Notes toward a critical history of cartography, part 2

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The Map Room at the British Library

Over the last couple of months I have been visiting various archives to access some great material relevant to the “Critical History.” In June I visited the Library of Congress (LoC) for a short trip, where I met with John Hessler and checked through the John Snyder papers. Snyder was an authority on map projections and his correspondence with Arthur Robinson on this topic is fascinating.

I was especially interested in the exchanges about the Peters projection, which will form one entry in the Critical History. Robinson was famously opposed to the work of Peters and said so (often) in print, more or less politely. (In letters he was a bit more forthright, calling it a “ridiculous display,” “dismissed him as a crackpot” etc).

Snyder was also skeptical of it, although in my opinion he had a more open mind about its purpose. Both men were keen to dispel false cartographic statements by Peters and his US collaborators. Snyder actually wrote to Peters in 1994, although I saw no evidence of a reply (they mention that Peters had polio; he died in 2002).

They also corresponded about people most notably Denis Wood, and his prison sentence. I was quite surprised to find a little bit of correspondence about me and my Peters paper, which had come out in 1994. Nothing like your deceased research subjects turning around and speaking back to you!

The other minor piece was some discussion about the President’s Globe that Robinson had done while in the OSS. This was a custom 52″ globe made for President Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill during the war. Robinson gave a talk on it at the AGSL in 1996 (fortunately videotaped and available from AGSL) and I found the typescript of his talk in the archives.

This summer I’ve spent July and August in the UK, and here I’ve taken the opportunity to go through the Brian Harley materials, which are on deposit at the British Library. The situation of these papers is rather unique. After Harley died in December 1991, his family decided that his papers should be sent to the BL (rather than say keeping them at Milwaukee or sending them to LoC). Unfortunately they’ve never been accessioned, never mind catalogued (many of the boxes, which have Milwaukee return labels on and are therefore the originals, have not even been opened). Paul Laxton, a historical geographer at Liverpool, did start on a cataloging process in 2008 but only got through 21 boxes, with a further 50 or so remaining.

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One of the Harley boxes

My interests were twofold: to clarify Harley’s Map as Ideology book (and other book projects) and to examine materials from the late 1980s until his death (and after). The Map as Ideology was a book project or monograph that was conceived in 1984-5 and was under contract at various publishers such as Routledge and Kegan Paul (as was). Harley actually drafted at least four of the-then planned five chapters, mostly from a historical point of view. One draft was called “Early Maps as Ideology” for example, from which he generalized larger conceptual points, and this (or a variant) appeared as his well-known chapter “Maps, Knowledge and Power” (1988).

A second book project was a planned collection of his own writings, which you could say eventually appeared as The New Natures of Maps (2001, edited by Laxton as his literary executor).

A third book project was called GIS and Geography and was a co-edited volume with John Pickles, which would be offered to Guilford Press. This was still in early stages of development in summer 1991, and could be considered at least part of the inspiration for the collection edited by John Ground Truth (1995). There’s a book proposal in the papers with the chapter authors and abstracts. Not surprisingly, the proposal draft (sent by John to Harley) reiterates points that both had made elsewhere, such as understanding maps as power-knowledge (“Michel Foucault would, if he were still alive, recognize this discourse of knowledge and power…”). Contributors included Michael Curry, Wolfgang Natter, Joni Seager, Derek Gregory, Michael Goodchild, and Peter Taylor as well as individual chapters by the editors (Harley: “In his chapter Brian Harley will focus on the ethics of cartographic representations, and particularly electronically produced images”; Pickles: “In his essay, Pickles will focus on the ways in which it can be said that the basic goals of GIS (and the forms of geography and social science which share its underlying episteme) foster the technics and ideology of normalization”).

It’s helpful to get a handle on these various projects, and perhaps a little surprising that I am the first person to go through this material. Matthew Edney who wrote a definitive monograph on Harley tells me he did not consult these materials (the monograph is nevertheless excellent, and the best piece there is on Harley). There’s lots of interest to anybody even vaguely concerned with maps and mapping. Fortunately it includes his CV updated through December 1991.

There’s lots more to go through.

One footnote: the material includes a letter from Robinson providing his reader’s report on the History of Cartography Volume 1 in 1984 (it was published in 1987). Robinson is unstinting in his praise (“truly a monumental work” etc) which is interesting since Harley and Woodward’s definition of cartography and their very approach challenged the histories up to that time, and might have met with resistance from figures such as Robinson. We would need more of this for a definitive statement, which makes it the more regrettable that there isn’t a Robinson archive (or Woodward papers, i.e., separate from the History of Cartography project).

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2 responses to “Notes toward a critical history of cartography, part 2

  1. Patrick McHaffie

    Thanksfor sharing your notes with the community jeremy – very appreciated and fascinating reading.

  2. Reblogged this on Progressive Geographies and commented:
    Jeremy Crampton reports on his archival work into the history of cartography.

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