Monthly Archives: December 2013

Embodying Ocean Waters in Leonardo’s Lost Globe?

When the first maps displayed extended voyages to the New World, directing viewers’  attention to previously unknown coasts were undoubtedly as relevant to their viewers as their landlocked interiors.  When we focus on the landscapes that the maps present of a new space, or the naming of new lands, we forget that shores represented both the first sites of contact and exchange, and the primary destination of oceanic travels–and the primary site of argument that a map is able to construct.  We impose our own criteria to read maps primarily as registers of place or location–as if by analogy to our own paper maps as wayfaring tools–rather than as forms to register the shifting relation between land and sea, or as tools to contemplate the possibility of oceanic travel to other lands.

The tradition of nautical charting and books of islands--isolari–provided a sense of the extension of nautical space and seascapes, against which the description of new shores might be measured, for one, and assessed, which was recuperated in new ways in the recently discovered globe, not previously known, whose situation of islands in the world’s oceanic waters is so visually impressive.


EggShell GLOBE WMS webpage

new world eggshell globe


In reading early modern maps as a critical apparatus rooted of geographic reference points, imbuing them with claims to precision or accuracy which they imitate or attempt to render, we minimize the sort of rich arguments that maps and globes can make about figuring transit to unknown lands or rendering them visible.  And so, it would not be surprising if the recently celebrated discovery, of a globe whose shorelines and braided ocean–filled with monsters and fish–are painstakingly and carefully rendered derived, with the copper Lenox globe of which it appears the sole surviving bronze cast, long considered one of the earliest maps of the New World, dated from the sixteenth century.  The inclusion of the most intriguing clue–perhaps a sort of rebus–in the Lenox map, long roughly dated from the early sixteenth century, not only of fish and ships, but of a sailor perched in the prow of a caravel, poised as if viewing land to which he waves, suggested a theme of voyaging, discovery and contact in the small-sized globe, whose form of representing nautical expanse it seems a not so oblique comment on the audience of the map’s commission–and the difficulty of imagining nautical voyaging across the watery expanse that the globe mapped.


map on deckNew York Public Library-Lenox Globe


To analyze the two globes–one designed with a burin on the surface of conjoined halves of ostrich eggs; one cast and of unknown date or provenance–one must begin from the arguments that they make about space, and in particular the large and conspicuous role that they assign water.  If a relatively recent fraud, the prominence of waters on the small globes, which provide one of the first images of New World islands of “Spagnola” [Hispaniolia] and “Isabel” [St. Isabel] offer one of the first records of nautical discoveries.   The excessive emphasis on the reading of early modern maps for proofs of geomorphological discoveries or terrestrial measurements detracts from the novelty of portraying expanse and argument of the map renders a construction of inhabited space beyond the boundaries of the known world:  the didactic manner in how early modern globes serve to exploit the synthesis of graphical information on their surface as a distinct form of cartographical invention–and of the dynamic inclusion of seascapes as a compelling and particularly plastic tactile feature of an early world map–quite unlike the seas in the elegant Cantino Chart that distinguished Spanish and Portuguese territories in the New World.


Isole Fortunate



And far more clearly spatially situated in a maritime region that made clear in the woodcut of New World islands of Salvatoris, Hyspana, Ysabella, ferdanada, and Conception printed with Columbus’ Letter, De Insulis super in mari Indico reports (1494).


Lettera 1494.pngOsher Map Library, De Insulis nuper in mari Indico repertis (1494)


If this is evident in the eggshell globe in the banner, it is also evident in the hollow copper alloy Lenox Globe, long considered one of the earliest to depict the islands of the Indies that Vespucci had described in his widely reprinted Letters.  The discovery of a possibly prior artifact of the globe, a recently discovered globe made of on joined halves of ostrich eggs, or ‘Eggshell Globe,’ which may derive from a potentially even earlier date would suggest it the first map to name or depict the discovery of America, and to be the first discovery of a globe or cartographical record crafted on a different medium than paper or vellum.  Few early sixteenth century globes survive, and none drawn on eggshells.  But the question of its date of creation is raised in compelling ways both by the sketchy image of the “Mundus Novus” it presents, and the apparent intention to illustrate the discoveries that Amerigo Vespucci had first described in the letters printed in 1507.  The Lenox globe and its ostensible prototype present a uniquely tactile announcement of the discovery of the New World islands that almost seems to emphasize the itinerary of oceanic travel by which it was arrived at–as if to suggest the itinerary across the ocean, past the Azores, in which one seems to move from the abstract form of islands as they appeared in isolari to the concrete forms of the new islands themselves with their new names.


Isabel an Spagnola.pngNew York Public Library-Lenox Globe


The image is an odd echo of the islands that were described in woodcuts in editions of Vespucci’s letter in its designation of the islands–and in the fascination with maps of islands of the New World that were widely reprinted during the early sixteenth century.


Petrus Martyr d'Anghiera.png

Piero Martire d’Angiera (Seville 1511)


If Vespucci’s letters formed the naming of the newly discovered continent “America,” the toponym was only widely adopted after Martin Waldseemüller’s multi-sheet 1507 wall-map, recently arrived in the Library of Congress, which synthesized Spanish and Portuguese discoveries, taken as the basis for the subsequent acceptance of the new continent’s name.  But there seems new evidence for naming the New World on the Lenox globe and its eggshell prototype.  Both suggest a more tactile announcement of the New World.  The 1507 wall map labeled a “Mundus Novus,” echoing Vespucci’s letters, linking the engraving to the circles where Vespucci’s letters were read.  The status of Waldseemüller’s twelve-sheet wall-map as the first mapping of the new world has been called into question by how the eggshell globe offers a basis to read the Lenox Globe as an alternate expression of the New World’s discover, not mapped by indices of longitude and latitude but carved or cut into its surface with particular care and attentiveness.

The “eggshell globe,” first reported after being found at an antiquarian fair two years ago, and radiologically dated to 1500, depict in considerable detail the shores of the New World and indeed foreground the possibilities of travel to them–unlike many contemporary maps.  That it does raises curious questions about its relation to contemporary cartographical media, from the degree of care devoted to representing the continuity of whose oceans to the care of showing the relation of the islands to Europe–now reduced, as one might imagine the news of discoveries could suggest, to far smaller size.  While the Lenox globe was never clearly dated, the artifact of eggshells may provide a new context to read its surface and its distinctively alternate mode of global mapping.  Despite the globe’s small size–its dimensions are identical to the Lenox Globe–the globe the size of a softball seems not only a decorative artifact, but a mapping of the oceanic remove of the New World that could be readily studied and glossed by audiences less familiar with sea charts or Ptolemaic maps–and their role in situating Europe’s relation to surrounding ocean waters.


Europe in braided waters, with Ship in Mediterranean.pngNew York Public Library-Lenox Globe (detail)


While the Lenox Globe has been chiefly dated by its disposition of landmass, it is the earliest globe to devote such attention to the detailing of the watery surface:  if the dating accepted by the Washington Map Society is retained, the globe of carved ostrich eggs attached at the equator would be the prototype of the Lenox Globe, and not a detailed copy created at a later date.  This post examines the globe as a creative response to the deep interests in describing relations between land and water–and both the opportunities and dangers of possibilities of ocean travel in ways that revise the subject of earlier world maps, by examining the globe’s surface in comparison to the digitized images of contemporary engraved woodcut maps and the nautical “portolan” charts from which it was synthesized.  While we have often applied underlying positivistic assumptions and approaches to our understandings of the compositional synthesis of cartographical forms, the globe–and the Lenox cast that seems to derive from it–raise questions about how the synthesis of cartographical information afforded particularly creative ways to consider an individual relation to the disposition of terrestrial expanse.  For the globe raises questions of the encounter of the individual with mapped space that a comparison with contemporary maps might better allow.

New Islands Lenox Globe.pngNew York Public Library–Lenox Globe (detail)


1.  Since it offers one of the earliest globe to depict the Americas, the globe has provoked nearly global media attention as challenging the priority of Martin Waldsemüller’s learned cosmographical treatise.  Identical to the bronze alloy globe stored in the New York Public Library since a fortuitous mid-nineteenth century discovery, prized as an undated but early image of the Americas of c. 1510, slightly posterior to the large 1507 twelve-sheet wall map Martin Waldseemüller designed, a copy of which has recently arrived in the Library of Congress, in which the cosmographer synthesized Portugese and Spanish discoveries and identified the New World “America.”  The Hunt-Lenox Globe has continued to receive less scholarly scrutiny after the conclusion that it post-dated the twelve-sheet wall map that the humanist Martin Waldseemüller designed to illustrate Amerigo Vespucci’s account of his voyages to the New World for a humanistic audience in April 1507.  But the detailed image of the inhabited world’s carefully braided waves and delineated coasts have somehow received less attention, despite their particular innovation as a consideration of the shifting nature of a terraqueous globe.  The peculiar delineation of the braided waters on both globes–the potential ‘original’ and ostensible indirect bronze cast–deserve as much interest as a way of showing a tactile record of terrestrial expanse.  Its unique design raises compelling questions both of iconography, but of the reading of mapped space.

For by reorganizing the world’s surface on a modernized variant of Claudius Ptolemy’s ancient schema of terrestrial projection on ruled parallels and meridians, the previously unknown  “Eggshell Globe,” which has attracted media attention generated by its owner–but been observed by few–raises renewed questions about how the distinctive depiction of the ocean surface might relate to the  date of its actual invention and the circulation of nautical records in early modern Europe both before and after the projection Waldseemüller engraved in St. Die in 1507.  The particular plastic presentation of Portuguese navigational records in both globes direct attention to the understudied process of the transference and translation of information from Portuguese navigational records, and the synthesis of maps in a particularly convincing visual form.  The newly-discovered artifact, carved on conjoined halves of shells of ostrich eggs, has not only returned new attention on the Lenox Globe.  It has raised compelling questions about the practice of translating data from nautical charts  predating the naming of the New World after the Florentine mapmaker Amerigo Vespucci, and the relations of its quite tactile surface to the curvilinear projection Waldseemüller designed of Ptolemaic form , and a basis for its iconographically peculiar illustration of oceanic expanse.  The braided waves in the ocean surface across the surface might suggest something like a polemic response to existing paper maps.  The hollow, copper alloy Lenox Globe, composed of two halves joined at the equator, is dated circa 1510, based on geographic content, makes it of less concern than the Waldseemüller projection.  Could it and the “eggshell globe” be of even earlier date, however, and predate the acceptance of the delineation of a separate space of “America” on Waldsemüller’s map?  Given that their shorelines so drastically diverge from how Waldseemüller delineated its coast, the different style of mapping may suggest a unique cartographical intelligence of depicting oceanic expanse.

The eggshell globe and Lenox Globe suggest a unique mapping of oceanic expanse, foreign to nautical charts or other cartographical media, that seems designed to demonstrate the amazing nature of the voyages that Vespucci first described.  The inclusion of nautical records in world maps had provided a conspicuous basis for their revision of the inhabited world not easily recognized.  Waldseemüller’s attention to the arrival of the prominently indicated ship, traveling westward with the wind billowing its sails, seem to make good his claim to create a map derived from the reports of sailors–““according to the Discoveries of Amerigo Vespucci and Others”,  as his 1516 map later claimed to be ordered “iuxta Hydrographorum Tradtionem [according to the tradition of navigators]“, the map presents a more coherent model for imagining the watery expanse traversed to arrive at the New World that would have preoccupied its readers.  If the ship that sails westward in the map in how Waldseemüller represented the discoveries of navigators in a format of learned geographical inquiry for readers based on landlocked regions situated ports and rivers on parallels and meridians,  the Lenox globe and its near-identical carving in the sphere assembled from joined halves of eggshells reveal considerable artifice as assemblages that depict a surface of potentially perilous travel–as much as the foreign parrot Waldseemüller included in his map.


South America 1506


These near-identical globes reveal unique compilations or syntheses of cartographical information, distinct from the Waldseemüller map.  The identical figuration of the surface of the discovered globe, carved on conjoined halves of ostrich eggs, reveals a striking care to representing oceanic waters that deserves to direct new attention to the embodiment of a new medium of travel even more clearly than in the Hunt-Lenox Globe:  if the waters are similarly suggested to provide a medium of travel in the globe of Waldseemüller, the presence of their intricately braided design reveals the distinct cartographical ingenuity in the Hunt-Lenox and its purported prototype.  Both artifacts refigure the world’s oceanic expanse in distinct ways, offering evidence of the translation of nautical charts to new readers.

For rather than rendering oceans as blank regions of intersecting rhumb lines, all three images stake arguments about the ocean’s traversability and power in an illustration of marine itineraries.  The Roman geographer Strabo had sustained that “from both the evidence of our senses and from experience we learn that the inhabited world in an island, for wherever it has been possible for men to reach the limits of the earth, sea has been found, and this sea we call ‘Oceanus.'”  The globes translate new nautical findings to the senses of their observers.  Did their translation of oceanic expanse reveal a revision of viewers’ cognitive relation not only to a new continent, but to ocean waters? Despite significant media attention to the discovery of the globe by its owner, the unique design of both globes suggest an understudied process of cartographical transference and translation of information, if not the sublimation of the printed map or hand-drawn chart to a distinct medium.  Despite the expansion of nearly global media attention to its possible precedence of existing globes, the existence of such a cartographic record as either an argument of terrestrial or terraqueous unity has not been examined, or any evidence suggested of how both globes, of identical size, were presumably read, since they lack any division of their surface.

Guiding concerns with priority constrained interest in the spherical copper Hunt-Lenox globe, stored at New York City’s Public Library, despite the clear modernity of its illustration of the recently discovered islands Vespucci named and described in the Mundus Novus, since its appearance–as that of the “Eggshell Globe” below–suggests the circumnavigation of South America.  Yet the delineation of the “Mundus Novus” as a distinct continent, if derived from charts that resulted from Portuguese missions to map the southern continent five years before 1506, mediate discoveries for a public familiar with Vespucci’s claim in his letters of 1503 to have reached fifty degrees of the Antarctic circle in 1501.  J.B. Harley noted notions of “accuracy” in maps are quite often misunderstood, without the awareness that any map must be placed at “the end product of a chain of processes,” and that it is to be expected that “several distinct types of accuracy may have to be accepted” as coexisting in the same map, often by necessity, to meet an expectation of continuity or harmonious order.  Such different standards may respond to the needs to craft a record of apparent terrestrial continuity or indeed coherence.  And the privileging of “accuracy” as a guide to understand the dating and relation among maps discounts the sorts of new arguments that a map might make in orienting readers to the New World.


2.  In ways that suggest a new synthesis of nautical maps to a globe of detailed tactile form, the globe suggests, unlike the azure blue marine expanses shown in the flatly-colored illuminated projections that map the world’s surface on a ruled graticule in surviving codices of the ancient geographer Claudius Ptolemy’s treatise on world-mapping, titled the Geography to reflect its status as a summa of terrestrial cartography.  Both globes both suggest a new translation of the map to a tactile space that is foreign to most earlier manuscript maps, as if to sketch the traversal of oceanic expanse, or processing the epistemic encounter with the ocean as a medium of travel, in powerful graphic arguments through pictorial symbolic conventions largely foreign to how Ptolemy’s cartographical practices were received.




