In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section History of Cartography

  • Introduction

Geography History of Cartography
Matthew H. Edney
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 March 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0032


Until the 1980s, the study of the history of cartography was defined by two idealizations: (1) that maps are strictly factual statements and (2) that cartography is an innately progressive science that serves as a surrogate for Western civilization as a whole. Then, the recognition that maps are actually cultural texts made for specific functions transformed map history into an exciting, interdisciplinary field of study. Scholars across the humanities and social sciences now seek to understand how past peoples thought about and acted in their particular worlds. The result is a substantial literature, which in many respects resembles a multifaceted iceberg: each disciplinary perspective reveals only the tip. In taking a series of selective and topical cuts through the recent literature, this bibliography cannot take every new perspective into account. Necessarily excluded are the older literature, which despite its conceptual flaws, contains a wealth of important information; narratives of the development of maps of specific regions (“The Mapping of X”); and cartobibliographies (mostly regional in scope).

General Overviews

Many single-author, single-volume accounts of the history of cartography have presented, over the last century, the powerful and idealized narrative of the progress of cartography and so of Western civilization itself, from Antiquity to the present. Since 1980, scholars who resist the urge to oversimplify the function of maps have produced multi-author and multi-volume accounts that promote the detailed and critical study of maps and cartography across all societies and cultures. These multi-author works have much relevance to specific topics and should be revisited often. In particular, scholars should always make a point of consulting Harley and Woodward 1987–2021 and the international journal Imago Mundi. At the same time, there have also appeared several conceptual overviews of the field and complex retellings of how particular parts of the world have been mapped.

  • Harley, J. B., and David Woodward, eds. The History of Cartography. 6 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987–2021.

    Founded by J. B. Harley and David Woodward, this thoroughly fact-checked reinterpretation of map history has been the highly effective vanguard of the reformed, post-1980 field. Volumes 1–3 are available for free online.

  • Imago Mundi. 1935–.

    The only international journal dedicated to the history of cartography, founded by Leo Bagrow in 1935.

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