Maps and Empire: New Books

Three academic books out this month deal with the subject of mapping, surveying, and empire-building:

The New Map of Empire: How Britain Imagined America before Independence by S. Max Edelson (Harvard University Press) covers the period between the Seven Years’ War and the American Revolution. From the publisher:

Under orders from King George III to reform the colonies, the Board of Trade dispatched surveyors to map far-flung frontiers, chart coastlines in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, sound Florida’s rivers, parcel tropical islands into plantation tracts, and mark boundaries with indigenous nations across the continental interior. Scaled to military standards of resolution, the maps they produced sought to capture the essential attributes of colonial spaces—their natural capacities for agriculture, navigation, and commerce—and give British officials the knowledge they needed to take command over colonization from across the Atlantic.

Britain’s vision of imperial control threatened to displace colonists as meaningful agents of empire and diminished what they viewed as their greatest historical accomplishment: settling the New World. As London’s mapmakers published these images of order in breathtaking American atlases, Continental and British forces were already engaged in a violent contest over who would control the real spaces they represented.

Maps and visualizations to accompany the book are available online[Amazon]

The First Mapping of America: The General Survey of British North America by Alex Johnson (I. B. Tauris) seems to cover similar territory, if you’ll pardon the pun, though I have very little information about it. [Amazon]

Finally, Daniel Foliard’s Dislocating the Orient: British Maps and the Making of the Middle East, 1854-1921 (University of Chicago Press) “vividly illustrates how the British first defined the Middle East as a geopolitical and cartographic region in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries through their imperial maps. Until then, the region had never been clearly distinguished from ‘the East’ or ‘the Orient.’ In the course of their colonial activities, however, the British began to conceive of the Middle East as a separate and distinct part of the world, with consequences that continue to be felt today.” [Amazon, iBooks]

Related: Map Books of 2017.

Early French Maps of the Great Lakes

On Tuesday, Jean-François Palomino of the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec gave a talk on early French mapmaking efforts in the Great Lakes region at the University of Michigan. I missed being able to tell you about it in advance, but student newspaper The Michigan Daily has a writeup. [WMS]

(Palomino is one of the co-authors of Mapping a Continent: Historical Atlas of North America, 1492-1814, the French edition of which is La Mesure d’un continent.)

Zero Degrees

Book cover: Zero DegreesJon Wright reviews Charles W. J. Withers’s Zero Degrees: Geographies of the Prime Meridian (Harvard University Press, March 2017) for Geographical magazine. Zero Degrees is about the effort to establish a single, uniform prime meridian from among more than two dozen rival claims. As Wright writes, “Withers manages to turn what might have been an obscure, rather technical topic into a fascinating account of international rivalry and a meditation on what the whole business of measuring the world around us can reveal about broader cultural patterns.”

Related: Map Books of 2017.

Mapping the Past

Another book I missed at the time of its publication: Charles Drazen’s Mapping the Past: A Search for Five Brothers at the Edge of Empire (William Henemann, August 2016). It’s a family history: Drazin’s grandfather and brothers were military surveyors from rural Ireland “who travelled around the world as officers in the Royal Engineer Corps—surveying, exploring, mapmaking, fighting— in the twilight years of the British Empire.” [WMS]

The Cultural Impact of the Irish Ordnance Survey

ordnance-survey-irish-literatureCóilín Parsons is the author of The Ordnance Survey and Modern Irish Literature (Oxford University Press, June 2016; Amazon, iBooks), which links the Ordnance Survey of Ireland to the origins of literary modernism in Ireland. Writing in The Irish Times, Parsons makes a larger argument about the cultural impact of the Irish survey, which resulted in large part from the survey’s precise mapping requirements and the need to hire non-cartographic scholars to get the job done—they were mapping aspects of Irish life that had not previously received official attention.

This unlikely assembly came about because the survey was instructed to make a map at a scale of six inches to one mile. The scale might seem unexceptional to anyone who grew up using the survey’s maps, but at the time it was nothing short of revolutionary—it called for enormous maps of frequently sparsely inhabited areas, and at a level of detail never before seen across such a vast expanse of land. How was the survey to gather the information to fill in such detailed maps? The answer was to task not only the engineers of the army, but also a crew of civilian workers under Petrie’s supervision, to both map the physical features of the landscape and also record every possible aspect of the landscape from its placenames (the initial justification for employing Irish language scholars) and archeology to its productive economy.

[WMS]

Mapping the Four Corners

mapping-the-four-cornersOut this month from University of Oklahoma PressMapping the Four Corners: Narrating the Hayden Survey of 1875 by Robert S. McPherson and Susan Rhoades Neel. From the publisher: “By skillfully weaving the surveyors’ diary entries, field notes, and correspondence with newspaper accounts, historians Robert S. McPherson and Susan Rhoades Neel bring the Hayden Survey to life. Mapping the Four Corners provides an entertaining, engaging narrative of the team’s experiences, contextualized with a thoughtful introduction and conclusion.” Buy at Amazon. [WMS]

See also: Map Books of 2016.

An Ordnance Survey Roundup

mars-symbol

  • Concomitant with the Survey’s map of Mars was a competition to design a map symbol to represent landing sites. The winner has been announced: the OS will use Paul Marsh’s symbol, which incorporates the Mars symbol with landing gear, on its Mars maps in the future.

The Trig Pillar at 80

andrew-trig-pillar
Blencathra From Skiddaw Trig Pillar. OS BM S1543. Photo by Andrew (CC licence).

The Ordnance Survey are marking the 80th anniversary of the Retriangulation of Great Britain, which began on this day in 1936. More from BBC News. Events include the Trig Pillar Trail Challenge, which invites people to post pictures to social media of one of 25 selected trig (triangulation) pillars (the #TrigPillar80 hashtag is very busy this morning). There are Flickr galleries of various trig pillars from Flickr user Andrew (who took the one above in 2013) and (of course) the Ordnance Survey.