The inclusion of a qualitatively rich representation of oceanic surface in the globe stands in sharp counterpoint with the flattening of oceans in Ptolemaic projections that privileged the flat surface of the map.  In sharp contrast to such earlier manuscript maps, the much-heralded announcement that a recently purchased “Eggshell Globe” which appeared several years ago at a London antiquarian fair is the original model and design from which the Lenox globe was cast, if true, would make it potentially the “oldest globe of the New World” ever discovered to include results of Portuguese navigation to the New World.  Dismayingly little is known about the survival or past owners of this curious artifact–or about its emergence on the market.  But although the assertion that the delicate artifact of durable ostrich egg shells has been somewhat uncritically celebrated in online and print world, if greeted with some skepticism, the assertions that the globe was the product of Leonardo da Vinci’s hand, made with strikingly limited documentary support, raise fascinating questions about its particularly innovative figuring of water across so much of its surface.  Indeed, the proposed re-dating of the globe as the original of the Lenox Globe has been covered largely uncritically by international media, the attribution of the globe to so extensively studied an artist as Leonardo has been dismissed as “sheer nonsense”–or judged less probable–but is largely sustained.   The close or identical resemblance of the globe to the Lenox globe has been largely examined for how its geographic details–from the island of Hipaniola to much of South America, labeled “Mundus Novus,” and islands identified with Newfoundland.  But the discovery of the putative original design of the waters that cover the globe have received far less attention for how they carved egg translated nautical discoveries to carved or cast surfaces in particularly inventive ways.

The inventive role of the mapping of oceanic expanse is strikingly unlike earlier maps from portolan charts themselves to the 1492 painted Erdapfel whose synthesis is credited to Martin Behaim, in Nuremberg–the first known globe to incorporate Portuguese discoveries.  For they suggest something far closer to commercial arguments about the possibilities and ends of oceanic travel, as much as a simple transposition of cartographical discoveries to a spherical surface, beyond a synthesis of geographical findings.  All too often, historians rely on created notions of accuracy on terrestrial expanse, instead of the assembly of a nautical record or continuous shoreline, in ways that may unduly constrain our interpretations of early modern maps.  Yet the inclusion of the Vespucci letters or Mundus Novus in early editions of Waldseemüller’s 1507 Cosmographiae Introductio (Introduction to the Science of Cosmography), where it served as a sort of appendix to his world curvilinear map that proposed a new model for assembling the New World, never before tried, suggests that the isolationhow the map was read, and indeed how it offered a text that could be read through consultation of the letters of Vespucci that were so widely reprinted in European centers of printing from 1504 that it provided a model for the poetics of global cartography:  the reprinting of Vespucci’s letters from 1504 as a written account of the Mundus Novus, often in translation, so often included a enjambment in its subtitle of the phrases “superioribus annis . . . invento/Albericus Vesputiis” to encourage polemic attacks on Vespucci’s arrogance in arrogating credit for the New World’s discovery diffused in Waldseemüller’s map and booklet:  the positioning of his map suggests a poetics of map-reading, however, in which the projection could be consulted as a basis to situate and plot an account of “new discoveries,” rather than an artifact of autonomous precision.

The poetics of mapping had so radically shifted for demonstrative ends after the publication of Vespucci’s text because his letters provided a new basis for reading maps among audiences scarcely familiar with cartographical conventions.  Globes such as the Hunt-Lenox and its purported prototype lacked meridians and parallels, but afforded similarly inventive claims in their innovative graphic design.  With a clearer understanding of the innovative poetics of world-mapping as a way to process a relation of other lands, it makes sense to ask what audience was the “Eggshell” globe made to date its creation, as much as focus exclusively on the geographic information it contained. Did it depict global travel and transoceanic contact, as much as a precise land map?  Did as yet unkown cartographical information circulate in Europe, as John W. Hessler has concluded based on his use of polynomial warping to analyze Waldseemüller’s 1507 map of South America, that predated Magellan’s circumnavigation of the continent?  In identifying the coasts of the New World as the “Terra San/ctae Cr/uc/is”, the globe follows correspondence to Pedro Alvares de Cabral known it Italy from 1501, and printed in maps from 1508, that suggest its designer boasted the most recent cartographical data from nautical charts,  rarely employed save in a world map of circa 1507/8 by Johan Ruysch, considered the first map to show newly discovered American lands.



3.  The legibility of the disposition of these lands is placed in even better evidence in the globe that appears to be its prototype and model, which create a clear sense of imposing a sense of legibility on terrestrial expanse more striking than in many early modern globes:



MUNDUS NOVUS?Washington Map Society/Portolan


Despite the absence of lines of latitude or longitude in the globes, the manner for rendering nautical space treats the map as an argument and a narration of sailing across the ocean in ways that are rarely–if ever–evident in early modern maps.  Since being heralded in Portolan as “the earliest surviving globe to depict the New World,” the uniquely tactile artifact or “Eggshell Globe” has been less explored, in the significant and almost world-wide media frenzy significant media attention that has been directed to its possible dating of 1504.  Although no clearly reliable date has been as of yet assigned the object, the complex rendering of waters on the globe may provide an important–and neglected–piece of evidence as to its significance and its potential relation to Leonardo’s uniquely innovative models of cartographical design.  Overpowering in the complex care of creation that it immediately communicates to its viewer, the artifact assembled from  conjoined hemispheres seems not only identical to the Lenox globe in its description of interior topography, riverine paths, and suggestively naturalistic shorelines, but particularly overpowering in its tactile rendering of the oceans that cover the globe.  It is particularly striking  its unheard of attention to the mediation of water, absent in earlier cartographical records, and almost unique in mediating navigational discoveries to viewers in kinesthetic form–a form that illustrates a fascination with the fluid dynamics of ocean waters, and the possibility of imagining an actual oceanic expanse greater than had ever sought to be represented or communicated in maps.

Assuming these oddly identical globes are related, the pair provides a unique case of the replication of cartographical records in a plastic form, foreign to the manuscript or printed organization of maps or the nautical charts from which they derive, but which suggests the intense interest in assembling nautical charts to communicate terrestrial expanse, and indeed the limits of global knowledge.


4.  The similarities between these unique globes may put the date of composition of each earlier than previously considered.  The Lenox Globe was purchased only as late as 1855, and previously was unknown, for how it, in a relatively small object of 345 millimeters in circumference, or 112 mm. in diameter (4 1/2 inches), perhaps made to be read as a synthesis of nautical charts.  The curious “Eggshell Globe” suggests that rather than being the sole object to process such nautical maps, the globe might have enjoyed a currency, not known or recorded elsewhere, to process terrestrial space.

The rhetoric of the presentation of cartographical evidence in the globes focusses distinct attention on the earth’s watery surface to an extent that locates motion on its surface.  Both globes suggest a unique translation of the cartographical content of maps for new audiences of readers to an extent to which current media hubbub about the “discovery” may have obscured.  For the extent that water appears in both as an animated aspect or part of the globe suggests a new appropriation of maps, often confined to land, to suggest the primary role of water as a force in the natural world, in ways that make both striking ways to present the discovery of the New World–described by the first sailors who returned with Columbus and which were published as an account of the islands of the New World in 1501-2.  And the particularly animated attention to the depiction of water on the surface of the globe may be the best grounds for the otherwise fairly daring attribution of the globe to Leonardo da Vinci or to members of his workshop.  But the unique format of representing waters may offer the strongest evidence, not developed in earlier writings on this curiously compelling artifact, that Leonardo’s own hand can be discerned in the innovative globe.  Indeed, Leonardo was surely attentive to the reception and mediation of the discovery of newly mapped information that arrived in Florence and northern Italy in nautical charts, evident in both globes.  But the addition of a new object to the widely-studied Leonardo canon may be worthy of attention, as it dates from the same time that Leonardo experimented with new techniques of casting in the late fifteenth century.

The remarkable nature of the attention to the water in both globes as a dynamic way of reading and figuring terrestrial expanse has, surprisingly, gone unremarked.  The collation of early modern terrestrial cartography collectively described sites of initial contact, but rarely if ever evoked the oceanic expanse that was travelled to arrive at these places across the sea, although the distances of travel not only could barely be conceived by landlocked men, and must have been one of the most difficult concepts to communicate for audiences practiced to a limited extent in reading mapping forms, or conceiving of expanses of marine travel.  Even if the Lennox Globe is stored in an armillary sphere of later construction, the common size of such globes may suggest a similar apparatus for reading terrestrial locations.

Such issues are raised by the attention both globes seem to give to the oceans to the medium of travel, as much as its routes–and the detailing of the oceans to suggest the forcefulness of the medium of water and a strikingly tactile relation to its expanse, in which the form of the ocean is imbued with a sense of restlessness and motion in its relief that reflects a new direction for map-making as a medium.  At the same time as the cartographer’s delineation of the shorelines of the New World offered crucial tools imagine palpable connections to another continent, the globe suggested the effort and even as they also invited the viewer to contemplate its inland regions.  Whereas contemporary maps of air-travel articulate networks that cognitively challenge viewers’ relation to space, free from topographical impediments or physical obstacles, the first maps of the New World offered their viewers ways to move through space, and tools to apprehend a shifting idea of globalism to their viewers.  Although the comparison is anachronistic, much as links in the below map of air-travel provides a clear an image of global inter-connectedness to be the cover-image for a popular recent text of world-history


air travel mapped worldwide!


–both early modern globes seem to have actively configured comprehension of global ties across the oceanic expanse in ways that direct attention to the ocean as a decisive medium of travel in ways that make them distinctive cartographical artifacts.

If we attend to the early modern map with attention less to the connectedness of the continents, than their distance, the worked surface of a recently discovered globe engraved on an egg-shell reveals an active contemplation of a reconfigured oceanic expanse.  The above map of airline routes allows its viewer to leap over obstacles and the human construction of shorelines in the manner of airplanes, in ways deeply troubling for a book aspiring to be an educational guide–foregrounding Europe and the new hub of Abu Dhabi–befits a textbook that covers world history to 1500.  But the radical nature of the discovery of the globe made of two conjoined semispherical halvses of ostrich eggs, which I’ve discussed in earlier post on the artifice of Renaissance mapping, emphasized the expansive waters that cover and link the globe in the surface in ways that suggest a more complex demonstrative function of comprehending globalism.  Indeed, by inviting viewers to contemplate that suggests both the pleasure of reading mapped space and the difficulty of imagining and defining the legibility of a continuous record of space.  Indeed, the interlocking between ocean and terrestrial shores maps are strikingly foregrounded in this recently discovered globe, as comprised by open seas as  landmasses.  One discovers the immensity of global expanse in the very continuity of its detailed worked surface in ways that are rarely recorded in most early modern printed maps.

The tactility of both globes’ surfaces appear to take stock of the nature of the expanse of oceanic travel, the artisan who designed the globe attended to the delineation of shorelines in ways that challenge our assumptions that maps primarily define routes of land-travel:   if the shoreline was increasingly seen and drawn as distinct from the oceanic waters in most printed early modern maps, the prominence of the oceans in this globe figures viewers’ relation to space in ways that sharply contrast to how we are accustomed and indeed fixated to mapping a measured relation to the land.  While the globe lacks any measured indices of latitude, the visual relation to the undulating waves of the ocean’s worked surface suggests a new interest in contemplating the mechanics and scope of its watery expanse that reflects the concern in Leonardo da Vinci’s circle with the depiction of the globe’s seas and their relation to the land of the Mundus Novus.


Mundus Novus CoastlineWashington Map Society/Portolan/Stefaan Missinne


Could a conceptual relation to the interior even be defined, indeed, in an age when the New World was only begun to be apprehended as a distinct land mass?


5.  Such issues arises from the discovery of this deeply didactic globe, whose considerably small size, in comparison to many later printed maps or portolan charts, belies its dense synthesis of recently arrived cartographical information with a strikingly plastic realism.  Within the evocative landscape that seems to have been carefully embellished and prepared in the two hemispheres of the globe by a single hand, or burin, with amazing attentiveness to the transcription of local detail, indices of location and place-names are strikingly less apparent, especially in comparison to many Renaissance maps and charts which would seem to have informed it, than the overall evocation of the vastness of terrestrial space and of the “Mundus Novus” from the old world.  In ways that recall a model that could be readily consulted in relation to both nautical charts and early Ptolemaic maps that circulated in elite libraries in Italian courts and select parts of Europe from the 1480s, the eggshell globe–an apparently unique medium for inscribing cartographical information–seems to belong to a unique medium of early modern globes, often celebrated for their uniquely compelling craftsmanship, that offered a new reading of terrestrial space.  Despite the limited notation of seas or bodies of water, whose naming was prohibited by the intensive application of a unique iconography for registering the ocean’s expanse, the worked surface of the globe suggests early evidence of the attempt to communicate the image of the globe that had emerged from recently-arrived nautical charts, and presents particular excitement in converting and expressing their findings in plastic form.

“Space” was first imagined along routes of ocean travel and the ocean understood as a surface of nautical travel on which routes of travel were able plotted and improvised by the close of the fifteenth century, when the first nautical charts arrived in early modern Europe, and early modern Italy, from portolans of sailors from Spain or Portugal.  And the ‘Eggshell globe’ raises fascinating questions of how oceanic space could be understood as a medium, rather than as a barrier to travel, that might be applied to the reading of other early modern globes in provocative ways.  For although the New World was beginning to be mapped in increasingly dynamic ways, charts seem marked by a deep awareness of the inadequacy of the ability for a credible mapping of the seas.  This makes the attentiveness to the mapping of the seas–and its pronounced emphasis on oceanic expanse–particularly striking in the “Eggshell Globe,” whose unprecedented attention to the detailing of the watery surface of the terrestrial globe makes it particularly striking as an artifact.  While using shorelines inherited from the format of nautical charts to frame a meditation on the globe’s watery expanse, the detailing of the water’s surface as a mode for rendering expanse echoes the ways that Leonardo da Vinci lavished attention on waters of rivers and oceans as the “vetturale di natura,” analogous to the blood that animated the bodies of animals and men, by assigning the water surface of the globe a primary role in its mapping.  There is indeed an almost a consciousness in its fabrication, and in the detailing of the braided seas, of how oceans linked the newly discovered continents to the rest of the inhabited world, as if the globe itself neatly demonstrated Leonardo’s firm assertion that “la terra, ch’è scoperta dalle acque, sia molto minore che quella che da esse acqu’è coperta,” as well as his deep belief in the waters’ independent nature as something of a vital force–and source of untold energy as the vetturale di natura–in worldly cosmology and in the earth’s surface:  the globe suggests an astute record of a created world that was both changing constantly with the water’s ebb and flow, and whose mechanics reveal a record of its properties to an extent foreign to most all early modern maps.

The striking eggshell globe lack any of the spatial indices that are familiar from Ptolemaic projections, but its attention both to the equator line and the line agreed to at the Treaty of Tordesillas, apparent in the Cantino planisphere of 1502, dividing Spanish from Portuguese lands in the New World by reference ot the Cape Verde islands–evident to the far right on the globe, establishes a demonstrative if not didactic scope for its fabrication.  Yet the waters between Europe and the islands of Isabel or Spagnola are more compelling of attention.


New World in Ostrich_egg_globeWashington Map Society/Portolan

The globe that was engraved on two conjoined halves of shells of ostrich eggs seems the original from which the apparently identical surface of the still-undated hollow Hunt-Lenox Globe conserved in the New York Public Library was cast, is of particular interest for the unique material means by which it maps the sea, as well as the New World–or “Mundus Novus“:  for it offered a particularly dynamic tool to imagine the relation to the newly discovered continent, not employing indices of longitude or latitude, but providing a distribution of inhabited lands.  The attentive care with which the extremely learned artisan worked its surface, undoubtedly consulting nautical charts, and including the recently concluded “Treaty of Tordesillas” that divided lands claimed by Portugal and Spain, and islands Columbus had discovered, suggest the joing novelty of measuring and discovering a New World, extended interestingly to the waters on which an increasing number navigated.  The copper globe, a serendipitous discovery in a Parisian antique shop, purchased by Henry Stevens after he quickly recognized its value.  (Stevens soon consulted an expert who had worked, incidentally, for the U.S. Office of the Coast Survey–later Coast and Geodetic Survey–charting the coasts of the United States, given its clear interest in mapping how land and ocean meet.)  But the implications of the unique figuration of the New World’s shores in this striking artifact have only begun to be explored.


