WIR #15: To The Ends of the Earth

Ends of the EarthHarwood, Jeremy. To The Ends of the Earth: 100 Maps That Changed the World. Cincinnati, Ohio: F+W Publications, Inc. Copyright © 2006 by Marshall Editions.

I've several books in my library on a plethora of subjects, from maps to mythologies of various cultures to superstitions to different periods of history (mediæval, Celtic, Victorian England, et al), and more. It's all a mishmash of various things that interest me. This book is just one volume from that subsection of my personal library.

Therefore, the blurb:

So how can maps — mere pictures on paper or impressions in clay — change the world? Since the earliest maps were offered up as prayers for protection of the land, humankind has understood their power to do more than convey geographical realities. Ancient Egyptian mapmakers directed dead souls to the afterlife, while medieval churchmen use mappae mundi to preach the Christian faith. In the 21st century, scientists use maps to warn us of climate change and to show the spread of disease.

Maps have been used to help in the discovery of new worlds, to direct the eager tourist, and to speed the commuter's journey. Who could find their way through London's Underground network without Harry Beck's famous map? How could the conquistadors have overcome the Aztec Empire without the mastery of cartographic knowledge? Mapped territories can be understood, controlled, profited from.

Maps have long been agents in changing the physical landscape. Maps help in the construction of canals, railroads, and roads. City plans, such as Sir Christopher Wren's map of London after the Great Fire, change the urban landscape. John Mitchell's map of North America was used by the American and British negotiators in 1782–3 to define the boundaries of the United States, shaping the nation right up to the present day.

Through history, mapmakers have played on our instinctive belief in the truth of maps. Maps have been used as powerful propaganda, from Agrippa's map of the Roman Empire to Hitler's map of the Austrian Anschluss. Borders can be moved, names can be changed, features can be omitted. Maps have changed our world — and they will shape our future.

With such a fascinating and delicious and idea-sparking description, how could I not resist buying this volume?

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