Mapping the World: Stories of Geography
Mapping the World: Stories of Geography
Mapping the World: Stories of Geography Mapping the World: Stories of Geography

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Publisher: Firefly Books

Author Statement: by Caroline Laffon and Martine Laffon
Audience: Trade
Specs: full color maps and illustrations throughout
Pages: 192
Trim Size: 11 1/4" x 10"
Language code 1: eng
Publication Date: 20090910
Copyright Year: 2009
Price: Select Below

Mapping the World: Stories of Geography

Praise for the hardcover edition: "Beautiful. . . . Exotic and fantastical antique maps. . . . Mapping the World shows both the precision and the disorder underscoring the evolution of mapmaking, and how mistakes altered and confused perception, depending on where the maps were made." -- The New York Times Book Review

An illustrated history of explorers' maps and the questions they answer.

An illustrated history of explorers' maps and the questions they answer.

More than the detailed representation of the geographical areas that their makers explored, maps reveal their makers' worldview as well as the myths, beliefs and legends of their times. By patiently creating maps, globes, charts and atlases, humans have sought to understand the universe and our place in it.

Mapping the World explores many rare and fascinating mapping artifacts, beginning with the first crude drawings and progressing to the stunning satellite views of today. Many of these examples will be unfamiliar even to serious cartographers and collectors. Thirty essays answer the questions map-makers have asked and reveal the roles their maps played in finding those answers.

Color reproductions of beautiful maps and charts include:

  • A Chinese map dated to 1229 that shows the city's bridges, pagodas and gardens
  • A French 15th-century interpretation of the four corners of the Earth
  • A painted silk map of the universe dating from the 1830s
  • A modern "inverse" world map from Australia's perspective
  • The cosmos as imagined in 1750.

With 87 maps in all, Mapping the World will fascinate general readers, map collectors, geographers, cartographers and historians.


Caroline Laffon is a documentary filmmaker and author. Martine Laffon is an editor, writer and philosopher. They are the coauthors of A Home in the World and several other reference books.



Where Are We?

"'Where do you want to go, fellah?'...
'Leper's Depot, we want to go to Leper's Depot...'
With what I imagine to be a smile of superiority, the Master of the Pumps effortlessly reads the map's alphabetical index.
'Lardivista, Lawrence, Lernis, Leper's Depot. Here it is. E5.'
I count from 1 to 5 at the side of the map. I go from A to E along the bottom. I extend the imaginary lines. What do you know? There it is. Leper's Depot. Right where it is supposed to be, a demonstration, if any were needed, that any point on a map can be fixed by two coordinates and that every coordinate pair (letter and number) picks out a point on the map..."
David Berlinski

Without a doubt, we need poetry to create spaces according to the size of our imagination and to describe the surface of the earth. Beyond our hometown, the places we visit, the tall buildings and the dark forests, we know nothing of what lies beyond the horizon. There is a boundary between what we know, what we can guess and that "somewhere else" others talk about. So we have to invent these far-off places or go and see them for ourselves to discover what returning travelers have described. Those who reached other shores have always taken with them a nostalgic image of their country or a largely mythical image of a paradise lost. How then can the truth be untangled from what was projected onto that "somewhere else" in the form of memories, desires or regrets?

If people searched for other routes, other passages over land and sea, it was to discover where the world ended and who might live there. Yet, aside from promoting knowledge, there was also a need to profit from these expeditions while also contemplating possible expansion.

Once the known world was drawn flat on a map, people may have asked where they could find that tiny point indicated by the imaginary lines that crisscross the surface. Compared to the immense lands discovered at the end of the world, a local kingdom, governed by the great and the powerful, can suddenly appear very small. And, since it is the great and the powerful who financed the mapmakers and the geographers' education, how could the mapmakers not be tempted to cheat a little by expanding the provinces of their protectors and shrinking neighboring territories on the map? By illuminating their maps with castle towers, landscapes, rivers and mineral resources, they emphasized the glory and the honor of the monarchs. The images rarely reflected reality.

However, cartography has a good memory, and it can trace the progress of people moving from one place to another or from one port to another, drawing the network of routes that geometry will transfer to a canvas of latitudes and longitudes.

Caution, patience, a keen eye, courage, the desire to learn and a knowledge of arithmetic, mechanics, geometry and astronomy, not to mention philosophy, are the things a person needs to undertake a trip around the world...

All that remains is determining where the earth lies. In the middle of the universe as cosmic center of worlds and spheres? And if, over thousands of years, myths have tried to answer the why and the how of the earth, humans and the universe, they must give up their enchanting stories to the instruments of observation, calculation, measurement and secular reasoning. Yet, chase away the imaginary, and it returns through the cracks in the ancient maps, in the names of the cities and in the outlines of the countries that history changed according to conquests and empires. The silk roads, the spice routes, the paths of the great pilgrimages, the clashes and the victories and the defeats of the Crusaders and Muslims at the foot of the ramparts of Constantinople are all hinted at in maps. Jerusalem can be depicted as it was at the time of Christ or according to the latest data. The map of France, drawn by order of the king, and the names of the nautical atlases also stir the imagination. Maps and charts from the 17th and 18th centuries allow for sedentary travels that are certainly more literary than geographical. Are maps not adventure novels?

In the foreword to Lectures géographiques illustrées (illustrated lectures on geography) published in 1903, Pierre Foncin reassures his readers: he hopes that his little book will not boring because, as he says, he enjoyed writing it, since traveling across France and the world in the company of the cleverest explorers, the most knowledgeable geographers and the most informed observers is a real delight! However, must we not concede that these specialists are a little forbidding and that they make geography a little abstract? Pierre Foncin, in his enthusiasm, proposes an inclusive geography, useful for young people and appropriate for maintaining and developing an enlightened and logical worship of his country. Too bad for objectivity. We learn that the Niger is four times as long as the Loire, that operating a coffee plantation in New Caledonia is a big deal, but those who want to emigrate there must have a lot of resources and demonstrate that they are worthy of being called a French settler, and many other considerations the colonial period glosses over with certainty in its version of the world's geography.

Maps are not neutral, nor are those who decipher them. This is what "mapping the world means" -- uncovering the buried myths and legends and retracing the sequence of political, religious and economic history and the slow evolution of the scientific mind that patiently searches the land, sky, globes, atlases and maps to decipher and to understand the universe in order to answer humanity's ultimate questions: Where are we? Who are we?


Table of Contents

Where Are We?

Daydreaming about the World
Tiny Cosmos
Holy Places
Navels of the World
From One Point to Another
Spheres and Poles

Finding One's Bearings
Scholarly Calculations
Every Which Way
Blown by the Winds
On the Road

Landscape Images
Mountains and Marvels
The Glory of the Kingdom
Lay of the Land
Following the Flow
Foreign Seas

Order and Disorder
Battle Plans
Organizing the Resistance
Power of Persuasion
Point of View
Traveling the World

And Beyond?
Climbing to the Sky
Head in the Clouds
From the Earth to the Moon
Views from Above

List of Maps
Photography Credits

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