6.  The mapping of intersection of environments of land and water has been less prominent focus of the history of cartography, compared to the far clearer truth- ad knowledge-claims of maps.  This is partly since the maps of nautical travel and terrestrial cartography are deemed–either in retrospect or not–distinct cartographical media, but also because it is difficult for us to separate maps from their knowledge-claims, and to see them as ways of constructing hypotheses about the world.  The relatively quick mapping of the globe in early modern Europe demanded that previously distinct media of mapping informed one another and intersected, as mapmakers sought to reach broader audiences in print, and synthesized a broader range of visual sources to fashion maps of increased tangibility of its entire expanse.  The map provided an argument not only of terrestrial unity but a compelling record with fixed boundaries as a terraqueous body, that joined land and sea, as much as a terrestrial surface:  the historian Eviatar Zerubavel provocatively and compellingly examined maps as records of the spatial comprehension of the New World in Terra Cognita, and one can envision a dialectic in which maps created new surfaces of visual investigation of terrestrial contiguity and workshops for organizing curiosity in the ability to mediate terrestrial expanse through naturalistic illustration that were not confined only to elite audiences.  These maps increasingly shifted the notions of the accuracy by which world maps registered expanse, and the information that was mediated within the design of a map or globe.

The attentive care that the globe-maker who constructed the “eggshell globe” clearly dedicated to its aqueous surface in particular–which he used an almost palpable field against which ships sail, fish emerge, and sea monsters rear their bodies–as well as to areas where land and sea intersect or adjoin suggests the conscious artifice of mapping in ways that are unique among contemporary globes and printed cartographical media.  In this sense, the globe suggests an object of learned curiosity.  Globes served as contemplative objects in elite libraries in the ancient world.  But the stunning artifact of the  “Eggshell Globe”–a detailed rendering of the unity of land and sea whose relatively small size of just 4.4 inches–112 millimeters in diameter–engraved on conjoined halves of separate ostrich eggshells of equal diameter–belies its detailed worked surface.  Although much of the surface was blank, and its poles open oceans, despite the limited size of the globe restricted available surface a number of places were clearly identified in humanistic capitals for orientation, as islands of Isabel or Hispaniola, the prominence of whose discovery was mapped at what we now see as magnification, each placed within the rippling crests of almost vibrating oceanic waves that convey the impression of a sea that laps against the shore to bridge the intersection of water and land, and indeed take stock of the distance (and terror) of its oceanic expanse–rather than its terrestrial population or areas of human inhabitation.  Indeed, the sheer amount of watery surface that fills the globe is a terrifying expanse that vividly communicates the arduous nature of Columbus’ then-recent transoceanic travels–much as the delineation of the coasts and inlets of the new islands suggests a keen interest in the littoral configuration of shorelines where the ocean both led to and touched the New World.  Rather than map routes of nautical navigation–in the manner of Battista Agnese’s vellum nautical charts of the mid-sixteenth century traced Magellan’s 1519-22 epic global circumnavigation, or later maps of Sir Francis Drake’s circumnavigation–the globe suggests the obstacles, even as it hints of the potential benefits of travel across its aqueous expanse.


venice Agnese_Portolan Atlas


Early modern maps figure the seas offer a context for examining how the recent discovery of global expanse on the ‘Eggshell Globe‘ in ways discussed in an earlier post on the artifice of Renaissance mapping.  But the globe also reveals the intensive reading of maps as tools to imagine the nature of oceanic expanse to communicate the oceanic surface that bear further investigation, and indeed may provide clues to its authorship.  For the discovery of the alleged model of which the Hunt-Lenox Globe–while still of unknown origins–provides compelling evidence of imagining the shifting arrangement of the waters of world, and even of the sea-monsters that inhabited it, perhaps echoing biblical discussion of monstrous underwater inhabitants, as well as the ships that traversed its undulating surface.  In ways that prefigure how Herman Melville famously found that “meditation and water are wedded forever,” and the globe engraved on conjoined halves of ostrich eggs reveal a continued and ongoing fascination with reading the swirling ocean waters, even more evident than in the globe itself than the copper cast:  the extent of its surface dedicated to the waters that filled the areas between continents, which is displayed in so much greater detail on the globe than the cities, rivers, or divides of terrestrial expanse.  Despite the prominent capital of humanistic lettering that identify large landmasses, the globe reveals a new premium on the accuracy of maps from a nautical context, and a new interest in the value of globes as media of naturalistic terrestrial descriptions.

oldest-globeWashington Map Society (Portolan)

Indeed, what is most striking about the ‘eggshell globe’ recently discovered, and the cast in the New York Public Library that mirrors it, are not the coastlines, derived from recent nautical charts, or topography of continents’ mountainous interior, but the restlessness of the undulating of the flowing waters that run across its surface.  The flowing of waters on its surface, if evident in the Hunt Lenox globe, is all the more evident because of the sharp contrasts between the lines of incised black in the eggshell globe both by their contrast to the interior and the craft of the quite carefully and elaborately worked surface of this rather small artifact that barely fits the palm of a hand.


7.  If its size served to allow ready consultation for a reader who turned the weighted object in their hands, and no doubt read it in consultation with a more expansive nautical chart or the regional maps of an early printed volume of Ptolemy’s classic treatise on world mapping, whose editions entered elite libraries with their large, multi-colored maps, most often hand-colored, from the late 1480s, the globe provided an alternative medium for reading the continuity of terrestrial expanse that suggested the watery links between continents, and considerable expanse of its oceans, which shifted the ancient geographer Ptolemy’s emphasis on the expanse of inhabited lands–the classical notion of the ecumene.  The regions of terrestrial habitation and their rather detailed topography is noted with some detail in the worked surface of the globe, but the form of attention that it primarily compels directs attention to the sharp division between regions and the surrounding watery expanse with a rather striking attention to the coasts, estuaries, rivers where land and water connect, as if the portrayal of the watery web that winds around the world constituted the primary object of artisanal attention in the globe.  We have not adequately seen or noted the foregrounded relations between water and land–or those that link land and water–in the matte surface of the cast that lies in the New York Public Library, although the braided surface of the water is just as apparent, perhaps because their engraving is less mesmerizing in the undulation of its lines, or less revealing of the considerable attention of its fabricator to representing its watery expanse, as well as newly discovered lands, or a route to Japan.

The startling identification of the eggshell globe with the circle of Leonardo da Vinci has more occasioned considerable attention as an internet meme and newsflash than it has been situated in a the broader context of cartographical implications–since the announcement of the “discovery” by the self-identified “globe expert” Stefaan Missinne.  The globe certainly dovetails with the representational concerns of an artist like Leonardo, whose work was so often and repeatedly attracted to the regions where land and water meet, and for who may have been drawn to fabricating a terrestrial globe strikingly different than existed in earlier maps of the inhabited world.  Although the globe seems tied to the contemplative scope that globes had long enjoyed in the ancient and early modern world, discussed by Christian Jacob and Denis Cosgrove, and many others, serving as an object of study and a sign of learning, as well as a condensation of encyclopedic learning and cosmographical skill, the slippery surface of its wavering waters suggests a tactile sense of a distinct medium of travel that is more attentive to the physical surroundings of place than many historians of cartography have sufficiently allowed.

In contrast to the celebration of the much detailed printed twelve-sheet wall-map designed by Waldseemüller, the worked surface of the small  globe in the New York Public Library has received less study or global attention in recent years  But both the discovery of the eggshell globe, and recently proposed identification of its stunning representational artifice deserve new scrutiny both as they have been dated and identified with the work of Leonardo da Vinci.  Leonardo’s cartographical expertise derived partly from his geometric interests and skill as a surveyor and engineer, but despite some sketches that reveal curiosity in Ptolemaic schema of projection, the majority of whose maps covered regions in the Italian peninsula, and most particularly Tuscany.  And the “eggshell globe” seems un-Ptolemaic in its lack of concern with delineating or nothing parallels, although it does indicate the equatorial line as a seam between its halves and corresponds to a clearly measured diameter that Leonardo had elsewhere derived.  Most strikingly, Leonardo’s assertion that the size of the globe was 7000 miles were adopted in the proportions of the Eggshell globe, intriguingly linking Leonardo’s cosmographical ideas to the globe, as Missinne has strenuously sustained.  But the detailed rendering of waters on its surface offer a particularly striking echo of the sustained attention to hydraulics on which Leonardo focussed in his Notebooks–here in pages of c. 1513 and c. 1508-9–in ways that have not begun to be adequately or systematically explored.


Braided Water--LEonardo



The unexpected attribution of the globe would perhaps challenge our concepts of Leonardo as a mapmaker.   Leonardo’s maps for the most part reflect responses to individual commissions:  naturalistic images based on Leonardo’s terrestrial surveys of the Arno valley and Tuscan landscape are well-known–in addition to maps that proposed a system of Milan’s waterways and fortifications or the situation of Imola, drawn for Cesare Borgia.  But the intersection of this globe with information recently mediated by nautical charts presents a particularly innovative synthesis of cartographical data whose unique assembly deserves examination not only as a mediation of charting traditions, but a conceptualization of the map as an argument for apprehending the disposition of land and water across terrestrial space.  Leonardo left a curious freehand drawing of a world globe in 1495 of just 4 cm. in diameter, suggesting his interest in mapping the New World, and seems to have considerably later crafted eight gores, dated ca. 1514, that privileged the toponomy of the expanding world.


Leonardo Gores


It is striking how Leonardo considered the luminosity of the moon not only as a reflection of the sun’s light, in remarks in the Codex Arundel, but as potential evidence of the waves that characterized its watery surface:  indeed, the wrinkled or rugged surface Leonardo attributed to the moon in order to understand the shifts in the reflection of light from its surface reflect the depiction of the waves of windswept oceans on the globe with striking similitude.  Leonardo usedstrikingly concrete terms to posit the existence of waves covering much of the surface of the moon analogously to the earth.  As the oceans reflected light from the surface of the world’s seas–“quello che li prestano le le nostre acque nel refletterli il simulacro del sole,” he argued  imperfections in the watery surface of the moon mediated the reflection of solar luninosity:  “di che si compone il mare della luna e il mare della nostra terra, . . . sempre rugoso, o poco o assai, o più, o meno, e tale rugosità è causa della dilatare l’innumerabili simulacri del sole, che nei colli e co[n]cavità e lati e fro[n]ti delle innumerabili rughe si spechiano,” thereby reducing its radiance from how its watery surface would appear, Leonardo argued, if “la spera dell’acqua, che in gra[n] parte . . . veste la luna” were uniformly spherical.  For Leonardo, the “waves of the moon[‘s seas] mirror the sun in the hollows of the waves as well as on the ridges, and on the sides remain in shadow.”   In this description of a watery surface of the lunar landscape, dated circa 1509, Leonardo reflected at length on the shifting “angle of incidence” of the sun’s rays on the roughnesses created on the spherical body of the moon by the “l’onde della luna spechiano il sole così nelle lor valli come nelli colli, e li lati restano oscuri;” comparing the moon’s body to spherical object or mulberry, whose brightness derives from the angle of incidence on the hollows of its waves [“ne’ lati della luna li fondi dell’onde non vedono il solema si vedono le cime d’esse o[n]de”], describing to himself “the innumerable images of the solar rays reflected from the innumerable waves of the sea, as they fall upon waves [L’in[n]umerabili simulacri che dalle innumerabili onde del mare reflettono li solari razi, in esse onde percossi].

Did the fashioning of a watery globe provide Leonardo with an analogous structure to imagine the moon’s surface as filled with waves?


8.  Unlike Leonardo’s several attempts at mapping Europe’s form or the Italian shoreline in his Notebooks, which are either schematic or incomplete, the map betrays a sustained careful attention to a project of globe-making that seems unprecedented–save in these probably quite subsequent set of gores.  But his discussion in an opaque note of “el mio mappamo[n]do che à Giovanni Be[n]ci” in the Atlanticus.  For Richter, this map was executed by his school, or simply in his possession, to be distinguished from his projects of canalization near Florence or Milan.  Yet the attention to creating a complete record of the world’s continents in  with close attention to the detail of a copious variety of islands and circuitous–rather than conventional–shorelines, suggests a clear interest in creating the map as something like an argument of the ordering of space.

The curious globe creates something of a similar argument of the world’s newly discovered spaces on an immense oceanic expanse in the “Eggshell” globe that will doubtless attract far broader attention in coming years.  The identification of the globe with Leonardo derives not only from iconographic similarities of orographic detail of mountains and cresting waves, or the intense interest in the shorelines depicted from nautical charts–evident in the cast of the eggshell globe.  For the globe also reflects the unique measurements and proportions of the globe Leonardo had described in the Leicester Codex, 35v as of a “grossezza di 7000 miglia di diametro” (a “miglia” being 3,000 Florentine braccie commune), of which the Mediterranean was but one eighth [Leic. 6b].  Leonardo’s sustained attentiveness to the relation between the water and land in the earth as a whole [Leic. 36a], as well as to the questions of the oceanic waters’ ebb and flow, and indeed to the global uniformity of sea-level, reflect his interest in describing the mechanics of the relation between the ocean, which he rarely saw, and Mediterranean, and may have been nourished by the availability of a range of cartographical materials in those very years, which pictured Europe more of an archipelago than a landmass.

The globe closely reflects Leonardo’s deep concerns for materially representing water, introducing the curved shorelines and estuaries into the surface of a world map.  Such concerns were often omitted on earlier maps, to be sure.   And although Missinne’s claims focus attention on asserting the authorship of the globe by Leonardo’s biography and the presence of cartographical materials in Florence and Pavia after publication of Vespucci’s three 1501-2 letters describing the results of his own four voyages, and his conclusion that America was indeed a separate unknown continent, this post will examine the eggshell globe as revealing a radically new way of recording, revealing, and perceiving terrestrial space.  And although significantly less attention has been paid to how the “eggshell globe” ran against, and altered, existing traditions of mapping, charting, and describing terrestrial expanse, such a revision of mapping practices would have been characteristic of how Leonardo would direct attention to the practice of reading space on a globe and provoked attention to the relations between terrestrial and watery expanse in particularly inventive ways.

The crafting of the eggshell globe attended so closely to the working of watery surfaces within a globe both with intended effects both of considering the phenomenological relation to the globe’s surface as a natural description–a question closely linked to his other varied projects of scientific investigation–and to compel readers to attend to how its surface arranged expanse to offer a new performative reading of terrestrial space it provokes in ways ran against other existing mapping forms by its close reading of the relationship between water and land, and the relation between water and land that was implied by the discovery of a new continent–“Mundus Novus,” as the letters engraved on the globe pronounce.  Far beyond simply mediating the discovery of the world to readers, the globe suggests particularly provocative ways of discovering the continuity in global space as a relation between water and land that its readers might compare to other existing cartographical media to contemplate global continuity and imagine their relation to the continuity of global expanse, and a clear interest in bridging the often distinct areas of nautical charting and terrestrial or global maps.  Indeed the humanistic capital lettering that identified its regions–Italy, France, Germany and Spain among them–suggest the detailed crafting of a legible object of study whose surface could be easily read and whose toponymical content was authoritatively and elegantly identified.


