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.

Whither the Waters

Out this month from the University of New Mexico Press: John L. Kessell’s Whither the Waters: Mapping the Great Basin from Bernardo de Miera to John C. Frémont, a relatively short book that places 18th-century colonial New Mexican artist and cartographer Bernardo de Miera in his historical context and explores how later cartographers made use of his work. The Santa Fe New Mexican covers the launch of the book with a look at both author and subject. Amazon. [WMS]

Patents and Cartographic Inventions

Published late last month, Mark Monmonier’s new book, Patents and Cartographic Inventions: A New Perspective for Map History (Palgrave Macmillan) is on a somewhat more arcane and non-obvious subject than his usual fare. It’s an exploration of the U.S. patent system that focuses on map- and navigation-related inventions. The publisher’s description: “In probing evolving notions of novelty, non-obviousness, and cumulative innovation, Mark Monmonier examines rural address guides, folding schemes, world map projections, diverse improvements of the terrestrial globe, mechanical route-following machines that anticipated the GPS navigator, and the early electrical you-are-here mall map, which opened the way for digital cartography and provided fodder for patent trolls, who treat the patent largely as a license to litigate.” Actually sounds interesting as hell; the book is quite expensive, though. Amazon, iBooks.

Maps of Delhi

Pilar Maria Guerrieri’s Maps of Delhi, a collection of 66 maps from the 19th century to the present day, comes out from Niyogi Books in August. Nevertheless, the wire service IANS has an article about it now: it reveals how the book came about because the author wished it had been available when she began working on her doctorate.

“While I was searching specifically for the pre and post independence maps in several Indian archives and institutions, I slowly found and collected all the other documents. At the end of my PhD I realised that if I had the complete collection of maps at the beginning of my studies, my research would have been much more easier and smoother. I decided to publish the whole collection with the aim that it will turn to be useful for scholars interested in understanding the capital of India,” Guerrieri told IANS in an interview.

[Tony Campbell/WMS]

Picturing America

Meanwhile, at All Over the Map, Greg Miller has a look at another professor with another book: Stephen J. Hornsby, who curated an exhibition of American pictorial maps at the Osher Map Library last year, has published a book on the subject: Picturing America: The Golden Age of Pictorial Maps, out last month from University of Chicago Press (Amazon, iBooks). Miller’s post includes an interview with Hornsby and a sample gallery of some of Hornsby’s pictorial maps.

William Rankin Profiled

Over at the Toynbee Prize Foundation’s Global History Forum, Timothy Nunan has a long article about Yale history of science professor William Rankin, author of last year’s After the Map: Cartography, Navigation, and the Transformation of Territory in the Twentieth Century (book website, publisher, Amazon, iBooks) and the themes—the shifting relationship between map and territory, for example—addressed by that book. [WMS]

Previously: After the MapWilliam Rankin, Author of ‘After the Map,’ Interviewed.

Harrison Reassessed

Jim Bennett, author of the new book, Navigation: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press), reassesses the history of John Harrison and his marine chronometer solution to the longitude problem, a story that has been popularized by Dava Sobel’s 1995 bestseller, Longitude (reviewed here).

It is difficult to claim without important qualification that Harrison solved the longitude problem in a practical sense. In the broad sweep of the history of navigation, Harrison was not a major contributor.

The Harrison story seems to attract challenge and controversy. The longitude exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in 2014 was an attempt to offer a more balanced account than has been in vogue recently. The Astronomer Royal Nevil Maskelyne, for example, has been maligned without justification. A recent article in The Horological Journal takes a contrary view and offers ‘An Antidote to John Harrison’, and we seem set for another round of disputation. From a historian’s point of view, one of the casualties of the enthusiasm of recent years has been an appreciation of the context of the whole affair, while a degree of partisanship has obscured the legitimate positions of many of the characters involved. There is a much richer and more interesting story to be written than the one-dimensional tale of virtue and villainy.

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.

Book Roundup for March 2017

Out this month: the English translation of Andrea Carandini’s massive two-volume, 1300-page Atlas of Ancient Rome (Princeton University Press), which “provides a comprehensive archaeological survey of the city of Rome from prehistory to the early medieval period.” See the book’s website. [Amazon]

Other books seeing publication this month: Picturing America: The Golden Age of Pictorial Maps by Stephen J. Hornsby (University of Chicago Press), a history of the pictorial map art form during the 20th century [Amazon]; and Zero Degrees: Geographies of the Prime Meridian by Charles W. J. Withers (Harvard University Press), a history of prime meridians and the standardization thereof [Amazon].

An update: Mapping the Holy Land (I. B. Tauris) which I originally understood to be coming out in January, is now slated for publication this week. [Amazon]

Related: Map Books of 2017.

Telling the Map

Christopher Rowe’s short story “Another Word for Map Is Faith,” which imagines an alternate America ruled by a theocracy that treats maps as infallible, and territory to be corrected to conform to the map, was the first speculative fiction story I encountered in which maps were a central role. (I soon found other examples.) It appeared in the August 2006 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which hasn’t made it easy to track down. But it’ll be included, along with nine other stories, in Rowe’s upcoming short story collection, Telling the Map, which comes out from Small Beer Press in July 2017. Check out that entirely appropriate cover: as Rowe notes, “[t]he concept for the cover originated with Gwenda Bond, who was inspired by the maps of Pauline Baynes.”

Previously: Another Word for Map Is Faith.

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]

New Edition of London: A Life in Maps

This post on Londonist obliquely lets us know that there’s a new edition of Peter Whitfield’s London: A Life in Maps, out this month from the British Library (it comes out in June in the U.S.). “[R]edesigned and updated for a new audience,” the book originally came out as a companion to a British Library exhibition of the same name that ran ten years ago.

Related: Map Books of 2017.