process, they expected their authors to identify the remaining gaps in knowledge of early mapping, permitting historians of cartography to develop new and productive research agendas. In other words, the History would be driven by the available information. Harley and Woodward thought that the existing literature could be summarized in four volumes, totaling one million words, that could all be assembled in a decade. Three volumes would each address a major period in Western cartography: Renaissance, Enlightenment, and nineteenth century. The meager literature meant that there was no prospect of a volume on the twentieth century. Similarly, the state of the literature led Harley and Woodward to combine all non-Western mapping together into one, first volume: prehistoric, ancient, classical, medieval, traditional Asian, and indigenous mappings all crushed together in a single volume!
The second principle was to address the making of maps. Most historians of cartography were then interested in the information content of maps, and in tracing how that content had progressively grown in quantity and quality over time. This research agenda had produced long lists of maps made of each specific region. But such regional bibliographies were of little help in explaining why those maps had been made, or how they had been used. Harley and Woodward therefore asked their authors to explore how and why different kinds of maps were made, and by whom. This request opened the History to social and cultural concerns, as authors engaged with cartography as a thoroughly human endeavor. Authors were explicitly asked to look beyond the established corpus of standard maps. Authors had to think and write more about a greatly expanded body of historical materials. Rising to the challenge, authors augmented their literature review with new research and they began to offer new interpretations of the significance of maps in history. Such active reconceptualization of the history of cartography blew apart the original plan for four relatively small volumes.
In particular, Harley and Woodward quickly realized that the plan for the first volume was “utterly impractical” (Woodward 1994, xxiii). The chapters on the pre-modern West grew rapidly, so as to be able to offer a host of new insights about prehistoric, ancient, classical and medieval mapping, and forced the history of traditional Asian mapping into a further volume, to be the second in the series. As they formulated plans for this new volume in 1982, Harley and Woodward thought it would be quite small. Remember that the main function of the History was empirical; because there was only a small literature in European languages on Asian mapping, the new volume would be short and finished quickly. But as their authors delved into the literatures in Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Hindi, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, they found a wealth of new and exciting material that simply had to be given the ample space it all deserved. For South Asia, for example, Joseph Schwartzberg mined an incredible vein of cosmographical maps and literature, maps that delineated the interrelations between humanity, the physical world, and the divine. Again, by organizing the history of Chinese geographical maps according to their kinds and functions, Cordell Yee overturned the dominant progressive narrative of a single, highly mathematical tradition of mapping. Such a progressive narrative was the product of the imposition of Western concepts of cartography: those concepts were being rejected as relevant for the history of Western cartography; how, then, could they ever be relevant for non-Western mapping? (I must add that it is a great shame that long-standing commitments prevented Cordell from attending this meeting.)
There remained a question of how to deal with the history of mapping by indigenous peoples. Originally part of that first, all-non-Western volume, there was no room for indigenous mapping in the expanded versions of volumes One and Two. Harley argued that all surviving indigenous maps and all information about indigenous mapping practices had been collected or commissioned by agents of Europe’s imperial expansion, so indigenous mapping could only be studied through Europe’s imperial cartographies in the later volumes. Woodward, in contrast, argued that it was more appropriate to consider indigenous peoples as autonomous groups. The arguments were equally valid. The impasse only ended with Harley’s unexpected death in December 1991. Woodward accordingly went ahead with his own plans for a separate book—Volume Two, Book Three—in conjunction with Malcolm Lewis, an expert on the history of indigenous mapping in North America. But even now, after working on The History of Cartography for over a decade and expanding the boundaries of the field, Woodward still thought in terms of the empirical, bibliographic ethos for the series. When he told me that he had decided to pursue a separate book on indigenous mapping, Woodward also said that he did not think the further book would be very big, because “not much work had been done” on the subject.
I think we can all be glad that Woodward’s and Harley’s initial expectations for The History of Cartography proved wrong, while their vision of the study of mapping as a human activity was so productive. Rather than cramming all non-Western mapping into a mere 250,000 words, the four books of volumes One and Two together total well over than two million words—twice the original word budget for the entire series! This growth physically demonstrates the benefits of a humanities approach to the history of cartography. From this perspective, cartography is not a simple surrogate for civilization, its history used to track the rise to global political and intellectual dominance of the West, but an element of culture that is as rich and as varied as humans themselves. The works of non-Westerners are not to be judged as indicating some early stage on a line of social and intellectual development that culminates in strictly Western concepts of civilization. The lessons of the first volumes of the History are now widely appreciated, and map history has been increasingly integrated into the larger realm of the humanities and social sciences.
The downside to such an expansive vision of map history is that it requires a great deal of room for all the newfound materials and newly developed insights to breathe. When applied to Western cartography, the vision led the later volumes of the History to enlarge dramatically, and they have inevitably taken much, much longer to prepare than Harley and Woodward could ever have anticipated. Each of the last volumes has been contracted at one million words, each. Woodward’s decision to add another 300,000 thousand words of interpretive essays to Volume Three, on the European Renaissance, became a problem when his health deteriorated and he could not cut the extra words from the existing chapters. My first task when I took over as director of the History of Cartography Project, after Woodward’s death in 2004, was to find the funds to underwrite the publication of Volume Three at over 1.3 million words.
To manage the proliferation of cartographic activities for the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries has further required the fundamental restructuring of volumes Four through Six as interpretive encyclopedias. This new structure seeks a balance between the two organizational principles originally advanced by Harley and Woodward, by mixing factual accounts with interpretive syntheses. The results are already evident in Volume Six, on the twentieth century, published in 2015 and already available for free access on the Press’s website, and will be further implemented when Volume Four, on the Enlightenment, finally appears at the end of this year.
No one should, however, be deceived by the large size of the History’s volumes. Large, yes; comprehensive, no. They were never intended to be the final word on the subject. Harley and Woodward’s goal was always to promote new scholarship that would engage with “new materials …, new connections … across disciplines, and new interpretations” (Harley and Woodward 1989). In short, the volumes of the History are all destined to be the victims of their success. This has certainly been the case with Volume One. That volume prompted much new scholarship that has substantially updated and expanded classical and medieval map history (Talbert 2008).
The wave of new scholarship in reaction to Volume Two has perhaps been slower to build, but it is certainly developing well and in interesting ways. The translation of the History’s volumes into Mandarin now promises to help align the burgeoning interest in early maps among Chinese scholars with Western scholarship. I do not mean that Chinese scholars should fit their work to Western models, because the West still has much to learn from the East. Rather, this conference represents a further and important step in building global networks of communication and scholarship.
n1. David Woodward to J. B. Harley, 16 December 1969, Newberry Library Archives RG 07/07/01.
Harley, J. B. 1967. “Uncultivated Fields in the History of British Cartography.” Cartographic Journal 4: 7–11.
———. 1968. “The Evaluation of Early Maps: Towards a Methodology.” Imago Mundi 22: 62–74.
Harley, J. B., and David Woodward. 1989. “Reviewer’s Errors on The History of Cartography, Vol. 1: A Factual Rejoinder.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 79: 146.
Talbert, Richard J. A. 2008. “Greek and Roman Mapping: Twenty-First Century Perspectives.” In Cartography in Antiquity and the Middle Ages: Fresh Perspectives, New Methods, edited by Richard J. A. Talbert and Richard W. Unger, 9–27. Leiden: Brill.
Woodward, David. 1994. “Preface.” In Cartography in the Traditional East and Southeast Asian Societies, edited by J. B. Harley and Woodward, xxiii–xxvii. Vol. 2.2 of The History of Cartography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.