Mediterranean on Globe


Despite the limited toponymy on the small globe, its maker devoted considerable care to the delineation and engraving of an accurate coastlines is uniquely combined with the delineation of a naturalistic mountainous interior to suggest unprecedented naturalism.  Notwithstanding the apparent unlikelihood of an unkown attribution of a globe to Leonardo, the deep concern with mapping of waters–a subject foreign to the Ptolemaic tradition of world-mapping, and absent from many later early modern globes–is oddly foregrounded within the “eggshell globe” in ways that make it a subject worthy of renewed scrutiny as a cartographical fabrication as a hydrographic record, and indeed a medium of geodymanics if not ecological imagining, that echo Leonardo’s own naturalistic interests.  Although the typeface on the globe suggest scribal involvement in a collective project, the apparent use of letterpress type demands investigation.

The elegantly engraved miniature globe seems closely informed by concerns for the geometric measurement of bodies, and reflects the sustained attention he gave to Ptolemaic conventions of map projection,  evident in his experimentation with the globe’s surface, sketched with some attention to the proportions of its land masses circa 1490 in the Notebooks.  Indeed, its diameter and size follow the dimensions which Leonardo specified in his Notebooks.  But Leonardo sketched maps in his Notebooks that united Leonardo’s geometric measurements of bodies, and Vitruvian principles of architectural symmetry, with questions of physical geography.  Such concerns seem to animate and motivate the several maps Leonardo devoted to the coastline between Rome and Naples, drawn in the Windsor ms., that establish hypotheses about the terrain, and attend to the flow of water by rivers and canals from the mountainous interior to the Mediterranean–or the better-known image of the Mediterranean basin in the Codex Atlanticus, a sea that he oddly described in the Notebooks as the greatest river in the world–“the greatest river [il massimo fiume], which moves from the sources of the Nile to the Western ocean [Oceano occide[n]tale],” where it “reunites with its ocean, the father of the waters.”  If the Mediterranean was reduced from the mare nostrum, did the remark suggest discovery of far greater oceanic bodies that encircled the world in the “eggshell” globe?


9.  Does the globe reveal the excitement at Leonardo’s discovery of a measured oceanic expanse?  Can the considerable concern directed to the water–and indeed to the mapping of ocean waters across a global expanse–reveal an indication that both dramatically distinguished the globe from other maps, and suggest the concern that Leonardo showed in depicting points of possible contact with the open waters of the sea, not only in its indication of potential ports and sites of contact with the unknown inland, but the hydrological dynamics of oceanic expanse whose rippled surface concealed deep currents and surface tides?  In a time when we are paying renewed attention to how we map the shore–or, indeed, map shorelines as clear divides–it is interesting to consider the changes in the meaning of the shore as a category in early world maps.  Although nautical charts of the sort known as “portolans” or nautical portolan charts primarily delineated coastal shores, the maps’ contents are traditionally taken as mapping routes of nautical travel:  they provided the graphic representation of coasts incorporated in early world maps of Ptolemaic derivation, even if the “Ptolemaic” maps only silently transposed the shorelines from nautical charts to suggest something approximating a credible image of the inhabited world, removed from actual observation, and often of necessity surmised.

The integration of perspectives from nautical charts created a new sense of exactitude in maps, linked to the accuracy of the coastline’s curves, as much as the gradients of longitude and latitude, Water is decidedly not the subject of these maps–since water is separated and seen as distinct from (and not related to) the notion of the ecumene or inhabited world–even when the populations being mapped existed on the water, island archipelagos, or centers of nautical trade.   The blinders with which the “inhabited” world was registered and recorded excised ocean-going and the sea for sixteenth-century readers of maps that we have to some degree inherited in privileging the terrestrial as the sole site of human habitation–the subject of terrestrial mapping and indeed of the Ptolemaic ecumene, which was reproduced in maps read by humanistically-educated readers from the later fifteenth century–as no longer bound by the sea or an oceanic boundary, in which in c. 1490 the inhabited world was ringed by something like a buffer zone of a multitude of unidentified, imagined, incredibly numerous islands, many perhaps uninhabited themselves.


hmartellus world map


Few manuscript maps either cite or acknowledge their sources and models, especially when it comes to the determination of shores:   their collective knowledge is presented as an authoritative distillation:  although nautical charts needed crucial data for maps of Europe and the greater Mediterranean created for and included in lavishly illustrated codices of Ptolemy’s ancient treatise on terrestrial mapping that began to circulate in increasing numbers from the mid-fifteenth century, they were never cited:  the maps presented themselves only as collective knowledge, as this map of islands in the Aegean that derived from a nautical map or isolario tradition so popular in Italy and the Mediterranean.  As humanist editors of the treatise newly entitled simply the Geography amplified it with ‘modernized’ maps designed in increased numbers from the 1460s, the maps often transmitted toponyms inherited from the ancient world–and augmentations of a castigated text edited independently from cartographical forms–whose craftsmanship was assumed authoritative, and was presented, concealing specific sources, as a replication of the artifice of terrestrial and territorial mapping, in ways that state authorities and sovereigns all too often recognized as of powerful symbolic forms that acquired new value by noting spatial divisions and frontiers for their potential readers.

Greece and Aegean in Ptolemaic Codex


The format of nautical charts is often read from the point of view of Ptolemaic mappers that omit credit, since they preserve the authority of a Ptolemaic world-view.  Were such Ptolemaic maps made only for audiences who lived on shore?  Mapmakers continue to assume that charts’ informational content and accuracy lie only in coasts, and that the charts themselves served only–in the manner of the Dutch rutters displayed in trading houses in the Netherlands–to provide guidelines for tracing courses of ocean travel (routes described in writing in actual portolans) or commercial routes for trading, rather than expanse for sovereign ends:  so much is suggested by the wind-roses that accord with compass directions, lines probably traced on top of many portolan charts, rather than serving as a network to determine geographic position; it has been questioned that the most elegant vellum charts that survive, intended as supplements to a written portolan, were used on board of ships.  The precious charts provided useful prototypes for courses, stored onland at major ports, like Barcelona or Genoa or Pisa, the major centers of their production.  (Surviving contracts for their design from the early fifteenth century in Barcelona involved painters, suggesting their value as objects and goods, before they were collected as luxury items, in the manner first studied by the historian Angelo Frabetti in sixteenth-century Italian courts, where these images of geographic totality circulated as princely gifts as well as worldly decorations.)  And in the manner that charts included the coastal cities and promontories, or mouths of rivers, naturalistic markers are conspicuous in the globe.

Charts could be easily disregarded as sources.  The apparent disregard for terrestrial expanses and proportions in these charts placed the tradition of charting outside a practices of terrestrial mapping, and the priorities Ptolemy articulated for terrestrial maps constructed on latitude and longitude as ensuring continuous and proportional transpositions of measured distances.  Many highly valued charts distorted expanse from a given port’s point of view–as this magnificent 1489 chart of the Mediterranean made by the little-known Genoese charter Albino de Canepa, which is now stored at the James Ford Bell library in Minnesota in their historical maps collection; the delineation of coasts gives a pride of place to Albino’s native Genoa.  Although privileging Genoa as a site for maritime departures, whose toponyms crowded along their coastlines with a scribal density removed from territorial sovereignty in their blank interiors. The maps note few sites of inhabitation that are not ports.  Given the unclear protocols of such mapping practices, their content not only contrasts with the premium on terrestrial contiguity in geometric projections of terrestrial cartography.  These charts however mediated a clearly defined, if less recognizable, notion of space:  space is not uniformly proportional in these maps, and appears to be recorded without clearly coherent  logic as a quantified transcription.  But rather than only record the shoreline, or line between land and sea, such charts gained wide currency as a way of policing both commercial transactions, recent research suggests, and maritime trade.


Genoese nautical chart of Albino de CanepaJames Ford Bell Library, University of Minnesota


10.  We have, perhaps, unwittingly internalized the unfair prejudices of map-makers who privileged geometric forms as tools to validate the transcription of uniformly continuous terrestrial surfaces as far superior illustrations of expanse:  although such map-mapmakers exploited and adapted the coastlines of nautical charts, they discounted their accuracy, and concentrated on augmenting cities in their territorial interiors–proliferating toponymy within shorelines earlier isolated as liminal surfaces for to register knowledge with limited and only off-hand bearing to territorial boundaries or border lines.

The recent attention to how such “portolan charts” encoded sovereign claims of terrestrial governments may complicate this picture.  For such research calls into question that the notion of coastal stations on shores were discreet registers without bearing on territorial sovereignty, and may have served as attempts to extend national sovereignty and law into regions of the sea in ways that had few precedents in the concepts of territorial jurisdiction that were formulated and transmitted in Roman law.  Despite the rarity of noting territorial sovereignty in medieval maps–notions of the imperium (imperial law) or commune (and communal law) mapped poorly onto the delineation of terrestrial space–and to establish a frontier of maritime policing in attempts to control and monitor threats to the disappearance of goods at while they were in the process of being transported by merchants at sea.  Does this offer a new suggestion for how to map the sea, or map, as it were, and to map not only land, but to map the offshore as a newly known realm?

Recent scholarly attention to the context of producing maps has suggested that the coastlines in such charts offered a basis to encode littoral exchanges and an increasing territorialization of maritime space greater than presumed.  Rather than see the coastal culture of the Mediterranean as removed from domains of land, the increased presence of commerce and piracy within Mediterranean waters placed governmental jurisdictions offshore to a far greater extent than the perspective of terrestrial cartographers who minimized the utility of nautical charting to draw jurisdictional lines would suggest.  Emily Sohmer Tai has revealed the relations between charts and land cultures through a medieval legal database of instances of “approximately 750-800 cases adjudicated in various courts throughout the Mediterranean between approximately 1200 and 1410” in which merchants or merchant investors who accused attackers at sea of stealing from their ships in a violent manner [violenter]  in ways deemed “in modo piratico [in a piratical manner]” that contravened extant treaties or alliances.  The protection of marine waters seems a surrogate for the protecting of national sovereignty, in other words, in an era when the protection of maritime trade was a primary basis for protecting commerce and maintaining treaties with commercial allies.

As much as the charts reveal something of what John Gillis called a “seaboard civilization,” they extended the jurisdictional claims of landlocked courts into the ocean seas–in a culture that saw itself surrounded by frighteningly unnavigable seas, as this cartographer of the late fifteenth century had so powerfully imagined, in what is not a globe proper, but surely provided a sort of surrogate globe to imagine the oceanic surroundings that ring the islands of the inhabited world and Antipodes in the pre-Columban era.




The juridical status of the marine chart as a register of what coastal authorities were responsible for policing the seas near their land jurisdiction, Tai suggests, and in fact preserved a much more detailed image of sovereign control of the oceanic expanse that such charts depict, evident for Tai in the practice of “marking water” as subject to sovereign control to an extent that later Ptolemaic charts, which predominantly privilege terrestrial space, appear to neglect, or not address:  the fulfillment of clear needs to define marine sovereignty, or extent jurisdiction into the waves in ways that were not directly addressed in Roman law or communal statutes.  If shores are the true ‘borders’ in these charts–the earliest of which lack territorial boundaries in the manner that was so decisively introduced in the “modern” maps of treatises of global geography of the late fifteenth century–this echoes a clear sense of the literally “liminal” space of the shore as a site of incursions within the seaboard civilizations of the Mediterranean world.  The delineation of the Treaty of Tordesillas in both globes, if taken as part of the evidence of their Portuguese provenance for Peter W Dickson, including its mapping of South America–the “Mundus Novus“–as a distinct continent.  Or would the disputes about ties to the New World rehearsed in charts suggest less a direct tie to Portuguese mapmakers than to the disputes that were addressed in Portuguese charts and nautical records?

The expression of such claims for marine sovereignty in a seaboard civilization no doubt explains the continued production of such nautical charts long after one imagines them superseded by Ptolemaic maps of terrestrial expanse:  they provided a means to determine the extent to which corsairs acted as agents of maritime sovereignty or jurisdiction, much as the annually appointed “Captains of the Gulf” selected by the Venetian Senate afforded protection to sailors in nostro gulfo, and a guarantee of commercial protection from piratical incursions:  hence the importance of flags of local sovereignty that were removed from terrestrial borders–but which were increasingly tasked with maintaining the peace of the seas–although suits of restitution pressed against communes seem rarely to have been pursued, properties seized by corsairs might be restored to owners, especially once it returned to land, Tai finds–the legal penalties pursued against corsairs meant to act in state interests definitely increased.  The questions of commercial liability may have been as significant to portolan chart-makers as the nautical routes of travel that a ship might follow to its final course.

The depiction of coastlines as surrogates for local terrestrial jurisdiction provides a baseline to read the shifting depiction of the seas beyond the Mediterranean in the decade after Albino de Canepa’s stunning Mediterranean chart.  Although the maps of nautical travels–the same “portolan charts”–provided the basis for mapping islands in the New World that recur in the maps of Francesco Rosselli (1445-1513), perhaps a relative of the nautical mapper Petrus Rosselli, whose 1506 nautical planisphere–if not mapping the entire world’s surface–so dramatically expanded the confines of oceanic expanse from earlier portolan charts of the Mediterranean to suggest a paradigm shift in mapping, pressing oceanic expanse far beyond the frontiers of known claims of sovereignty.  (Slightly later maps of the world such as the 1502 planiphere of Alberto Cantino, based on a secret Portuguese map, perhaps of the Padrào Real, for the Este family of Ferrara, clearly noted the division of jurisdiction decided at the Treaty of Tordesillas, that parsed the authority of Portuguese and Spanish rulers along fixed meridian–unlike the Rosselli maps or charts, which seem less concerned with drawing jurisdictional lines of sovereignty than crafting a uniform terrestrial space on a measured graticule.)  The presence of the line drawn at the Tordesillas treaty in 1494 provides not only potential date for the globe, as it was revised in 1506, but a level of expectations for the audience for which it was designed.  Although it is the only meridian of longitude noted on the globe, three hundred and seventy leagues west of the Cape Verde islands.


Rosselli Globe BW


11.  Once one shifts from the Mediterranean to the expanse of a global ecumene that includes the oceanic expanse to be traversed to arrive at the New World, measured by clear meridians and curved parallels.

The first maps that painstakingly affirm sovereignty of the isles of Hispaniola and Isabella introduce a vast unknown watery expanse of unknown dimensions for viewers to contemplate the distances needed to be traversed.  The prominence in the globe of the recently found “Hipsane isole” in maps such as the Rosselli’s engraved oval projection, if limited to 180 degrees of latitude, invited its viewers to scan the oceanic expanse and provide a source of Columbus’ fourth voyage–and which Columbus had described in De insulis nuper in mari Indico repertis, and Vespucci’s further descriptions of the discoveries of 1501-2.   Mapmakers registered these discoveries in visually compelling detail in a reduced terrestrial space of 345 millimeters circumference and 112 millimeters diameter, under four and half inches, in the so-called “Hunt-Lennox Globe,” stored within a bronze armillary sphere:  the globe, long dated circa 1510, details two continents in the western hemisphere has recently been compellingly tied to the arrival of nautical charts in Florence and Pavia in the first decade of the sixteenth century, and new questions posed about the authorship of what was long assumed an ornamental construction–but may have offered a new model to conceive a unified terrestrial space.


Hunt-LenoxNew York Public Library


For all its cartographical modernity, the copper “Hunt-Lenox Globe” imagines a short distance between New World islands and Japan [“Zipancri” here, a terminology Marco Polo’s writings had widely diffused], directs its viewers’ attention to the greater oceanic expanse between the islands.  The attribution of this relatively small globe–the size of a large grapefruit or softball, of dimensions just greater than sat easily in one’s hand and weighted at its base–suggest the largely water-covered nature of the world that reveal not only the excitement of the islands that Vespucci described in his popular Mundus Novus based on voyages to South America in 1501-2, writing from Lisbon to Pier Francesco de’ Medici, and which Rosselli successfully mapped on a blue surface in this colored version of the same map stored in the British National Maritime Museum.  This map, with its illustration of islands open for exploration and potentially containing unseen riches, both seems to exaggerate the proximity of the new lands to Europe by ocean travel, rendering them as relatively accessible on the open seas, rather than to clearly embody or offer a defined cognitive relationship to the ocean’s expanse.

