Inaugural Lecture of the Franke Program Mapping as Knowing Series

Event time: 
Thursday, September 27, 2018 - 4:00pm
WHC 208 See map
53 Wall Street
New Haven
Event description: 

**Please note a room change for this event.  It will now be held in WHC 208 instead of the Auditorium.**

Matthew Edney, Professor of Geography; Osher Professor in the History of Cartography

University of Southern Maine

“The Limits to Mapping”

What is “mapping”? Literally, it is the act of making maps, of turning the world to paper (or digital screen). Figuratively, it is bringing something to paper (or digital screen) as if it were the world being mapped; if the methodology is sufficiently structured and systematic then, pace Alfred Korzybski or Stephen Toulmin, the map is a theory and mapping is science. The metaphor works because we all know what maps are and therefore what mapping is. Or do we? Our understanding of “the map” is determined by a network of preconceptions and convictions that are deeply rooted in modern culture, a network that has cohered only since 1800. The network constitutes “cartography.” It is a simulacrum that imagines a thing that never existed such that it does not conceal a truth so much as conceal that there is none. No singular and universal endeavor of cartography exists; what humans actually do is follow a myriad of mapping processes to produce, circulate, and consume maps. This lecture therefore reconsiders the nature and limits of mapping as the creation of spatial meaning, or of meaning construed spatially. It uses a variety of case examples, including Mark Twain’s burlesque map of Paris (1870) and a mural from Neolithic Çatalhöyük (ca. 8000 BP), first to explain why “mapping” as a necessarily social and semiotic process and then to delineate markedly different mapping strategies that are always creative and never algorithmic.

Matthew H. Edney is Osher Professor in the History of Cartography, University of Southern Maine; he also directs the History of Cartography Project at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. With Mary Pedley he has edited Cartography in the European Enlightenment (Chicago, 2019), Volume Four of The History of Cartography. He is the author of Mapping an Empire: The Geographical Construction of British India, 1765–1843 (Chicago, 1997), numerous articles and book chapters, and the forthcoming Cartography: The Ideal and Its History (Chicago, 2019). He explores ideas relating to the history and nature of maps and mapping practices at