A History of Maps and Mapping

Maps & Mapping History


Course Outline


Maps and Mapping: biases and meanings


The Map as Object I: Medieval to 1550


The Map as Object II: 1550 to 1900


British Map and Atlas Trade, 17th-19th Centuries


20th-Century Maps


Cataloguing Maps


Globes and Conservation


Workshop: Indigenous Maps (Royal Geographical Society)


Sea Charts and Navigation


Workshop: Sea charts and maritime mapping (National Maritime Museum, Greenwich) GROUP 1


Workshop: Sea charts and maritime mapping (National Maritime Museum, Greenwich) GROUP 2


The Digital Map


Modes of Map History: Final Discussion and Presentations



Course Information

Instructor: Dr Katherine Parker, kaparker18th@gmail.com

Dates: 25-29 June 2018


Course description and objectives:

Maps are simultaneously ubiquitous in everyday life yet also strangely absent from much scholarly work outside the niche field of the history of cartography. How to catalogue, study, and discuss maps as historical sources for research is a subject that draws insight from critical bibliography, the history of the book, historical geography, and other subjects, making it an interdisciplinary and dynamic field. Since the 1980s, scholars have placed maps under critical review, questioning precisely what a map is and probing the social and cultural roles maps, and their makers and consumers, play. However, this re-envisioning of map scholarship has not reached general or popular literature.

This course will challenge students to:


  • destabilize and broaden the traditional definition of ‘map’.
  • recognize maps as socially constructed objects that are indicative of the values and biases of their makers and the cultures that created them.
  • be able to analyse and catalogue maps for a variety of research purposes.
  • discuss changes in map technology and style without recourse to a progressive narrative of scientific improvement.   


Seminar 1

Maps and Mapping: biases and meanings

Monday 25 June, 14.00-15.30


In this introductory seminar, students will discuss Brian Harley’s important essay, ‘Maps, Knowledge, and Power.’ The reading will help us to answer questions like, how are maps used in the present and the past? What sorts of things can we learn from maps? How does the present use of maps infringe on the understanding of past spatial practices? And, of course, what is a map in the first place?

At the end of the seminar, students will select the map or atlas they wish to study for the final activity in seminar 13. If students have a particular map they wish to work on, please inform the instructor at this time.


Seminar 2

The Map as Object I

Monday 25 June, 16.00-17.30


The materiality of maps will be highlighted in this first session, with an especial focus on the Medieval and early modern period (to ca. 1550). Both how maps were made and the materials that made maps will be discussed, and we will query how these material constraints affected how and what could be depicted on a map. Furthermore, we will discuss types of map and the uses to which each type was put by early modern actors.


Seminar 3

The Map as Object II

Tuesday 26 June, 9.30-11.00


We will continue our discussion of the materiality and technology of maps, bringing the story forward from 1550 to the 19th century. Topics such as replicability, manuscript vs. print and the regulation of mapping will be discussed and students will get a chance to analyse their own map case study with a focus on European atlases of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries.  


Seminar 4

The British Map and Atlas Trade, 17th–19th Centuries

Guests: Ashley Baynton Williams, Lawrence Worms

Tuesday 26 June, 11.30-13.00


Baynton-Williams and Worms will give an overview of the British map and atlas trade from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, stressing the mapmakers’ training, business practices, and relationships. The two speakers will also describe how they conduct research on maps in a variety of archives and what it is like to work with maps as sources.


Seminar 5

Workshop: 20th-Century Maps (Tim Bryars Ltd., 7 Cecil Court, London WC2N 4HE)

Guest: Tim Bryars

Tuesday 26th June, 14.00-15.30


Students will learn about the proliferation of maps that occurred in the 20th-century, when maps truly became a part of most people’s quotidian routine. Students will select a map on display to analyse for its materiality, purpose, origin, intended audience, and possible biases/limitations.


Seminar 6

Cataloguing and archival access

Guest: Cecilie Gasseholm

Wednesday 27 June, 9.30-11.00


A professional map cataloguer will explain how institutions catalogue, store, and access maps. Then, the students will participate in a cataloguing exercise where they will attempt to catalogue their own example map.


Seminar 7

Globes and Conservation

Guest: Sylvia Sumira

Wednesday 27 June, 11.30-13.00


Sylvia Sumira will give an overview of the history of printed globes.  She will also speak about the conservation of globes and show examples of work she has carried out for many clients including museums and libraries.


Seminar 8

Workshop: Indigenous Maps (Royal Geographical Society)

Guests: Felix Driver and Joy Slappnig

Wednesday 27 June, 14.00pm-15.30


Students will be introduced to the map collection of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) in order to consider the ways in which maps represented or excluded indigenous peoples and their knowledge. A wide range of maps will be considered, with examples drawn from Burma, India, the Sahara and the Arctic. Professor Felix Driver and PhD researcher Joy Slappnig will introduce students to current research in order to consider the ways in which indigenous presence was acknowledged or denied, and to discuss changing interpretations and definitions of indigenous maps.  Students will also learn about the history of the RGS in order to better understand how a collection is accrued over time.


Seminar 9

Sea Charts and Navigation

Thursday 28 June, 9.00-10.00

Meet at the DLR station (Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich)


Students will take a deep dive into a particular type of map: navigational charts. The production and use of the charts will be stressed, as will the blurry area between navigational and geographical maps for certain areas with little archived knowledge.


Seminar 10

Workshop: Sea charts and maritime mapping (National Maritime Museum, Greenwich)

Guest: Megan Barford

Thursday 28 June.

(in two groups 10.15 & 12.00)


Students will get to examine a selection of sea charts from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries with Curator of Cartography Megan Barford. She will lead the group in a discussion of the work of the Hydrographic Office. She will also be able to answer any questions students might have about the curation of a maps collection within a larger library/museum and the challenges facing the modern maps curator (such as how to collect digital maps).


Seminar 11

Workshop: Sea charts and maritime mapping (National Maritime Museum, Greenwich)

Guest: Megan Barford

Thursday 28 June.

(in two groups 10.15 & 12.00)


After their workshop session at the NMM, students are free to work on their final projects for the afternoon. The instructor will be available for questions and help until 17:00.


Seminar 12

The Digital Map

Friday 29 June, 9:30-11:00


In this session, students will be exposed to online map repositories and resources, as well as participate in a discussion about the possibilities and pitfalls of digital mapping. For which projects are maps useful? Is digitization of collections the best choice for all libraries? How does one access digital maps? Collect them? Is a digital map a suitable stand-in for viewing a map in person?


Seminar 13

Modes of Map History: Final Discussion and Presentations

Friday 29 June, 11.30-13.30


The final session of the course will be a round-table discussion about the use and analysis of maps with the introduction to Matthew Edney’s The Ideal of Cartography as a starting point.


Each student will also present a 5-minute talk on the map they chose at the beginning of the week. The talk will cover the map’s maker, design and technology, production, intended audience, and an examination of the meanings of the map with regard to its specific historical context and the larger history of maps and mapping.