Rosselli's New World

The roughly contemporary globe that has been recently discovered of the terraqueous world that was engraved on egg shells is particularly striking for its inclusion of a detailed representation of the sea–indeed, as precisely a representation of the oceanic surface’s ripples and waves as in the prized “Lenox Globe,” perhaps a cast of the unique “Eggshell Globe,” as described in some of Stefaan Missine’s recent publications based on his own unique and detailed observations of the globe, which served to communicate the discoveries of nautical charts by concretizing the viewer’s phenomenological relation to the ocean’s physical expanse through actually tactile forms to communicate the relation of land and sea, which sharply contrast to earlier cartographical tools.  Did the identical size of these globes suggest that they were meant to be read in relation to comparable armillary spheres?


View of Lennox GlobeNew York Public Library


12.  Both the Hunt-Lenox Globe, long considered the earliest in existence, and the globe engraved on the unique medium of an eggshell serve as an astounding register of geographical discoveries.  The remainder of this post will direct attention to the affinities in how Leonardo da Vinci repeatedly returned to the question of circulation of waters in the detail of its hydrographic rendering in ways that the worked surface of the globe reflected.  For the globe returns to the waters in ways that reveal a deep affinity if not a sort of graphic argument about space that shares deep affinities with the particular interest that Leonardo in particular showed to the relations and differences between the circulation of waters.  For as much as the Hunt-Lenox globe is striking in its delineation of islands from “Isabel” to “Zipancri” [Japan] that could be readily reached by oceanic travel, the intense working of individually cresting waves of the sea it is even more striking–as in the eggshell globe itself–for the understanding of oceanic dynamics that its wavy lines communicate:  the aquatic lines to define this globe indeed suggest a sort of hydrographic learning that make it a particularly innovative means to demonstrate the viewer’s relation to its expansive ocean, as well as newly discovered isles whose shores it so carefully represents, with an apparent precision whose detail is strikingly unlike the  conventionalized sickle-shaped inlets and bays typical early modern nautical charts and seem to derive from first-hand observation–and least to trumpet how they stand as a proxy for directly observed coastlines.
DSCN4651New York Public Library


The creation of this magnificently engraved globe seems to predate a clear notion of cartographical authorship or precision–given the deeply collaborative nature of encoding nautical information within maps and borrowing data from nautical chart.  The detailed working of its surface clearly engaged in a clearly explicit dialogue or dance with other images of these newfound isles, the “Hispane Insule” Rosselli would map in his far more famous and widely known oval projection of the world.  In the Rosselli projection, unlike the “eggshell globe” and its cast, the Hunt-Lenox globe, Rosselli specifically tried to locate on longitudinal lines for his readers–lines that were apparently omitted on the eggshell globe and its casts made.  But the elegantly engraved “eggshell” globe might be credibly argued to have been intended to be read in concert with recent nautical charts or Ptolemaic planispheres, and addressed to an audience familiar with the arrangement of newly discovered lands, and eager both to admire their novel disposition and newly discovered coasts and to contemplate the proportion of land and water on its surface.   For the globe seems to rehearse multiple concerns familiar to Leonardo as a reader not only of Ptolemy but a connoisseur of cosmographical learning from Albertus Magnus on “the nature of places” and the Ptolemaic concept of the terraqueous globe and Sacrabosco.  But rather than depict the oceanic expanse as “flowing around the earth on all sides and encircling its boundaries,” as Isidore of Seville wrote, the ocean is represented as a medium of travel and surface of dynamic flow, unlike the flat blue surface in most Ptolemaic planispheres, in ways that uniquely mediated the recent discoveries of Iberian navigators.


Rosselli isles


13.  This shift–from mapping land, or “terra,” to mapping the coherence and relations between land and sea–presented the New World less as something of a floating island than a world defined by the relations between land and water long before Waldseemüller presented land and sea as continuous.  For there is particularly evident excitement in the “eggshell globe” of taking mapping into the sea and of mapping the immensity of oceanic expanse in particularly ambitious ways analogous to Leonardo’s conjoined naturalistic and geographic interests.

The limited attention to the representation of ocean waters in most printed maps might remind us that one of the deepest problems of representing the terraqueous world was expanding the world’s expanding watery surface in a coherent frame, noting a navigational expanse beyond the coast-hugging confines of the Mediterranean.  The hydraulic image of traversable waves and ocean surfaces indeed makes the globe particularly distinctive among early modern maps–for the moment putting aside the important questions about its authorship and the date and circumstances when it was crafted–on account of the tactile manner that it makes inescapable the ocean as a palpable presence to the viewer, and the unprecedented manner that it calls attention to the problem of rendering the ocean’s surface as one of hydraulics.



Spagnola and detailNew York Public Library


Could the detailed contours of these shorelines, drawn no doubt from nautical charts, reveal the sort of cartographical omnivorousness that was typical of Leonardo da Vinci?   The idea is appealing, given the documentary evidence that Leonardo readily adopted some of the expansive detailed maps of the area of Tuscany in Italy, circa 1503, more extensively rendering the riverine network with which he had gained familiarity as an engineer, mapping far more naturalistic and plastic renderings in chiaroscuro of multiple regions of his native Tuscan coastline and Valdichiana, as well as near Rome, which reveal detailed application to the level of hydrographic detail that could be compellingly included in a land map.  These extremely elegant rendering of terrestrial views, even if they derived from and were designed to administrate important projects hydraulic cartography, reveal a new pleasure of reading their contents and the sketching of rivers, lakes, mountains, and even houses that were continued in his later mapping of the Pontine marshes, and suggest an intense and perhaps unparalleled appreciation of the pleasure of reading expansive prospectives in maps.

Most importantly, perhaps, Leonardo’s ready experimentation with cartographical forms illustrates an eagerness both to collaborate on the maps of other engineers–he seems to have consulted the earlier pioneering chorographic maps of Tuscany in his own maps of the region, attributed to Pietro del Massaio, to whose observations he added significant plasticity if not accuracy, adopting the map as a form to embellish and design as a graphic and almost pictorial medium:  the chorographic map offered Leonardo a manner of compiling information as a collective construction of integrating shared observations.  Leonardo’s own contribution of riverine paths, which he rendered in far more detail than his predecessors’ maps–even if he may have followed how their coastlines exaggerated promontories and longitudinal compression–in order to fashion a far more tangible image whose local topographical details he rendered as perspective views of a quite different medium, and whose spatial indices he seems to have abandoned.  In the Lenox globe, there are also no indices of measuring spatial expanse–save the equatorial line and indication of the Treaty of Tordesillas that were so often noted in nautical charts.

The attribution of this original terrestrial globe to Leonardo is most certainly big news worthy of revising the scope of Leonardo’s own geographic interests and pursuits–not only because it suggests that a piece by the artist-engineer  who has been so widely studied went unattributed and unacknowledged for five centuries, but because no mention of such a globe was ever made in the inventories associated with Leonardo’s library or possessions, and no clearly explicit reference to so striking an object exists in contemporary literature.   But it makes sense.  And the creation of the globe of such particularly striking exquisite detail to the depiction of a huge watery expanse is particularly resonant with many of Leonardo’s preoccupations and interest in the watery bodies of the world.  In the first stages of his mapping, Leonardo had in the past focussed on the quite detailed orographic mapping of Tuscany, whose shaded relief maps from 1474 to 1505 combine chiaroscuro and naturalistic shadow, coloring their content to communicate elevations omitted within existing maps of the region, to better reveal the riverine paths in the Arno Valley as “interwoven with a network of veins all joined together” along the sides of mountainous topography.  Could the experience of mapping Tuscan mountains and coastline–shown below–have provided Leonardo with an example and model–if not a laboratory–for depicting mountains on the surface of the globe in the figurative fashion, shown below in a specific detail and on a bronze cast of the “Hunt-Lenox” globe?  The comparable nature of Leonardo’s assertion that the size of the globe was measured as 7000 miles were adopted in the proportions of the Eggshell globe, intriguingly linking Leonardo’s cosmographical ideas to the globe, as Missinne has strenuously sustained.  But



Different Types of Mountaintops IIINew York Public Library


Although such naturalism must have been of huge cognitive important in directing the attention of any early reader of a terrestrial globe–or any mapper of the globe’s surface in an age of limited nautical or aerial travel–the globe is striking in that it suggests some of the deep concerns for representation and understanding of water, and the ocean’s flow, assiduously studied, noted, and represented in freehand by Leonardo within his surviving Notebooks.  Is the organization of the globe’s watery regions, from the ocean’s waves to the hydrographic detailing of riverine paths to estuaries, evidence a similar investigation of the natural world, translated to cartographical form?


Leonardo-San Lorenzo

Mundus Novus CoastlineWashington Map Society/Portolan


Leonardo’s graphic production suggested a similar sensitivity, to be sure, beyond iconographic similarities, of the areas where the land meets the sea, and the course of rivers that empty their fresh waters into the saline waters of the ocean.  The numerous estuaries on the equatorial coasts of the “Mundus Novus” south of Hispaniola clearly suggests and opens up of its riches to prospective mariners.  The Mundus Novus was essentially revealed as permeable to trade and settlement, as the globe-maker opened up its shorelines by the detailing potentially navigable riverine mouths along its norther shores, as if revealing of a multitude of harbors, inlets, and estuaries where ships might dock and come to shore–and indeed where they might sail un into its still widely unknown interior and imagine the relatively accessibility of its shore.


14.  These elements were no doubt borrowed from nautical charts, but received a new audience within the far smaller format of the globe, where they were posited as problems that an observer of nature as Leonardo might ponder as sites of the entry of water from the mountainous interior of the New World, as much as estuaries where boats could enter into port.  Although the “shoreline” was not clearly understood as a category, the mouths of rivers multiplied along the “Mundus Novus” in ways that were particularly propitious to its settlement, or at least the viewer of the globe, who saw the estuaries as potential sites of commerce and exchange more than of entry to its interior, inland of which important trading cities might be founded, or storehouses and warehouses of traders might develop.

While both the Hunt-Lennox globe and the so-called “Eggshell Globe” (evaluated separately in an earlier post as an artifact) served as an astounding register geographical discoveries, these globe suggests a deep but long unobserved tie to Leonardo’s world and the arrival of information about the New World in Renaissance Italy–and to the discovery of the inhabited world that the arrival of such maps would undoubtedly have provoked.  For the very manner that the surface of the globe is worked returns repeatedly to the question of circulation of waters in the detail of its hydrographic rendering, revealing a sort of graphic argument about the particular interest that Leonardo in particular showed to the relations and differences between the circulation of waters in the world and its relation to blood in human bodies, in a sort of recapitulation of the analogy between microcosm and macrocosm that provided one angle underpinning his physical thought.

The potential inclusion of a carefully etched and detailed terrestrial globe–let alone a globe made from the rounded ends of ostrich eggs laid in the zoological gardens of Pavia’s court that were comparable in size–would cast new light on many of Leonardo’s projects and especially his cartography.  (Near Pavia’s Certosa, according to Stefano Breventano, stood a walled enclosure for raising ostriches, as well as other dedicated to rabbits and bears, all described in a late sixteenth-century treatise on the city’s antiquities, which were artifacts of Sforza court, and no doubt a specific treasure familiar to its courtiers.)  While it would suggest considerable immersion in the discovery of the New World, and the expense and care of fashioning a globe among Leonardo’s patrons, its completion would reveal an intense application to the detail of its physical completion as well as its construction–both in the determination of landmasses and seas, their seamlessly detailed integration, and in its physical preparation, and the completion of a major work of art–as well as the interest that the fabrication of such a globe might have held for him and his patrons.   The precise selection of eggs of a fixed diameter, moreover, may reveal conscious planning of the expansion of the practice of map-making as a distinct medium, and an exploitation of the benefits of casting, rather than printing, allowed for creating a physical record of the newly discovered world.

Indeed, perhaps, if confirmed, one of the major works registering the appreciation of materializing a compelling record of other continents, and for Leonardo’s application of himself to geographic thought not only in relation to Imola and Tuscany–to areas of which we have his detailed surviving maps–but to a rendering of the harmony of a global map by processing a range of data that he (or its engraver) would have recovered and transposed from nautical charts’ clearly articulated coastlines to the surface of a spherical globe–and to present a sense of the coastal contours more clearly articulated than many nautical charts.

Mountains on Curved Globe's Surface SMissinneNew York Public Library

No known explicit mention of a globe created out of two conjoined halves of ostrich eggshells exists in Renaissance cartography or studies of early globes. But the ingenious construction of spherical body by joining identically shaped rounded ends of shells seems an ingenious manner of molding a natural form into a perfect–or almost perfect–sphere as a template to cast future globes, perhaps only one of which has survived.  The survival of this particular globe in the New York Public Library, where it arrived after having been sold by an unknown Parisian aristocrat in response to the imposition of high property taxes after the 1848 revolution, placing it in a place of curious prominence as the Hunt-Lenox Globe, remained attributed to an unknown artist and dated to before 1510.  The lack of attribution has long been something of an unanswered historical puzzle.  The recent discovery of a globe that is its exact model, whose humanistic capital lettering of toponymy provide the only secure clues to its origins or provenance, suggest the globe may be a cast of this distinctive spherical prototype made by engraving the surface of an egg, and that other copies of it either may well exist or have existed at one time.

The  “Hunt-Lenox” globe is identical to the eggshell globe from coastlines to Italianate humanistic lettering, making any chance the globe is a copy or even a different object increasingly unlikely.  A close-up of Europe and the Mediterranean in a bronze cast of that globe alone, the identity of their shorelines and scribal attentiveness reveals as much.  As the “eggshell globe” from which it was cast, the Hunt-Lenox globe foregrounded watery expanse in the Mediterranean as a body contiguous to other oceans suggests a sense of the unity of the world’s waters–despite the diversity of the toponymy of its lands–that seems to echo a deeply Leonardan idea of the image of the ecumene, less interested in the notation of cities or ports than in the configuration of lands around the Mediterranean basin and how its waters opened to the still wider sea, designated in the globe by such intricately braided waves:


Mediterranean on GlobeNew York Public Library


The casting of this globe suggests a precise rationale for the engraving of the eggshell globe on such exact proportions, and an attempt to reproduce an image of the mapped world on a physical object contemporary with the very age when the first world maps were printed.  The image of the Mediterranean and north Africa shows identical clear humanist block lettering, and detailing of coastlines, islands, and distinctive pattern of oceanic waves, and mountainous orographic detail–all leaving little doubt but that the two globes of exactly the same size derive from one another, and that they appear to demonstrate deep concerns with the shorelines and estuaries as mapped from the points of view of mariners on open waters, rather than terrestrial surveyors, revealing deep concern not only for where one could put in at ports, but with the waterfront as a liminal point of entrance to new lands, raising hopes as the do with prospects of trading with a populated interior: if the absence of place-names in the areas of the New World and Africa which it maps are disorienting, the borrowing of ports and estuaries, presumably from nautical charts, raise interestingly new questions of the globe as an advertisement or prospectus for the validity of routes of oceanic travel and points of potential contact and trading with an interior whose riches were widely vaunted.  The curious absence of any armature or stand from the original globe, moreover, suggests an interest in the globe as an object of discussion and reflection, but also as a curiosity, removed from an apparatus of measurement, and far more tied to techniques and conventions of terrestrial representation.

