Fall 2012: "The Cultural History of Cartography"

Over the past thirty years, the cultural history of cartography has been reinvigorated by means of the theorizations deriving from literary and cultural studies (e.g., Foucault, Certeau).  Correlatively, scholars of literature and visual culture have become attuned to the importance of maps, mapmaking, and spatial logics to an array of questions:  the historical emergence of race, the gendering of colonial rhetoric, the administration of empire, and the experience of urban life.  This interdisciplinary seminar, co-taught by an English/Women’s Studies professor and the university library’s chief map librarian, will focus on the mutually-informing relationships among cartography, literature, and visual culture at different historical moments in Europe and North America.  We will explore the very definition of a map, which differs across time and cultures; cross-cultural variations in map literacy; the use that people make of maps and atlases in different times and places, including military activity, local journeying, exploration, colonization, urbanization, and administration; the representations of human bodies, flora, and fauna on maps (including racial, ethnic, gendered, and geographic designations); and the ways in which spatialized graphic idioms (e.g., longitude, latitude, grids, compass roses) contribute to broad cultural logics, including historically specific modes of classification and comparison. 


Our Anglo-European focus will be supplemented by consideration of cartographic products from non-Western cultures, especially Asia.  Depending on the interest of students, our survey may range from the medieval period to the present, although we also will focus on select moments in time.  Shifts entailed by technological changes in the late sixteenth century (geometric triangulation, surveying, copper-plate engraving, mass-marketing of prints) will orient one such focus.  Select literary texts that have elicited considerable interest for those interested in cartography (for instance, Shakespeare’s King Lear) will make an appearance.  In addition, we will explore the implications of new digital technologies for both research and pedagogy.


Our cartographic archive will be based on the collections of the Clements Library and Hatcher’s Clark Map Library, although on-line databases will be used as well.  Along with reading in recent cartographic history, spatial theory, and literary texts, requirements include attendance at a symposium on the cultural history of cartography to be held October 25 and 26, and the viewing of two special exhibits related to the symposium.  Readings drawn from the scholarship of symposium speakers (some of them former Michigan Ph.D.s), will orient the first half of the syllabus; the second half will be devoted to developing skills for final projects, some of which will evolve out of questions developed in the course of the symposium.


This course should be useful to anyone interested in developing their interdisciplinary skills of reading literary and visual texts, and historicizing and theorizing them.  No previous “map literacy” or knowledge of the history of cartography is required.