September 26: Cartographic Epistemologies + Blind Spots

Olaus Magnus, Carta Marina, 1539

Guest: Skype 4-5pm: Bill Rankin, Associate Professor of History @ Yale, Cartographer

5:15 – 6:45: Discuss Individual Project Proposals

Yes, this looks like a long reading list. But it’s really only two substantial texts (Pickles and Vertesi, the latter of which has lots of images), plus several short, digestible excerpts and posts. In all, about 75 pages. You can do it.


Frames, Borders, Gaps, Cuts & Boundaries

Edward Quin, Historical Atlas, 1830, via David Rumsey Map Collection


Keir Clarke, “Working with Map Projections,” Map Mania (October 9, 2017); Cornell University Library’s PJ Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography; J.B. Harley, “Deconstructing the Map,” Cartographica 26:2 (Summer 1989): 1-20; Rob Kitchin, Justin Gleeson & Martin Dodge, “Unfolding Mapping Practices: A New Epistemology for Cartography,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 38:3 (July 2013): 480-96; Rob Kitchin, Chris Perkins and Martin Dodge, “Thinking About Maps” In Rethinking Maps: New Frontiers in Cartographic Theory (New York: Routledge, 2009): 2-25; Manuel Lima, The Book of Trees: Visualizing Branches of Knowledge (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2014); Olaus Magnus’s Carta Marina (1539); John Pickles, “Mapping and the Production of Social Identities” In A History of Spaces: Cartographic Reason, Mapping and the Geo-Coded World (New York: Routledge, 2004): 126-33; Bill Rankin, “Base Maps and Invisible Landscapes,” University of Nebraska, Lincoln, February 14, 2018 {video}; Bill Rankin, “Mapping Social Statistics: Race and Ethnicity in Chicago” {video}; Bill Rankin, “Redrawing the Map,” Architecture Boston 18:2 (Summer 2015); Bernhard Siegert, “The Map is the Territory,” Radical Philosophy 169 (September/October 2011): 13-6; Matthew Wilson, New Lines: Critical GIS and the Trouble of the Map (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017); Denis Wood, “The Mathematical Transformation of the Object” In The Power of Maps (New York: Guilford Press, 1992): 56-61 [on projections].

BORDERS/GAPS: Jess Bier, Mapping Israel, Mapping Palestine: How Occupied Landscapes Shape Scientific Knowledge (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2017); Jess Bier, “Palestinian State Maps and Imperial Technologies of Staying Put,” Public Culture 29:1 (2016): 53-78; Paul Carter, “Dark with Excess of Bright: Mapping the Coastlines of Knowledge” In Dennis Cosgrove, Ed., Mappings (London: Reaktion Books, 1999): 125-47; Disputed Territories; Nicholas Jackson, “15 High-Profile Sites Google Doesn’t Want You to See,” The Atlantic (June 21, 2011); Christopher Jobson, “Animated Subway Maps Compared to Their Actual Geography,” Colossal (May 31, 2017); Luke O’Connell, “Dashed Lines and Dashed Hopes: The Downside of Google’s ‘Neutrality,’” Brown Political Review (May 9, 2014); Aaron Rothman, with Mishka Henner, Daniel Leivick & Clement Valla, “Beyond Google Earth,” Places (May 2015); Peter Turchi, “A Wide Landscape of Snows” in Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 2004): 27-71.

4 Replies

  • Pickles (2004) “A History of Spaces” raised some questions for me that I thought would also make for a great class discussion. His claim, inspired by Latour, to “abandon our commitment to both objectivism and naturalism” (p.47) intrigued me in particular. I am wondering where this could potentially lead us? What alternative principles might replace these guiding cultural principles? Even more important, is it valuable to have guiding ethics, norms or principles when it comes to map-making? How would we then be able to distinguish between “good” and “bad” maps? Would this abandonment of “objectivism” fuel “alternative-truth” movements? While the intentions of the author certainly matter, and should be rendered as explicit as possible, I think it is even more important to educate the potential users and consumers of maps. If we learned a form of “critical hermeneutics” of maps, we might ourselves be able to critically interrogate the visual media we are inundated by and don’t have to place all of our trust in the authors of maps.

    • Excellent, Marike. In our conversation with Bill Rankin tomorrow, I encourage you to pose these questions: what are the epistemological alternatives to objectivism and naturalism? (I think our lessons on critical cartography and indigenous mapping will reveal other approaches). What are our yardsticks for determining quality? And how can we promote a public critical hermeneutics (which dovetails w/ broader calls for media / information / digital literacies)?

  • In “The Domestication of the Savage Mind,” Latour writes at one point that someone ‘appeared to understand … what it was to draw a map of the land viewed from above.’ It is a way of drawing maps that we are all very used to and so it makes sense, but I think is perhaps less obvious than we treat it as being. Did early aviators think, when viewing the landscape from above for the first time, “oh this looks like the map”? I can open a new browser tab and look at google maps, I’ve been in airplanes, so this perspective doesn’t seem like such a stretch to me, but I wonder about thinking about space that way when it was all theoretical.

    I once came across this map (, a bird’s eye view of Ontario and Michigan in 1867. I’ve wondered ever since if A. Ruger of Battle Creek employed a hot air balloon to help with his images. Hot air balloons had been around for long enough by the 1860s that it is possible. If not, the trick of bird’s eye view is so much more impressive, with Ruger extrapolating from how things looked from a tall building in Chicago and figuring out the drawing from the ground.

    • Thanks, Alice! Yes, people used balloons for early bird’s-eye-view mapping! And it’s interesting to think about other, earlier examples of people’s consciousness of the “view from above” — e.g., the Nazsca Lines and other geoglyphs, early cities whose urban form had cosmic significance, etc.

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