The photograph of a cast of the cast–it is a modern bronze cast of the copper Hunt-Lenox globe–is moreover of such a distinctive combination of Ptolemaic cartography and the contours of a nautical chart that it appears to illustrate the practice of the graphic revision of Ptolemaic geographic models through the practice of engraving of its spherical surface, in ways that suggest an active attempt to grasp the shifting image of the newly discovered Americas–or the island of Spagnola described in a letter written by Amerigo Vespucci about his voyage with Columbus, printed in 1501, in a compelling visual argument about the new arrangement and nature of terrestrial space as an interlocking surface of land and water:  the depiction of the islands, surrounded by seas, offers something of an early narrative of the experience of oceanic travel, rather than only a demarcation of terrestrial expanse.  This implicit narrative content of the globe, as both a measured surface and a surface suggestive of the dangers of travel and perils of oceanic expanse, have been insufficiently noted, as have the almost phenomenological record it creates of the world’s surface.


Spagnola and detailNew York Public Library


Leonardo would have translated the news Vespucci first published in Mundus Novus (1504) and which from 1503 were already known in the several maps that Vespucci had himself made, based on nautical charts, of the Columban voyages.  The globe records an incomplete if expanding knowledge of terrestrial expanse, indicated by the close proximity of these new islands, Spagnola and Isabella, to the vaguely known area below Japan (“Zipancri”) and the New World islands in the upper right hand corner, shrinking the Pacific Ocean to accommodate  proportions of the diameter Leonardo had in fact determined and assigned the worldly globe of 7000 nautical miles:


Java:IsabeNew York Public Library

Despite no positive proof of its attribution, the globe more clearly links the interest in the mapping of the unknown to the mapping of the sea.  The a region often associated with the monstrous and the dangerous–a fear, of sorts, recapitulated within the oceanic animals that dot the globe’s waters, in an echo of the exotic animals often pictured on portolan charts.  The sea remains an unknown in the globe, whose dangers are illustrated by the proxy ship that finds itself voyaging on its surface, sails billowing and almost rocking rhythmically on the waves that surround, curving in gentle undulations as if lapping against this boat’s prow as it heads to the newly discovered islands of the New World:

Ship at Sea on Globe

Compelling, if tantalizing, details about the globe’s attribution may lie in the distinct introduction to this globe of what might be called the “graphic markings” of cartography, or graphemes, that create the globe, from its distinctive orography to its depiction of oceanic waves.  For they clearly recall Leonardo’s specific interests in the motion of waves on the surface of the sea, which he rendered in such detailed distinctive curling interlocking waves in exploratory sketches within his Notebooks, and indeed in the circulation of waters in the world, and suggest something close to a signature in his work not only in their form, but their elaboration as a means of considering and detailing the relationship between water and land as a way of compelling visual attention, and investing the water with a sense of perpetual motion. In ways that echo Leonardo’s own underscoring the artist’s sense of the importance of fluid dynamics and mechanics in its intertwined waves to communicate a sort of vital force–much as the energetic turbulence he invested in river that he explicitly compared to breathing into the oceanic seas–the globe seems oddly animate, as well as offering a record of wayfaring, travel or discovery:  indeed, as much as present a narrative field for global discovery, in ways Missinne has argued, or a record of Gaspar Corte-Real heading westward “trying to find new territories”, the globe might well be identified with Leonardo as a contemplation of the globe’s oceanic expanse, and the concerns that Leonardo voiced in his Notebook “G,” of the problems of measuring oceanic navigation, and the impossibility of applying forms of measurement as rotating wheels to measure marine trajectories “se non nelle superfitie piane e immobili de’ laghi”:  the oceanic surface that the globe depicts suggest a surface of intertwined waves in which such invention –“se l’acqua è di moto più o me’ velocie che’l moto del navilio . . . in modo che tale inventione è di poca valitudine”–and that the method, ascribed to Leon Battista Alberti in the same Notebook, of judging distances between islands no longer practical.  Does the globe describe alternative trajectories of travel?

In ways that resonate with Leonardo’s deep belief that water looses purity when stagnant, gaining a foetid quality in marshes, the swirling waters through which the ship navigates concretizes a clear sense of the motive force of the oceans that led him to compare, in Codex Leicester about 1508, water as analogous to the role that was played by human blood within the body’s veins.  Indeed, the sense of water as a vital force within the world–both a motive force in the medium of global travel and a dangerous force for terrestrial navigation–provides a deep analogy to the unique figuration of water in both the Lenox and “eggshell” globe.  In the image below, beside comments on the mixing of sweet and saline waters at the mouths of rivers, he returned repeatedly to the physics of the independent movement of waters on the surfaces of rivers or as waves, as the waters at floodgates, in these images from the Hammer (Leicester A, fol. 13) and Arundel (f. 39) codices, which reflect deep concern with the turbulence of waters in their detailed representation by carefully drawn patterns of elegantly nested curvilinear lines that resolve the curving currents to a finely-detailed pattern of tracery:

Leonardo on waters and waves, %22De Onda%22

Leonardo Arundel f. 39v


Leonardo meditated at several places in the Madrid II codex on the successive breaking of waves upon the banks of the shoreline, which from the equal power of the breaking from their peaks more than their base against each other as they hit and withdraw and hit the shore again. The globe displays a similar concern with the constant rhythm of ocean waters as a site of almost obsessive visual engagement that seems specific to Leonardo, and is of a sort that is strikingly absent from almost all modern maps:


Madrid II, f. 64rMadrid II, 64r


These iconographic similarities of the oceanic cresting of waters and the flux and reflux of waves only constitutes the surface of Leonardo’s intensive inquiries into the mechanics of waters’ flow and the relation of oceans to the coast.  Leonardo’s fascination in the cresting of oceanic or riverine waves and their retreats is evinced in his quite poetic meditation on their successive breaking against the shore:  “L’onde refress[e] dalla percussion che prima si fece per loro nelllargine, si sconteranno nel mezo del fi'[u]me.  E sse saran d’equal potentia, equalmente indirieto salteranno.” Leonardo described the physics of waves after careful observation and calculation of their flux and arc, in a poetic meditation on the physics of the successive breaking of waves upon one another as they withdrew from the shore that mirrors the attention to the identically worked surfaces of the eggshell and Hunt-Lennox globes:  “The wave reverses itself backwards and turns over, breaking against the shore and returns beneath, as the successive wave that comes from below, hitting it from below, and reverses itself runs once again [L’onda ‘aroverscia indierieto e ttorna di sopra, e percossa nel lito fa il tomolo e ritorna di sotto, e ssi scontra di novo nella sucedente onda che viene di sotto, e lla percote di sotto, e lla riarroverscia di nuovo indirieto, e cosi’ successivamente seguita“].  Leonardo’s extensive study of hydrologic mechanics had produced a considerable graphic studies of the mechanics of waves:


Leo's Waves and Hydrographic Design


The very mobility of the ocean waters on the globe suggests the deeply interactive context in which Leonardo pursued his interests in water, as a sort of hydrologist, deeply embedded in debates on fluid dynamics, as much as a graphic artist:  if Leonardo’s interest in the globe was animated in no small part by the complex project of transposing the discoveries recorded in nautical charts to its curved surface, the intense study of water circulation that pervades the Notebooks and range from the mixing of sweet and saline waters to the turbidity of water and the dynamics of their flow are recapitulated on the exquisite care that the engraver of the globe devoted to the water’s surface.  As a draughtsman who sought to describe the rendering of its flow, Leonardo resorted to a biological analogy:  “Observe the motion of the surface of the water which resembles that of hair, and has two motions, of which one goes on with the flow of the surface, the other forms the lines of the eddies; thus the water forms eddying whirlpools one part of which are due to the impetus of the principal current and the other to the incidental motion and return flow.”  The swirling waters on the globe’s surface indeed suggest the rising and falling of the tides.




The artist’s intensive application of attention to the representing of ocean waters on the globe’s surface recalls the assiduous care Leonardo devoted to representing waters far beyond other maps, and the attention he had devoted to the flow, flux, and reach of oceanic waters, as well as to the quantity of water that travelled through riverine mouths.  These topics that recur in the Notebooks Leonardo kept with him have often been seen as private concerns, but suggest a basis for developing a distinct model for naturalistic observation.  So much is exemplified by the ecologically minded remark about the  circulation of global waters: “all the lakes and all the gulfs of the sea and all inland seas are due to rivers which distribute their waters into them, and from impediments in their downfall into the Mediterranean–which divides Africa from Europe and Europe from Asia by means of the Nile and the Don which pour their waters into it” [A 83b].  And while his hydrological concerns most often dwelled on questions of river ecology, tied to his projects and observation of the Arno and rivers in the Apennines, the globe provided a surface to explore not only riverine mouths–each of which is detailed with care in the globe–but the interpenetration of rivers with terrestrial expanse and to the sea.

Leonardo-San Lorenzo

Extreme sensitivity to depicting sch ecotonal relations on the globe–the points of transition between and betwixt bordering ecologies of land and water–was a topic to which Leonardo was particularly sensitive to drawing and keen to register and communicate.   So much seems evident in the sketches by which he mapped riverine estuaries in his native Tuscany.  Leonardo was indeed a liminologist avant la lettre, although the methodical study of rivers and inland waters was only coined by François-Alphonse Forel (1841–1912):  “limen” suggests a threshold not limited to a doorway of a residence, and Leonardo betrayed significant interest in the opening of waters on the shore.  Leonardo da Vinci revealed significant interest in his Notebooks in the limen or coastal estuary focussed on the mixing of waters and the geology of the coast as a threshold or border of ecotones:  his interest in any subject never existed in isolation, and his projects of cartography and geographic interest existed in a holistic context that often focussed on the limen of rivers or mountainous topography.  Did he extend these interests to such careful translation of the shorelines and estuaries of the New World on the engraved surface of the eggshell globe?

Similar concerns are strikingly betrayed in the detailing of rivers that arrive at the shoreline estuaries of the Mundus Novus, and which are clearly far more analytically engraved and rendered in the eggshell globe or Lenox Globe than they appeared in previous nautical charts from the Cantino chart of c. 1502, the first (fragmentary) depiction of Portuguese discoveries of the New World or the 1517 Miller atlas–was this hypothetical, or did it betray deep concern and awareness for the investigation of the sources of riverine mouths? Did it suggest sites for prospective or extant ports that could serve as mouths of exchange for mariners, and networks for prospective oceanic trade, or settlement?


Cantino chart detail

Lopo Homem


The considerable hydrographic detail of the “eggshell globe” suggests a complete knowledge of the riverine topography of much of the Mundus Novus in which a network of rivers descend to the meet the oceanic sea, providing likely entrepots of trade, mapped from the perspective of early modern mariners who saw the coasts, as John Gillis has written, as borderlands and sites of exchange, rather than as fixed borders, grasping the nature of the shore as a permeable boundary that permitted entry and exchange with unknown areas, offering a basis for landing as well as sites for exchange to a deep, unknown interior and its bounty: much as early modern cities were built along rivers, indeed, the riverine mouths may have suggested points of prospective settlement and trade, much as they did to the French of a slightly later period, along the mouth of the river that they called the St. Lawrence.

Leonardo may have become particularly interested in the flow of these rivers to the sea, and the melding of freshwater and saltwater at the ocean shores, based on his own work on the project of lining Florence by a canal through to Pisa, and to the Mediterranean, in an attempt to have the Mediterranean enter Italy inland.  The artisan who engraved the globe seems similarly attentive to illustrate the extension of rivers from the shore of lands in the New World to its interior, as if to similarly suggest the arrival of products from the inland continents on its shores.



New York Public Library


15.  Leonardo asks himself in his Notebooks “what impediment could be great enough to stop the course of the waters which do not reach the ocean,” and the perpetual cresting of each wave of oceanic waters “breaks in front of its base” so that what was before highest lies now lowest” [Ash. III, 25a] but whose surface remains–when there is no storm–at “an equal distance from the center of the earth” [A 55b].  The flow and ebb of tides and waters over the body of the earth, creating a “swelling and diminution in the height of the seas . . . . [as the] sea of water is being incessantly being drawn off from the surface of the sea” [Leic. 6b] almost seems depicted on the watery “eggshell” globe, where breaking waves of the sea are incessantly moving on the globe’s surface, much as the sites of incessant motion in Leonardo’s painted works.  The waves of water, underscored by sea monsters, ships and mysteriously if inviting suggestive marine fishtails–all prepare the viewer for a true sense of the encounter with the unknown.  The maker of this globe included a glorious sea-monster, holding a “Y” in its maws, after Jonah, who appears to be far more fantastically detailed and terrifying in aspect than the animals familiar from nautical charts, evoking as well the “great sea monsters” God created that are described in Genesis, and suggests the mystery of the sea, as well as the sort of fantastic caricatures Leonardo took such care to render in detail in the Notebooks:


Sea Monster on GlobeNew York Public Library


This sense of the unknown ocean waters as being itself a set of inhabitation–almost instead of and as a juxtaposition to the interest in detailing the inhabitants of the land–makes the globe a remarkably ethical record of expanse, and creates a sense of perpetual motion on its surface reminiscent of the incessant motion displayed in so much of Leonardo’s work.  The haunting of the globe by this immense fish, which recalls the “marvelous thing” or fossil of a whale that Leonardo describes himself as having discovered at first hand in Arundel f. 156, in an apostrophe that reveals the deep psychic impression that his encounter made on him:  the care of its depiction echoes the claim of admiration at this large fish, the fossils of whose branching dorsal fins occasioned a meditation on mortality as much as an evocation of a past traveller on ocean waves.  “O powerful and once-living instrument of formative nature, your great strength of no avail, you must abandon your tranquil life to obey the law which God and time gave to creative nature. Of no avail are your branching, sturdy dorsal fins with which you pursue your prey, plowing your way, tempestuously tearing open the briny waves with your breast. Oh, how many a time the terrified shoals of dolphins and big tuna fish were seen to flee before your insensate fury, as you lashed with swift, branching fins and forked tail, creating in the sea mist and sudden tempest that buffeted and submerged ships…  O Time, swift despoiler of created things, how many kings, how many peoples have you undone? How many changes of state and circumstances have followed since the wondrous form of this fish died here in this winding and cavernous recess?”

The depiction of the globe’s surface–an area inhabited by immense fish, and an impasse that future navigators to the New World must cross–draws heavily on recent nautical charts for its geographic content, as well as for the line of terrestrial sovereignty determined at the Treaty of Tordesillas, so often noted in charts.  But it runs against the conventional map signs of either charts or Ptolemaic terrestrial maps, abandoning the orienting device of the wind-rose or compass, or the indices of Ptolemaic geography:  running against these forms of mapping, its author seems to discover a new way of mapping the watery surface of the world that was of such intense interest to him, organizing a view of the interlocking surface of water and land that we have forgotten, but with which we might do well to refamiliarize ourselves.  For rather than replicating an idealized image of the world’s surface, in the manner of ancient geographers, or a cosmographical image of the globe, he assigned a striking materiality to its interlocking elements that emphasize its almost living nature.

Leave a comment

December 31, 2013 · 10:46 am

The Infographic Pontiff?

The refreshingly broad geographic purview of Pope Francis’ Urbi et orbi Christmas benediction, delivered to the faithful in St. Peter’s Square as a greeting to the world and the city, and to all Christians in the city and throughout the world, newly displayed the spectacular breadth of Pope’s call for peace across the world in a globalized age.  As the Easter Sunday Urbi et orbi papal benediction included imprecations and injunctions for peace in the Middle East, “and particularly between Israelis and Palestinians,” hoping for Godspeed in the process of negotiations, “peace in Iraq,” and “above all for dear Syria,” Mali, Nigeria, the Central African Republic, and across the Korean peninsula, Francis’ Christmas Homily illustrated the extent Francis’ direction of his annual pastoral message beyond both sola scriptura and beyond issues of church doctrine.

