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"An encyclopedic book of striking erudition un which virtually every visible element in the nature and composition of maps is put under the microscope of [Jacob's] informed intellect."
Beginning with a historical overview of ...
Beginning with a historical overview of maps and their creation—from those traced in the dirt by primitive hands to the monumental Dutch atlases and ornate maps on Italian palace walls—Jacob goes on to consider the visual components of cartography: the decorative periphery, geometric grid, topographical lines, dots, details of iconographic figures, and many other aspects. Considering text on maps—titles, toponyms, legends, and keys—Jacob proposes that writing can both clarify and interfere with a map's visual presentation. Finally Jacob examines the role of the viewer in decoding a map's meaning and the role of society in defining the power of maps as authoritative depictions of space.
Innovative in its philosophical motivation and its interdisciplinary approach to looking at and writing about maps, The Sovereign Map is eagerly awaited by scholars from many different fields.
“Important in that it contributes to a literature weak in theoretical analysis of early maps.”
— George Falconer
— J.B. Post
— Charles W. J. Withers
— Susan Schulten
— D.R. Fraser Taylor
— Bruce Fetter
— Danny Dorling
— P.D.A. Harvey
— A.H. Merrills
— Stuart Elden
Theoretical Approaches in Cartography throughout History
Copyright © 2006 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.
WHAT IS A MAP?
How valuable a good map is, in which one views the world as from another world thanks to the art of drawing.
Samuel van Hoogstraten, Inleyding tot de Hooge Schoole der Schilderkonst (1678), 7, quoted in Svetlana Alpers, "The Mapping Impulse in Dutch Art" (1987), 74
FIRST REQUIREMENT: a definition. What is a map? The usual answer to this question-that a map is a flat image of the earth or of one of its regions-simply raises new questions. What is an image, and on what grounds can an image represent the earth? The object eludes definition because the definition situates the map in a generic category. The nature of the map can be specified only by referring in an immediate way to what it represents-that is, to what it is not.
The difficulty is revealing. Like written or spoken language, in its everyday or scientific uses a map hardly draws attention to itself. The condition of its intellectual and social uses lies precisely in this transparency, in the absence of "noise" that would otherwise interfere with the process of communication, just as only an unknown idiom or foreign alphabetcould be perceived as pure-spoken or written-signifiers, as prosody and drawings.
An effective map is transparent because it is a signified without a signifier. It vanishes in the visual and intellectual operation that unfolds its content. The map spreads out the entire world before the eyes of those who know how to read it. The eye does not see; it constructs, it imagines space. The map is not an object but a function. Like a microscope, a telescope, or a scanner, it is a technical prosthesis that extends and redefines the Weld of sensorial perception, or, rather, a place where ocular vision and the "mind's eye" coincide. As a mediation, an interface, it remains hidden. Among numerous literary accounts, in the most varied cultural contexts that call attention to the ways maps are used, few mention the materiality of the map and the graphic characteristics of what is concretely put in view. Discourse passes without any gap from the space on the map to the real space outside the map. Topography and relief are described; places are named and inserted into a geographical environment; a toponymic and geographical knowledge is mobilized before any attention is drawn to an abstract disposition of lines, forms, colors, and inscriptions. And yet, paradoxically, what defines the map is the mediation of representation, a mediation that is a signifier with its own codes and conventions (symbolization, schematization, miniaturization, colors, nomenclature, vertical overview, etc.). Such representation is a patient labor of construction, technical gestures, graphic conventions, and different kinds of visual artifice. The map generates an illusion of which it is itself the first victim, an illusion whose nature Franco Farinelli has so tersely defined: "The history of geography is the history of the confusion between the model and the reality" (Farinelli 1989, 4).
This conceptual vacuum is a first symptom: what is a map? Does it mean a unique, coherent, and stable object? At the outset of this study it is best to dissect the object instead of trying to maintain false certitudes and nominalist illusions. The map does not constitute an ahistorical and transcultural category. Instead, its viewer observes a variety of mechanisms, each of which is ordered by specific types of logic. The differences must be evaluated before a common identity can be sought, both in the materiality of the map and in its intellectual purpose.
THERE ARE MAPS, AND THERE ARE MAPS
Can the map be defined by what it represents? It is tempting to associate a map with the planar and conventional representation of a region of the earth. But such a definition of maps emphasizes one of many configurations, that of a flat medium or surface on which a graphic design is drawn. What about terrestrial globes, relief maps, and concrete maps fashioned with wooden sticks, sand, or pebbles? Visualization is, perhaps, not even a sine qua non, as shown by the results of specific tests with the blind and their relationship to tactile maps. Moreover, is material projection an intrinsic property of maps in general? Mental maps suggest the contrary even if they need to be materialized in one way or another, through language or graphics, in order to be suited for social communication and experimental study.
