Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

A History of the World in Twelve Maps, by Jerry Brotton

Second paragraph of third chapter (on the Hereford Mappamundi):
[Archbishop of Canterbury John] Pecham was particularly concerned about bringing the Welsh clergy into line on the issue of pluralism. This was as much a political as a religious matter. Throughout the 1270s and 1280s King Edward [I] was involved in a long and bitter conflict with independent Welsh rulers in an attempt to incorporate the realm within England. Situated in the Marches (border regions) between England and Wales, the diocese of Hereford represented the furthest extent of English political and ecclesiastical authority, and Pecham was keen to ensure it abided by his reforms. While [Bishop of Hereford Thomas] Cantilupe remained loyal to King Edward on political matters, he rejected Pecham's attempts to challenge pluralism and other practices deeply embedded in English religious life, and resisted the archbishop's attempts at reforming his diocese. Matters came to a head in February 1282, when the Archbishop dramatically excommunicated Cantilupe at Lambeth Palace. The disgraced bishop went into exile in France, and by March 1282 was heading to Rome, to make a direct appeal to Pope Martin IV against his excommunication.
This is the sort of history of science that I very much approve of, taking twelve well-known historical maps and weaving around them the story of how cartography has changed in line with political needs and technological developments.

There are actually thirteen maps discussed in detail rather than twelve (though The Atlantic's review has a good overview of the twelve):
  1. The oldest known map, a cuneiform tablet from Babylon
  2. Ptolemy's Geography
  3. Al-Idrīsī's Tabula Rogeriana
  4. the Hereford Mappamundi
  5. the Korean Kangnido
  6. Martin Waldseemüller's map, the first to use the word "America"
  7. Diogo Ribeiro's world map, which helped Spain to claim the moluccas
  8. Mercator's world map
  9. Blaeu's Atlas
  10. the Cassini dynasty's mapping of France
  11. Halford Mackinder's geopolitical thesis
  12. the Peters Projection
  13. and Google Earth.
It's arguable that this represents only a partial snapshot of the history of the world - geographically, most of these are from within the European/Middle Eastern space, and chronologically three are from the sixteenth century and another two from the centuries immediately before and after. But I think it's legitimate for a London-based Professor of Renaissance Studies to write about what he knows, while pointing out that there are also other times and places which the interested reader can go and find out more about.

Brotton is particularly good at unpicking the ideological choices made by mapmakers at all periods, explaining how the demands of the reader / viewer / customer / patron impact on what is actually shown, and chiseling away at any concept of a perfectly representative map. For those of us who were exposed to the sociology of knowledge at an impressionable age, it's a good bit of re-education. His deconstruction of the more distant cultures in time and space sets him up nicely for brutal dissections of Halford Mackinder and the Peters Projection, and also sets the scene for the last chapter's interrogation of Google Earth. What we see on the map is what the map-maker has chosen to show us - not what is actually there.

This was the top non-fiction book recommended by you guys last year. Next on that list is Austerity Britain, 1945-1951, by David Kynaston.

Tags: bookblog 2016, history of science

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