The homily’s wide geographic compass–containing a level of detail so tellingly absent from the generic breadth of recent predecessors in communicating the significance world peace–suggests a far broader notion of the church than was followed by his immediate predecessors, and indeed a needed geographic specificity in the relation of the pontiff to the faithful:   before some 70,000 faithful, the pontiff resumed a similar itinerary of sites of the persistent absence of worldly peace, touching similar landmarks in a tour of global conflicts from South Sudan to Syria, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Iraq. Francis’ comprehensive roundup of global hotspots took its brief in refreshingly literal terms as addressing “omnium ecclesiorum Urbis et Orbis,” by effectively mapping commanding Hotspots of civil unrest and travail across our inhabited world, and of course hoping for future tranquility.

This indication of continued horrors we might too easily neglect is a far cry from how the global maps commissioned by Gregory XIII in the 1580s.  If the monumental cycle of maps in the Galleria delle carte geografiche expanded the image and presence of Italy in the Mediterranean, as well as its significance to the worldly church, and the above Loggia offered a canvas for tracing missionary routes to different continents, Francis’ mapping of suffering dramatically departed from the magisterial function of the church in dispensing dispensing worldly teachings, and suggests a way to broaden the vocal role of church in a globalized long considered one of the earliest globes to depict the New World in detail, if the third to survive.  T.  Perhaps this came from his appreciation of the actual difficulty of prayers for worldly peace.  Francis’ homily gave new breadth to his sense of moments “both bright and dark” in worldly politics.  Whatever the reason, breadth doubt informed the sense of peace and what peace would entail–his procession from St Peter’s basilica gave prominent position to pairs of children from Italy, the Philippines, Lebanon, his native Argentina and Congo, as if in an embodied objective correlative of worldly suffering among Christian believers, and an infographic that could be held before the eyes of the faithful, and remind us of the great stakes of any future map for worldly peace at the start of the third millennium.

As the first non-European pontiff, no doubt the former Cardinal Jorge Maria Bergoglio was acutely conscious of his charge for ensuring global comprehensiveness within the Church, as well as of expanding the doctrinal focus of his immediate predecessors.  Francis openly joked on assuming St. Peter’s throne that his fellow cardinals of seeking a new bishop of Rome that they went “almost to the end of the world.”  And long before being anointed by Twitterfeeds with the hashtag #BestPopeEver, he suggested a broad perspective on the alleviation of and attention to worldly suffering and the active role of the church in its alleviation, a consciousness no doubt present in his adoption–the first time for a Roman pontiff–of the name of the Franciscan founder, St. Francis of Assisi.  His appreciation of thee relative nature of peace may have surely derived from his personal experience and exposure to dictatorship as a Jesuit during Argentina’s Dirty War (guerra suicamay have made many and multiple compromises to preserve peace; Bergoglio was quite familiar with Argentinian death squads, and seems to have minimized the 30,000 deaths of that place and period, in ways that  surely invested a different view of “peace” as an arduous uphill climb.  (His relative silence in a period of terror terrifyingly paralleled the minimization of violence of the dictatorship of Jorge Rafael Videla, and he has revealed something like a dedication to atonement ever since he offered Videla comfort and communion–if not his concealment of political prisoners–charges perhaps due to pragmatism in the moment, but which the pontiff has not clarified satisfactorily.)




But to forgive is Christian, and to err human, and since he worked within the Argentine political structure, Francis has attained the unique perspective to turn a significantly more tolerant eye on the Christian faithful and to devote considerably more attention to the scale of worldly suffering.

And when Francis evoked a cast of characters in need of peace and hope, from child soldiers to migrants,  and providing something like a literal tour of moments of worldly peace, his sermon had a clearly cartographical quality:  he offered a sort of virtual travel to or evocation of places of unrest that merited personal papal attention (or intervention) and indeed the spiritual attention from the world’s religious.   He took more seriously the global nature of the address that hoped for “peace in the world” from human trafficking to natural disasters in his “urbi et orbibenediction that embraced the literal scope of the sermon hoping to foster global unity and peace–even if his history of compromise and possible collusion suggest a more problematic history of personal involvement in reigns of terror.   Following the time-honored presumption of ecclesiastic universality that befits such an annual homily, Francis openly addressed once more the “ongoing conflict in Syria,” hoping that followers of all religions were working for peace there, and praying for a resolution to civil strife, hoping that the Lord would act to “foster social harmony” in Southern Sudan, as well as the Central African Republic, hoping for dialogue to grow in Nigeria and the Holy land, and that tragedies never again befall migrants as they did this year at Lampedusa, an island off the coast of northern Africa, ever again.

The breadth of his call to conscience was striking, and has been widely celebrated.  “Too many lives have been shattered in recent times by the conflict in Syria, fueling hatred and vengeance,” hoping to spare future suffering for the Syrian people, and hoping that the Prince of Peace might also help to heal the constant attacks on innocent and defenseless in Nigeria, the frequency of violence in “beloved Iraq,” so often struck by senseless violence, and that hope and consolation reach the many displaced from the Horn of Africa to the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and those displaced by natural disasters in the Philippines.  In providing a personalized message of support and succor, Francis also offered something of an infographic of global Hotspots of need and humanitarian disaster far more explicitly than his predecessors would have ever articulated, focussed as they were on issues of doctrine as much as of worldly conflicts or wars.  If we don’t know what newspapers Francis reads, his words echoed the March public comments Valerie Amos who, as head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), described the many “neglected” areas she met as “In the last year alone, I visited more than 40 countries from Syria to Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger, Afghanistan and Myanmar, and saw and heard for myself the terrible conditions that families face and their harrowing stories–loss of loved ones and homes.”  These “neglected regions,” surrogates for the neglected, offer a new geographic language for understanding regions of humanitarian assistance and need whose rhetoric seems modeled after that of maps to show the humanitarian Hotspots that are familiar from maps of global warming, and which provide new visual models to contemplate the increasing depth of inter-relationhips within the world.




Or our own globalized sense of the multiplication of hazard Hotspots so disparate to be hard to process or even get one’s mind around–also a tragic challenge in the face of global warming.




Pope Francis seems to realize and relish the challenges both of ecclesiastic leadership and of providing comfort and consolation in an age of globalism.  In the age of elegant but impersonal infographics, the expansive geographical breadth of spiritual compassion across the world seems a response to globalization that tabulated the costs of what we too often lose from the 24-hour news cycle:  for if the pontiff’s world tour was a worthy exercise of extending a globally frayed compassion, it was also a cursory review of selective dim points of civil strife across the inhabited globe that was (as befits the medium, perhaps) short on particular details or local context, and as an impassioned address fell a bit short, as well as a depressingly long laundry list.  But that said, the infographic that Francis provided to believers was a welcome inclusion of specifics to hold before their mind, in contrast to His austere predecessors, the world-travelling ecclesiological conservative John Paul II and the even more austere Benedict XVI, for all the Enlightened pretensions that the undoubtedly intentional echo of Benedict XIV suggests.  Indeed, Francis offered a telling shift from the dominant concern of his predecessors with questions of catechism, arising from their magisterial notion of the pontiff as head of the church.

The papal Christmas benediction was a sort of infographic for a world weary of war, where He could only hope to offer succor or faith for the many victimized and displaced world-wide in hot-spots of civil unrest, an attempt at offering a sense of hope which seems so thinly stretched.  Can we process the infographic that he gives us, and use it to keep an eye on needs for worldly assistance and sympathy?


Pope Francis Christmas 2013


And the new vision he has presented in the elevation of Cardinals in the very first month of 2014 provided a refreshing image of the church whose collective memory and spiritual body has been for perhaps far too long identified with Italian bishops, and whose corpus mysticum has been difficult to separate from the Italian peninsula–or Italian cities such as Venice and Rome–even as it has gained a truly global status over the twentieth century, removed from a colonial apparatus if also redolent of colonial ties.  Pope Francis’ recent timely elevation to the cardinalate from regions in Latin America, Asia, and Africa make a case for the church’s global face–and distance the worldly body of the church from a clerical career path or ladder often moving from Venice and Turin.

Indeed, the infographic provides a compelling new vision for the body of the Church, and its ties to believers, as well as its charismatic body whose legitimacy derives from divine intervention in human history but is sustained by continued faith.  For in selecting a cardinals’ college that includes not only Managua, Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Ares, but Seoul, Les Cayes in Haiti, in addition to the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and the Philippines, Francis clearly intends that the church begin to present an image of itself to its believers and to the world that is globalized, rather than rooted in one peninsula.




This is refreshing, and particularly timely–in light of the planned February 22 consistory in Rome. If we have seen narrow-minded screeds about how “the US is getting skunked” in this reconfiguration of the church’s public profile, this is also an affirmation that the mystical body of the church derives from its continued ongoing relevance to its faithful and to those in need.

Leave a comment

Filed under #BestPopeEver, Christmas papal homily, infographics, Pope Francis, St. Peter's Basilica, Urbi et orbi

Mapping Ancient Ruins

Few precedents of mapping historic ruins are as striking as the curious radial map for which Leon Battista Alberti provided instructions in the middle of the 1430s:  by plotting ancient ruins in Rome, the paradigmatic city of ruins, the Renaissance humanist recast the city of perpetual incarnation and of survival in the midst of recurrent abandonment, seeking to provide a guide to retain an image of the classical city’s monuments and topography in the mind’s eye of humanists, and his creation around 1450 of his extremely popular and innovative Descriptio urbis, a humanistic version of the city’s marvels–Mirabilia–a genre narrating the miraculous sights of the city which had circulated, as an early tourist brochure and keepsake from the 1100’s.  If the Mirabilia was a guide to the wonders, augmented by numerous early urban myths, listing its gates, hills, columns, statues, baths, arches, bridges, amphitheaters and temples, often including fanciful etymologies of their names, the Descriptio urbis provided an exact location of each, or as an exact a description as possible, setting out the minutes and degrees from which each could be observed from the Janiculum Hill in Rome, providing what many have argued constituted a model for drafting one’s own schematic map of monuments for ready consultation.  The popular manuscript survives in multiple copies.

A practiced architect and impassioned enquirer about the physical construction of ancient Rome, Alberti set forth directions for preserving their arrangement in an elegant radial map which plotted ancient ruins by a meridian and a circular calibrated arc, in order to better excavate and make present–or recreate–the ancient remains lying in the city in its reader’s mind, which circulated widely in manuscript form before the age of print.

Alberti's Meridian

Alberti significantly described the advantages of plotting such monuments according to a radial grid by using “mathematical tools” to survey monuments by taking sightings from atop the elevated Capitoline hill.  The finding of significant monuments on coordinates served to purify earlier travel books by selecting its authentic classical buildings, stripping away accreted legends like so many obscuring cobwebs, and creating a pristine media to understand the ancient world and the city’s physical plant.  Although the rubric by which Alberti mapped the ancient city on top of the new one–the half-inhabited Rome of the recently returned popes–his intent was not only to replace the handbooks orienting pilgrims and visitors to Rome’s marvels but refine his admiration to a veneration of antiquity and the city’s ancient design, which he preserved in traces in its contemporary layout; his booklet may have provided a model for contemporary views of the ancient ruins in the city’s walls such as this Florentine fifteenth-century illumination from the workshop of the Renaissance mapmaker Pietro del Massaio, who made several maps of the region of Tuscany and of Italy that were destined for inclusion in a codex of Ptolemy’s treatise on world geography–an ancestor of recently undertaken efforts of digital archeology of the city.  (The maps of Pietro were also known in several independent sheets, some of which are stored in the Vatican libraries.)  But the city views that he included in the most precious codices were the most similar to the transcription of archeological highlights that Alberti, who sought to share his own passion for the antique with a generation of humanists with whom he corresponded in other Italian courts, had noted:  they gave the monuments of the ancient world a new plastic form, and complemented the image of Rome–its coliseum a bit above its center, as seem below, but the Janiculum and Senatorial palace closer to the center–with images of other ancient Mediterranean cities, including Cairo, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Venice.


Massaio's Rome

More than a hint of Alberti’s Renaissance resuscitation and incarnation of the ancient city in erudite terms was present in the view that Michel de Montaigne in later took in 1581 pf “studying Rome,” whose plant was at that point still two-thirds uninhabited, by climbing the Janiculum to “contemplate the configuration of all the parts of Rome, which may not be seen so clearly from any other place,” lamented “that one saw nothing of Rome but the sky under which it had stood and the plan of its site” with knowledge of the city only “as an abstract and contemplative knowledge of which there was nothing perceptible to the senses” since the world, “hostile to its long domination, . . . [had] broken and shattered all the parts of this wonderful body and, since even quite dead overthrown and disfigured, the world was still terrified by it, had buried its very ruins”–and lamented the lesser nature of “the buildings of this bastard Rome which they were now attaching to these ancient ruins.”  These sort of maps preserved a city from its own decay, and created a powerful structure and physical design for mediating the past, as much as mark the situation of the city as a nexus of itineraries–such as the “Peutinger” chart (named for the Renaissance humanist who discovered it) depicted the city at the node of ancient Roman roads.


It’s interesting to think of Alberti’s booklet as an attempt to halt the burial of the past, or to excavate the lost history of a city whose buildings he had excavated and measured, but whose underlying plan was difficult to grasp:  the techniques he offered provided not only a basis to draw one’s own version of the “map” of the city, but to internalize the ratios among its monuments, even for those who would not visit the site itself, at a time when the preservation of the ancient past gained new premiums as a model of urban planning.  Alberti accorded the ruins a new language of wonder, and accorded a new wonder with the city that was associated with an unprecedented level of literacy with the map, using a graduated or calibrated circle reflecting his precision as an architect and classicist.  It provided interested readers with practical instructions to create a reproducible map on the eve of the age of widespread circulation of printed images–images that no doubt encouraged subsequent humanist men of letters like Pirro Ligorio to create his own detailed mappings of the ancient city by the 1550s, as Flavio Biondo had earlier offered antiquarians a more detailed written geography of the ancient city.  And it is the basis for projects of constructing an urban map of Rome’s monuments today by the same instruments.  The role of these maps as validating the emerging antiquarians by setting standards of proficiency and expertise for interpreting and deciphering its ruins as they encouraged admiration of Rome as a unity in ways that undoubtedly served to lend far greater concreteness to its dismembered past.  The distance of antiquity that one realizes in Rome today, accentuated by the proximity of its actual ruins, would provide Dr. Sigmund Freud in 1899 with a concrete metaphor for the simultaneous storage of multiple dispersed memories in the mind.

The medium is not always the message, but the personalized maps created by GPS (or, for that matter, Google Earth) dispenses with the intermediary of the cartography as a guide to orient viewers to a region.  Rather than viewing or privileging the map as the vehicle for accessing the coherence of the past–or assembling a desire for such coherence–the map becomes a mode to access meaning and location, isolating the part from the whole, or the object from the context.  And it may well be that the lack of coherence that we now have of our maps of ancient prehistoric sites in the United States is somehow informed by the media with we use not only to geo-locate but to pillage them.  It is odd that GPS provides us with a new method for exposing and accessing the ancient world of the Americas in quite a different manner:  if Alberti and Ligorio sought to provide readers a valued guide to antiquity, geo-location of Flickr images offer owners of GPS devices ready access to the coordinates of the cities of Ancestral Pueblos or Anasazi across the boundaries of Arizona, Colorado, or Utah–often to better pillage sites such as the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde in Colorado, as well as to get access to the archeological heritage.

For the form of mapping that is used fail, unlike Alberti’s map, to preserve the sense of coherence that Alberti so prized, and that Montaigne sought to regain contact with, and, as such, preserved little sense of its fragility and cultural integrity as a patrimony.  Those visitors who arrive with GPS devices in hand to navigate these prehistoric sites, David Roberts reports in the New York Times, not only observe their structures but often to take a piece of its ancient artifacts home with them–or might well carve their initials beside rock art panels, and indeed validate their locations by the coordinates they’ve downloaded, if not disturb their contents unknowingly in a region where pueblos of Anasazi are often beside evidence of later Hispanic settlers.  One doesn’t need to be a Luddite to compare the relative poverty of meaning in most downloaded maps available online that promise ready geo-location of regions of Anasazi pueblos  to the pilgrims to such sites.