The Frontiers of the Map
A map does not necessarily represent the space of the earth. There are extraterrestrial maps, maps of the heavens, of the moon, or of Mars, just as there is an atlas of the human body. A map is defined less by its object than by the organization and the new visibility it imposes on this object: reticulation, spatial divisions, and complex structures resulting from the juxtaposition of its constituent parts or from their imbrication.
For the most part a map remains associated with the representation of terrestrial space: an ordering of the contours of coastlines, the indentations of estuaries, the sprinkling of islands, the physical contact of the sea and the land. But are the fictional maps of imaginary continents-from Atlantis to Treasure Island-any less cartographic than a map of France or the Americas? The "Carte du Tendre," an allegorical map pervasive in seventeenth-century French salon culture, shows that emotions and feelings can be spatialized: thus constructed, the territory displays relationships, contiguities, and possible itineraries that are metaphors of both life stories and imaginary novels. The map as metaphor has, in addition, an extensive Weld of application. In the seventeenth century savoir la carte, to "know the map," conveyed a proverbial meaning, referring to those who "are perfectly aware of the intrigues, the interests of the court, the manners of a society, the secrets of a family" (Dainville 1940, 381). The expression might also have referred to a psychological intuition that allowed one to read directly into the emotions of others.
A map can be defined neither by its accuracy nor by its referential status. At first glance a map with errors is as much a map as a correct map. It is only by reference to external information-a socially sanctioned convention, a memorized model, a normative conception of reality-that the real map can be distinguished from the fictional map. This external reference, however, is compatible with a broad range of graphic options, schematic or highly sophisticated variants, from the sketch drawn from memory to maps produced by scientific agencies. The map can be held to represent space only by a social consensus. This process of representation is in itself determined by the specific plan of the cartographer and the intended function of his or her drawing. Once again, in defining the map we find ourselves projected outside the object itself.
Can maps representing a territory be classified with thematic maps that represent phenomena, distributions, or processes located in this space? What are the common points that link a cadastral map to a world map, or a map of seasonal demographic movements to a cosmological scheme symbolizing the divine order of the universe (Indian or Aztec mappaemundi)? Can objects be assembled in a single category no matter how different they may be in both the extent and the nature of their represented spaces, in spatial features, and in the information they contain? A map does not limit itself to represent, in a somewhat photographic way, all the visible undulations and jagged features of a given territory. Moreover, a map can represent invisible realities: a map of forests is not the same thing as a map used for forest management. A map of the zones of diffusion of the first names "Sylvain" and "Leonard" in the Limousin in nineteenth-century France does not refer to a visible reality of the area itself, but it gives a new perspective on the hundreds of archival documents examined by historians. The statistical interpretation is enriched by a spatial variable that allows the study of zones of resistance to and the introduction of new first names in a rural milieu (Théry 1987b).
Maps vary according to what they represent, but they also vary in the way they represent their subject. One map will appear to be a geometrical sketch reduced to a global form divided and organized by several fundamental axes. Another, on the contrary, will present to the viewer an illegible space because it is saturated with information as a result of the excessive use of place-names and of the "semiology of graphics" (pictograms, symbols, differences of color or intensity). A map can be located on a scale whose two extremes correspond to a figurative painting at one end and schematic diagrams at the other. A map can approximate a picture or an assemblage of geometrical figures, but the varying balance of the figurative and abstract material never quite modifies one fundamental element: the map is not the territory. Even in the world of Jorge Luis Borges, the signifier and the signified are always differentiated, even if the map is on a scale of 1:1 and covers the very area it depicts (Borges 1964b). It is still a map, because an essential difference exists in respect to real space, a difference indelibly marked by a deficit and an excess, the map being both something less and something more than real space; some information is lost, new information is added.
At what point does the painting of a landscape become a map? Is the border drawn around the map its only conceivable limit? On certain large-scale maps, the topographical drawing vanishes toward the horizon, in the style of a landscape painting. And we are aware, too-notably, in Dutch painting-of landscapes that multiply topographical landmarks (spires, windmills, etc.), that carefully mark specific local places, that even bear toponyms and stretch out before our eyes according to a perspective that approximates horizontality. Between the map and the image there are overlapping zones rather than clear divisions. But then, where do we draw the line between an assemblage of geometrical figures without extrinsic meaning and the framework of a map, its schematic sketch? We can easily imagine the infinite variations of this mixture of figuration and abstraction, of geometry, and "description." The rendering and perception evolve according to these variations; so also do the intellectual operations required by the production and the reception of the map.
