Cartography: The Ideal and Its History
Matthew H. Edney
University of Chicago Press, 2019.
ISBN 978-0-226-60554-8 cloth; 978-0-226-60568-5 paper; 978-0-226-60571-5 e-book.
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“There’s no such thing as cartography, and this is a book about it.”
So runs the epigraph to the introduction to this exposé of the ideal of “cartography.” Cartography is a simulacrum, an image of a thing that never existed and that does not conceal a truth so much as conceals that there is none. Cartography is a vision, one that scholars and the public have actively sought to make real, but which nonetheless does not actually match the reality of how people produce, circulate, and consume maps. The ideal’s preconceptions are so deeply entrenched in modern culture that they are essentially invisible; they must all be dragged into the light and dismissed if we are truly to engage with maps and mapping in an effective and productive manner.
1. Introducing the Ideal of Cartography
2. Seeing, and Seeing Past, the Ideal
• explains the processual approach, of delineating precise spatial discourses within which mapping takes place, threads of discourse that share mapping practices, and broad modes of mapping formed from multiple threads. Whereas spatial discourses are how mapping occurs, modes are more of a heuristic.
3. Cartography’s Idealized Preconceptions
• runs through the many preconceptions of the ideal of cartography, highlighting key misconceptions, such as the existence of a “cartographic language” that is somehow unique and distinct from other semiotic systems, or the insistence that maps must be graphic “pictures,” or … . Ultimately, these preconceptions present cartography as a singular and universal endeavor.
4. The Ideal of Cartography Emerges
• the multiple factors since 1800 that prompted the development of the ideal, from the adoption of statewide territorial surveys, to set theory, to the rise of personal mobility. The ideal’s preconceptions are thus not some logical series of propositions, but stem from historical trends, so that they are often contradictory.
5. Map Scale and Cartography’s Idealized Geometry
• a detailed history of one of the multiple factors in Chapter 4, specifically the concept of “map scale.” Map scale enshrines the conviction that all maps are properly proportional to the earth they represent, even as map scholars accept that this is manifestly impossible. The chapter reveals the insidious misconceptions engendered by the concepts of “large scale” and “small scale” and proposes the concept of resolution instead.
6. Not Cartography, But Mapping
• Despite some recent commentary, cartography is not yet dead, although the ideal deserves to be killed off. That cannot happen until all map scholars and the public ditch the ideal and its continued emphasis on “the map” and instead address “mapping.”