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The New Nature of Maps

, 352 pages

36 b&w illus.

September 2002



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The New Nature of Maps

Essays in the History of Cartography

In this collection of essays J. B. Harley (1932-1991) draws on ideas in art history, literature, philosophy, and the study of visual culture to subvert the traditional, "positivist" model of cartography, replacing it with one that is grounded in an iconological and semiotic theory of the nature of maps. He defines a map as a "social construction" and argues that maps are not simple representations of reality but exert profound influences upon the way space is conceptualized and organized. A central theme is the way in which power—whether military, political, religious, or economic—becomes inscribed on the land through cartography. In this new reading of maps and map making, Harley undertakes a surprising journey into the nature of the social and political unconscious.

J. B. Harley lectured in historical geography at the Universities of Liverpool and Exeter before moving to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His ideas on the meaning of maps have influenced not just geographers and map historians but also students of art history and literature. At Milwaukee he began, with David Woodward, the multivolume History of Cartography, the first volume of which was published in 1987. Paul Laxton lectured in the Department of Geography at the University of Liverpool for more than thirty years. He is now an independent scholar. J. H. Andrews is a retired professor of geography at Trinity College, Dublin and author of A Paper Landscape: The Ordnance Survey in Nineteenth-Century Ireland and Shapes of Ireland.

"The father of critical cartography, and therefore the idea that a map should be understood as more than just a set of directions, was J. B. Harley... The New Nature of Maps... display[s] great erudition."

"Harley was an iconoclast, subverting traditional approaches to map-making by drawing together art history, literature, philosophy and visual culture. It's a view that can now be savored in his collected essays, The New Nature of Maps."

"With supreme tact, sympathetic insight into Harley's personality and his own deft scholarship, Laxton has produced... a book worthy of Harley."

"Inlcuding Andrew's introduction... we have a debate within the volume, not only postmodernism and its critique, but also other examples of Harley's anit-positivist and anti-Eurocentric approach alongside a potent understanding of the processes and problems of map making."

"The 'new nature' of maps reflects the sea change in the discipline of the history of cartography that has occurred, to a remarkable degree instigated by Brian Harley."