Blog #7: Cartographies of Time

This week I have been reading through Rosenburg and Grafton’s Cartographies of Time and I must admit I liked the read very much. I was fascinated at all the different ways to present information, time, and space, and was drawn to a couple images I’d like to analyse in particular.

The first is the series of three maps on pages 128-129, completed in 1828 which show the extent of the world known to the western world at different moments in time. What struck me about this was that I felt this was a map I had seen before, even though this was the first time I had ever seen these maps. I was struck when I finally remembered where I had seen them before: a video game! Exploration is one of the big mechanics of the Civilization series of games, and as one explores around the game map unexplored space is represented as being covered in clouds, to the effect of clouds ringing in the known world, as represented in the maps in the book. This mechanic was extremely effective in pointing out the exploration still left to do, and I wonder if the designers of the Civilization games modeled it on these maps.

The second map I wish to analyze is much earlier in the book: on page 22. It is an 1860 representation of Napoleon’s Russia Campaign, exploring the plummeting temperatures and the Grand Armee melting away (pun not intended) as it succumbed to cold and disease on the retreat out of Russia. The effect this map had on me is staggering; no where else have I ever seen such a graphic representation of the scale of the catastrophe that met Napoleon’s army, and the image left me at a loss for words. On the one hand, the map is incredibly simplistic compared to many others: merely using a graph and progressively thinner lines to tell the story. On the other hand, however, this simplicity renders in even greater contrast the massive disaster: the graph how the temperatures plummeted; the lines how the massive space and frigid temperatures claimed Napoleon’s army.

From reading on the disaster in Stalingrad, I know for a fact that the German commander, General Paulus, had seen this map in his studies as a young officer. I would not be surprised if, as the temperature dropped as the Germans fought their way in, Paulus was not haunted by this map, of Russia simply swallowing up his Sixth Army as it did that of Napoleon. In the end, it did, perhaps more literally that it did Napoleon: surrounded by the Soviets, Paulus was forced to surrender. I wonder if, as he was led off into captivity, did Paulus think of this map? Did he think of how Russia had swallowed the Germans like it had swallowed the French? Did he wonder what might have been different if Hitler too had seen this map? If Hitler too was haunted by the demise of Napoleon’s Army?

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4 thoughts on “Blog #7: Cartographies of Time

  1. There have been a few maps we’ve seen that have the clouds (or some kind of shading) covering up what they did not know was out there. I find it interesting, and I always loved that aspect of Civilization. It makes it feel a lot more realistic, despite the silliness of having Napoleon and Elizabeth I together on the same map!

  2. Minard’s Russia Campaign seems to be a staple of military lore and analysis and for good reason. The strategic placement of comparative widths, angles of movement, heights, and progression along a timeline and across distance offer so many pieces of information in a relatively “small” graphic. What amazes me about this image is the sheer creativity required to synthesize so many elements and data points! Considering even three points on a multi-dimensional grid system gave me fits in geometry, yet Minard created an organizational system for constructing visual meaning out of so many narrative elements. This genre of mapping technique must require a particular blend of artistic, mathematical, and engineering skills. Do you think this genre of mapping should return to military mapping centers or are there more efficient strategies for conveying information?

  3. Pingback: Charts, Maps, and Memories | The Journey to Enlightenment: Making the Leap to the Digital Age

  4. When I was looking over Quin’s maps I thought just like you of the famous “fog of war” from any number of strategy games, Civilization included. It’s interesting that we live in a world where there are no hidden spaces on the maps anymore. Our strategy games give us that feeling that many must have had during the time when Quin was drawing his clouded maps, where we don’t know what lurks behind the dark areas.

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