A map can be monochrome or colored, replete with embellishments or free of any image that might interfere with its topographical representation. To the map-diagram and the map-painting can be added the photograph-map, in which the presentation of space organizes a new "map background" endowed with a particular realism, a substitute for aerial observation that tends to dissimulate the successive stages of its construction. The dimensions of the map can also vary greatly: certain maps are the size of postage stamps; others cover a wall or the floor of a room. Nor can we say that a particular geometrical structure defines a map: the graticule (grid of meridians and parallels), which resurfaces in European cartography with the rediscovery in the Renaissance of Claudius Ptolemy, counts as only one among many possible solutions. In its most schematic form, a map can even be free of all numerical or quantifiable elements. Finally, a map cannot be defined by those who produce it (every human being is a potential cartographer) or the context in which it is produced: between the hiker's rough sketch that recapitulates the itinerary and the map of a scientific institute there are formal and functional differences, but not differences in nature.
Any attempt to define a map presents, first and foremost, a problem of limits and of relevant features. Ideally, we need to establish a set of minimal but sufficient characteristics denoting the cartographical nature of a drawing. We face the same problem when contemplating the origins of cartography (in prehistory) and when we try to distinguish the map from its simulacra in certain contemporary pictures. The definition should help to distinguish the map from the "cartographic effect" produced by a given drawing. All of the difficulty of identifying "maps" cut into the rocky slopes of Mont Bégo or Valcamonica in the Bronze Age resides in the recognition of graphic units and in the determination of the minimal quantitative level of their assemblage that will define a map as simple or complex. By favoring this quantitative criterion we presuppose, moreover, that at the basis of the map are to be found the relationship, the combination, and the visual as well as intellectual links that allow several elements to be contained in the unifying structure that organizes them. Cannot simple and unique forms-a circle, a square, a point-also be "world maps"? The first map oscillates between topography and cosmology without our being able to date with any certitude the anteriority of the one in respect to the other.
The question of what is necessary in order to identify a map as such is also posed in certain contemporary paintings that use cartographical symbols or invent new ones. These paintings sometimes reproduce cartographical fragments within the pictorial space itself. These images inside the image, ostensibly integrating fragments of reality into the pictorial world, are mirroring the powers of representation. When Giorgio de Chirico, Alberto Savinio, and Carlo Carrà integrate various fragments of geographical maps into their paintings, we can identify the characteristic features of the map without being able to read these maps in relation to geographical space. These illegible maps exhibit before our eyes formal properties that we can interpret only with reference to figurative codes that we have internalized, those of contemporary Western cartography as a genre. De Chirico in particular carefully imitates the shading of relief and the grid of the map (fig. 1). There is a global effect of verisimilitude, but it is undermined by a fictional geography (that is, a geography incompatible with the socially shared knowledge of space) and by geometrical anamorphoses. These are "metaphysical" maps, in which the representation of local and particular things is dissolved into the generic nature of the code: the utopian map may be considered a signifier without a signified. Such metaphysical maps can be defined more by allusions than by quotations, more by reflections than by imitations. In the same fashion, when Emilio Isgrò conscientiously draws a black line through all the place-names of a large-scale topographic map of Lombardy, the individual who looks at the work from a certain distance will nonetheless identify all the distinctive signs of the map, especially the many inscriptions in deep black that, when seen from afar, produce the illusion of toponyms inscribed in tiny characters (fig. 2). Only when we see it up close does this document become illegible and useless. Apart from the black lines replacing the toponyms, nothing remains to be seen. A map can be identified, up to a certain threshold of perception, on the basis of the form of the document and its general graphic organization, including the distribution of its inscriptions over the surface of the map and the effects of relief shading. These are the codes of representation, the cartographical signifier that we recognize, but in no case is it a geographical referent: the latter could not be identified on a large-scale map without the aid of toponymy. In contrast, in Claudio Parmiggiani's Tavole zoogeografiche, the identification of the map follows a different logic (fig. 3). Five photographs of cows are seen against a background of pasture-white cows with black spots. Nothing appears out of the ordinary until the black spots are seen arranged in the familiar silhouettes of the Eurasian continent, Australia, the Americas, and Africa, each carefully designed and painted by the artist himself. Here we identify the map not according to graphic conventions or codes of figuration, but according to its geographical content, signifying forms that we immediately associate with the name of a continent because they have been memorized, classified, and labeled by virtue of the repeated viewing of this kind of document. The artist's imagination, tied to the tradition of maps on parchment-here living, mobile, and three-dimensional raw parchment-suggests an unforeseen cartographic "nomadism" in which the continents can be recombined and infinite derivations extended into the circumscribed pasture (the background of the map? or the single apparent plane of representation?).
Excerpted from THE SOVEREIGN MAP by CHRISTIAN JACOB Copyright © 2006 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
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1. What is a Map?
2. Graphics, Geometry, & Figuration
3. Maps & Writing
4. The Cartographic Image