Post 1: Maps and Me

Hello, everyone, this is Nicholas Schneier and this will be my blog for HIST 615 006: History and Cartography. I’ve never blogged or anything like that before, so this is a rather new experience for me. Apologies if I dramatically mess up anything, but without further ado let’s get on with the show!

All the readings for this week concerned the use of maps as historical sources rather than mere guides of distance, a concept I was already familiar with thanks to some superb teachers in high school, so some of the arguments that historical maps can be under-appreciated by historians came as a surprise. However, though I was already aware how social and political factors broadly influence a map, never before had it occurred to me that even the little details can be influenced too. Harley’s arguments pointed out to me that cultural and political factors do more than omit Israel on an Arab map or Taiwan on a Chinese map. I had never thought to look at the various drawings and depictions on older maps as anything more than decorative or amusing. Harley made me realize that the at times humorous depictions of explorers, sea monsters, wildlife, and such are not on the map purely because the cartographer was feeling artistic that day; the depictions further convey the wild from the civilized, elevating the prestige of some and belittling another. I guess it just goes to show that nothing winds up on a map “just because;” everything has a purpose and an angle, some more subtle than others.

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3 thoughts on “Post 1: Maps and Me

  1. Like you I have been fascinated by those intricate designs and artwork found on old maps and wondered if they represented fears or perhaps cautions against traveling into the Beyond or cultural myths or artistic talents. Reading that each element conveys a message or meaning or representation creates this curiosity to really dig into the iconography of map-making and how these symbols were conveyed in popular culture. It reminds me of the study of gravestone symbols or the Victorian meanings of flowers. At the height of their popularity each of these cultural practices conveyed deep meanings known at the time to participants yet now seem quite alien. I guess like many of the maps today that presume we all know that blue equals water certain symbols had meaning – now just to uncover the clues to reveal the significance of all those elements and discover the hidden treasures in the maps of long ago!

  2. Pingback: Maps as Multi-dimensional Representations | The Journey to Enlightenment: Making the Leap to the Digital Age

  3. Nicholas – I too am a blogging neophyte – looks like you are doing fine for first post! Agree with your assessment that mapmakers never put anything on a map “just because” – every thing holds some pupose from artistic to utilitarian. We so easily tend to forget how mysterious the world was to earlier generations – maps certainly helped make more sense of the mystery including fanciful monsters!

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