The History of Cartography

Volume 2, Book 3: Cartography in the Traditional African, American, Arctic, Australian, and Pacific Societies

Edited by David Woodward and G. Malcolm Lewis


Maps are seen through many different eyes. As the historical study of maps has broadened and matured over the past two decades to extend beyond the idea of maps as ever-improving representations of the geographical world, at least three approaches have been developed and championed: the map as cognitive system, the map as material culture, and the map as social construction.1 All three are necessary to a full understanding of how maps function in society. The way these approaches have waxed and waned has depended not only on the background and predilections of individual researchers, but also on the differing roles and meanings of maps in the various cultures that have been studied.

The emphasis on these three approaches has shifted as the History of Cartography volumes have appeared. In this book, which deals with the cartography of traditional African, American, Arctic, Australian, and Pacific cultures, where very few truly indigenous artifacts have been found or preserved, we would expect the cognitive and social approaches to have necessarily greater emphasis than in previous books. This introduction is meant to lay the conceptual groundwork for the chapters that follow. After addressing definitional questions--what we mean by various key words in the title of the book, such as "cartography" and "traditional"--we discuss the differences among what can be called cognitive, performance, and material cartography and explain the many instances where these categories overlap. The introduction then turns to a number of methodological problems and issues, including the problem of bias inherent in studying the maps in this book from a Western perspective, the possible omissions deriving from a diversity of approaches, the feasibility of cross-cultural comparisons, and the ways the study of maps can be made more central in ethnohistorical studies.

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