‘Cartograph’: History of a Back Formation

Inspired by its appearance in a recent science fiction novel,1 Matthew Edney explores the history of the odd word “cartograph”—a back formation of “cartography” whose existence suggests circumstances in which “map” is somehow insufficient. Edney traces three kinds of uses of the term: one referring to an early 20th-century instrument; one as a synonym for pictorial maps in the mid-20th century; and one, post-1980, that refers to map products that don’t, for some reason, adhere to Western cartographic ideals. (This piece expands on Edney’s book-length critique of the normative ideal of cartography, Cartography: The Ideal and Its History, which I reviewed here last October.)


  1. Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire, which I’ve read and recommend wholeheartedly.