New Books Network

Over the past four decades, the volumes published in the landmark History of Cartography series have both chronicled and encouraged scholarship about maps and...

Over the past four decades, the volumes published in the landmark History of Cartography series have both chronicled and encouraged scholarship about maps and mapping practices across time and space. As the current director of the project that has produced these volumes, Matthew H. Edney has a unique vantage point for understanding what “cartography” has come to mean and include.

In this book Edney disavows the term cartography, rejecting the notion that maps represent an undifferentiated category of objects for study. Rather than treating maps as a single, unified group, he argues, scholars need to take a processual approach that examines specific types of maps—sea charts versus thematic maps, for example—in the context of the unique circumstances of their production, circulation, and consumption. To illuminate this bold argument, Edney chronicles precisely how the ideal of cartography that has developed in the West since 1800 has gone astray. By exposing the flaws in this ideal, his book challenges everyone who studies maps and mapping practices to reexamine their approach to the topic. The study of cartography will never be the same.

Matthew Edney is the Osher Professor in the History of Cartography at the University of Southern Maine. In addition to Cartography: The Ideal and Its History (University of Chicago Press, 2019) he is the author of Mapping an Empire: The Geographical Construction of British India, 1765–1843 (University of Chicago Press, 1997). Since 2005, Matthew has directed the History of Cartography Project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the co-editor with Mary S. Pedley of Cartography in the European Enlightenment, a massive compilation (at 1,920 pages!) now in press as Volume Four of Chicago’s The History of Cartography series. (Volumes 1, 2, 3, and 6 are already available on open access. Matthew also run a personal blog, Mapping as Process, which features his commentary on the study of map production, circulation, and consumption.


Steven Seegel is a Professor of History at the University of Northern Colorado