To be sure, the detailed topographic maps of the Anasazi lands provide accurate records of picturesque panorama for local hikers or explorers–if the routes of exploration are quite oddly rendered on websites as unfolded topographic map of the region, in which specific itineraries are highlighted on which one can track one’s elevation and descent, viewable as if an old USGS survey were extended before the viewer–but one that contains a far lesser level of density of meaning than that survey itself, whose legibility preserves but a fraction of the detail of the paper topographic map.

Picturesque Panorama

But most maps and handbooks they use to explore the sites offer few signs of warning–or cautions–that frame them as a site of similar historical or cultural significance, and the remains or objects that fill the site seem there for the touching, tagging, or taking.  Even the above visualization conveys a sense of unfolding a privileged map of the region for foreground specific sites of interest and views, as much as to track their relative distance.  Yet the users of this site, as Gary Gemberling, include imprecations enjoining readers to respect its integrity by advising them to refrain from vandalism and lack of respect for its original inhabitants, given the increasing use of trails as a form of prehistoric tourism and in situ observation of long-abandoned dwellings, formerly abundant pottery shards, in a tone that is all but absent from any earlier maps.

Here’s Gemberling, writing on the actually quite informative site of Jay David Archer, addressing visitors to the Anesazi ruins in Grand Gulch Park in Utah:  “I’ve done this loop 3 times and every time is like the first, this loop i feel has the best rock art and cliff dwellings of the whole stretch, GET A MAP! its easy to walk right by some of the dwellings, i missed perfect kiva the fist time in, walked right passed it, and now my fav[orite] site, RESPECT!!! there is some vandalism sadly, its easy to disturb ruins, they are fragile, but you will learn this in the ranger station, you must check in,this place is like a outdoor museum, and its my church, i love it there more than any where in the world and i have been to 36 countries and 47 states, i have changed my life style to be able to go back here for many years to come, cedar mesa, monument valley, goosenecks park,bridges nat park and grand gulch is the jewel area of south east utah . . .”   Yet the dense location of abundant wall-paintings or panels seem located on twisting path, with limited or little sense of their cultural uniqueness, even in the most detailed of maps of Jay Archer David, with limited signs of how best to negotiate its extremely fragile landscape:


fragile landscape

The sense of entering a privileged space seems diminished, partly as a result of the media, but also of the very accessibility of the ancient sites.  With GPS device and iPhone in hand, one compares where one is to the destinations others have already photographed, and which are readily downloaded from the internet and available as a sort of vicarious tourism that one can use to plans one’s own trips.  There is almost a popular confusion here with the rise of GPS geolocation of seeking to commune with the past–or realize concrete contact with its ruins–by leaving a sense of one’s presence their, or view the site as a treasure hunt, which lacks its own integrity as a privileged place where ruins continue to be in situ and, as much as they will ever be, alive.  If Alberti wrote a guide treasured by antiquarians, the accessibility GPS offers on exact coordinates allows a form of tourism without a sense of antiquity without any entrance fee save a GPS devices.  The accessibility of the map, and, indeed, of multiple posted photographs of the actual site itself, does not mediate the past, but seems to create a sense of entitlement that apparently justifies removal of loot found at the end of the treasure hunt, or the prize of the pilgrimage.  There is less of a sense of the marvel of the ruins as mirabilia with the transference to the Google Earth sense of wonder in the mappability of everything–and the problems of the accessibility of everything via photographs downloaded off smartphones and the GPS tracking of precise coordinates.  Perhaps access to wi-fi could be limited or circumscribed in these areas of reservations,  or national parks, in the hopes to preserve a sense of their wonders.


Leave a comment

Filed under Anasazi sites, GPS, Leon Battista Alberti, mapping ruins, Sigmund Freud

Empire of All You Can Survey

In writing on Google Maps’ ambitions to map the world, Adam Fisher invokes Jorge Luis Borges‘ one-paragraph fable of how the Cartographers Guild “struck a Map of the Empire” at a 1:1 scale with its entirety, “On Exactitude in Science.”   Fisher evokes it in comparison to the massive collation of geographical coordinates in the virtual map Google Earth and Google’s project of remapping the world:  and although he does not note this, in Borges’ story, the map “which coincided point for point” with the empire is abandoned by generations “not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears.”

The map of the imperial cartographers Borges described stand as something of a reductio–or perhaps extensioad absurdam of the very sort of large-scale mapping that was first adopted in the English Ordnance Survey–a large-scale project of highly detailed national mapping begun in 1791 prototypically English in its character, ambition and scope.  What might be the largest (and longest lasting) mapping project ever undertaken might be worth some retrospective comparison.  The ambitious project of the Ordnance Survey of offering a highly detailed national map of six inches to the mile–since the 1950s, continuing at a scale of 1:10,000–set something of a standard for protecting the nation.  Originally aimed for one inch to 1000 yards (1:36,000), its framework was set by the Principal Triangulation of Great Britain (1783–1853), but its product served to record a legible record of all British lands.  The aim of the Ordnance Survey was to create a comprehensive record of Britain for ready consultation for defense against potential (French) invaders, and the instantiation of mapping of the nation has long been tied to military ends, whose tabulation of an exact correspondence to place provided an account of national resources and needs.  Borges’ evocation at the end of his tale of the continued presence of shreds of the paper map in remote deserts of the empire that he described is so very apposite because of how the comprehensive map-weaving in Google Earth renders any state-run project of paper mapping as so antiquated to be unrecognizable–and leaving any in shreds–although what the massive and glorious project reveals about map reading might be better explored.

The global map of Google assembles is of a qualitatively other order:   for one, it is an interactive exercise of letting the consumer decide what to map, or providing a selective map for their preferences or needs.  But more broadly, it is mapping for world-domination of the market for maps, which has no clear end-product.  And not only the market:  the interactive nature of Google Maps aims to make it inseparably fused to the minds of its users, suggests Michael Jones, chief technology officer at Google and co-founder of Keyhole, one of the first companies to offer online satellite views  suggests in a nice interview with James Fallows in the Atlantic.  For Jones, Google Maps  provide an “extra-smartness” due to their ready availability as interactive media,  effectively ramping up everyone’s IQ by 20 points and working toward offering a “continuous stream of guidance and information.”  Most users have so internalized the interactive map, the founder of Keyhole argues, that “they get so upset if the tools are inaccurate or let them down:  they feel like a fifth of their brain has been taken out.”  The aim is not to unfold Google Earth over a territory, but situate the map’s readability in our heads:  after 6,000-10,000 years, we’ve turned a bend and mapping has become both interactive and personal, or there is far less of a boundary between the personal and the map.

The map is no longer static, but both only and constantly being framed in an interactive fashion.  As well as change the nature of maps, it alters the nature of map readership in profoundly interesting ways, because of how it organizes and translates data into a new sort of platform.  Unlike a project of mapping national coherence, seems designed to offer a model for marketing maps that includes the ability to toggle directly into a visible record of place–“Street View”–that includes the now-familiar tagging of addresses, locations, and monuments that seemed once to be the semantic dominion of Facebook.  We can now see everything in the map, at incredibly high resolution, so we can prepare for trips of business, commerce, or pleasure by taking a look at the always-sunny record of the topography of wherever we might be heading when relying on Google’s Street View to take us there.

Whereas Borges described how the remnants of that hugely expansive paper map once coextensive with the empire that the cartographers created as lying only in the outlying deserts, Google hopes to overturn the notion of the paper map itself–leaving it shredded, or rather recycled–with everyone pulling up maps of their own on the screens of Android smart phones.  (Think of the cache of searched maps that one leaves, as a sort of paper trail, complete with search history and places navigated:  such information is not stored, Google says, but would give a veritable system of surveillance that the NSA must be eager to get its hands on, no matter what the recent ruling of Judge Richard J. Leon’s recent rebuke of mass surveillance practices, by questioning their violation of constitutional rights–no matter how ill-fated their attempt to mine big data to geo-locate global populations.  The “personalization” of the map as an interactive medium is widely seen as a surpassing of its static medium and becoming a web interface, introducing functions of zooming, panning, and rotating 360 degrees on a pin, qualitatively unlike a road atlas and even threatening to dethrone the TripTik.  For the “view” that Google aims to synthesize, linking the technologies of Keyhole and Google Earth and creates its illusion of continuity by how the alchemy of how digitized photography seamlessly melds images tagged with exact geographic coordinates.

The excitement of translating global meridians as a scheme of reference are gone, as are the excitement of working from a single base-line, to be extended outwards by triangulation, that so distinguished the Principal Triangulation and its American emulator, the Point of Beginning–a starting point of the calculation of rectangular land-surveying that took on somewhat suitable evangelical tones for the New World, after the Royal Society tracked the Mason-Dixon line.  For the mapping of the territory of the US shaped the configuration of states from the ascertaining of the base-line that determined the rectangular surveying of the United States further West–




One thinks of a similar line not at the Continental Divide, but the line surveyed dividing the continents of Asia and Europe at a precise point in Russian lands–a point that was cause for continued debate from the time of Catherine the Great as to the European location of Russia’s capital cities, viewed from a train on the way from Yekaterinberg to Vladimir, one encounters a simple obelisk to note the division.


obelisk:  Europe is to the left!Derek Low


The stem division is inscribed along this frontier in monumental form at multiple sites, or in elegantly neorealist terms at another site, similarly in a wilderness, as if a monument that few would view until they arrived to see it or passed by:




These material markers use statuary monumentality to remind passersby of the definitive nature of the line between continents that they traverse.

Google Maps (and Google Earth) is less concerned to create a correspondence within the conventions of maps to order space within a nation than to create a map outside sovereign bounds.  If there is a clear spatial marking of the “Point of Beginning” where the survey that determined state lines and lots drawn east of the Mississippi, the folks at Google have no interest to place a place where their mapping project begins; the premium is rather to capture all the points of view so accessible a mouse-click away.  There will be no reason or interest to mark an actual boundary line, was the case on the centenary of determining the boundary of 1786:   the marker celebrated the triumph of the conventions of the cartographical line in ways that Google won’t ever need to do, since their world mapping is entirely virtual, dispensing with or downplaying conventions like map-signs.





When Google maps, there is no need for mere monuments–or the practice of verifying base-lines.  The empire of the visible that Google aims to construct is animated by the indexing of digital photographs that can be reassembled at the viewer’s will; Google will offer them upon demand.  The paradox is that little actual measurement is expected, but rather that lines of data flow must be secured:  programs can synthesize the photographs that are uploaded into Google’s Street View or Google Earth, and provide a way of moving from the street map to a representation of what it looks like to be outside the map–allowing one to toggle between “Map,” “Terrain,” and “Street-View”–the holy trinity of their App–to immerse oneself in the map wherever one is, without any need for future surveys, and in ways that show to all who care the skeletal nature of a simple map.  The map is dead, in the sense of a drawn map whose conventions are about translation, but long live the map as a visual record!

There is something like a back-end move in Street View, or Google Earth, as the photograph (or a million digital photographs, seamlessly woven together) substitutes for and comes to replace the map.  The symbolization of space in a street plan or road-map becomes a heuristic device for exploration, in ways that is only a hollow echo of the photographs synthesized in Street View, which are so much more satisfyingly real:  the innovation of the satellite views of Keyhole, acquired by Google and the basis for Google Earth, allows the direct proximity for viewing place, and exploring space, that seems to go through the other side of the map itself, or be a proxy mirror on what the map maps.  Google began its quest to assemble the world on the slippy screen by downloading–or purchasing–the newly declassified LandSat satellite photographs of the world’s surface, and by purchasing and synthesizing the U.S.G.S. surveys of our nation’s road maps:  little was newly mapped here, but the world was newly mapped, in the sense that it was now made available to a larger audience than it had ever been mapped for.  The empire of map-signs did not live long, however, because the unique marketing vehicle of Street View, which set Google Maps off from others, afforded viewers something more palpable and immediate (and more gratifying) than a mere map, and whose skeletal form is revealed by toggling among alternative views:  the map as the ultimate eye-candy and as the vehicle of voyeurism, where one wouldn’t have to be content with lines on a piece of paper, but could gloriously pan around and, yes, turn one’s attention to a perpetually sunny record of whatever one wanted to see.  (“Keyhole” technology all too appropriately allowed the very zooming into high-resolution satellite views of Earth that Google now provides, as if to engage the voyeuristic interest in reading maps that the static map did not allow, and has become central to the interactivity of Google Earth.)

Why would one chose to go back to the map, or explore the map as a medium in itself?  In a neat slight of hand, there suddenly is no map, in the sense that the map is trumped as the primary register of negotiating with place, and one can suddenly see through it.  The question then becomes less a map that is co-extensive with the world, but an image-mine that dispenses with the need to make any maps.  Sure, Google is going around and checking the relations of roads and one-way turns on their road maps.   The end of doing so is to create for its users a point of view that never needs to be redefined:  much as Denis Cosgrove argued the point of view of medieval maps was often understood as the eye of God, Google Maps provides a point of view somewhat like a Leibnizian eye of a God ever-present everywhere.   OpenStreetMap is often cast as a competitor to Google Maps, is pushing in the quite contrary direction not only in the open-ness of its A.P.I., but in preserving continued relevance for the map as a collective compilation of data and meaning–and preserving both the activity of transcription we all call mapping, but is always also mapping to help us better figure out our relation to how we occupy spatial expanse.  For as much as Google Earth might be seen as the modern corollary to “the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City” in Borges’ story, geo-caching Street View images in Google Earth suggests another parable.  Much as Yertle the Turtle, King of the Pond, proudly proclaimed himself Emperor of All He Could See, until Mack burped, Google feeds our inner Yertles, more than maps the spaces we occupy.

While the evocation of The Principal Triangulation of Great Britain may seem odd, the massive project of data collation set a standard that has long driven our notion of the land-map.  Google Maps creates a persuasive illusion of totality of the visible world that often does not map human networks or their environmental consequences, and which may leave us blind to them even as it champions map-reading as something like a spectator sport.  Google Earth’s dominance as a medium raises questions about what other sorts of networks are left unmapped, or what other methods of dynamic mapping might represent social networks, but that are less clearly revealed in its maps–or are obscured–in the seamlessly knit sunlit world that we track in the slippy maps of the open screens of our androids and other Google Earth browsers.

1 Comment

Filed under Google, Google Earth, Google Maps, Keyhole, OpenStreetMaps (OSM), Principal Triangulation of Great Britain

Variations on Our Fragile Union: Small Stores across 40,000 Zip Codes

Any maps create quite powerful tools to knit regional divides into coherent forms.  The order of maps serve both to fabricate harmony of a whole from its parts and for showing its divides, in ways data visualizations make increasingly clear.  If the origins of “chorographies” were illustrations of communities, and aestheticizations of their harmony, we’ve become increasingly interested in and attuned to visualize divides, as much as visualize unity, to explain the symptoms of divisions where they might be most evident, and use the format of the map to demonstrate compelling evidence of the fractures that divide, and explore how ideology ever came to “cluster so predictably,” in with geography,” as Steven Pinker nicely put it, and if different conceptions of human nature exist in different parts of the country. We’ve all been all too familiar with the recent remapping of these divisions, increasingly evident  in our political discourse, and affirmed in different ways by posing a set of choropleth maps as points of departure in order to chart, gloss and explain the extent of our divides by the range of data available on local differences across our fragile union.

As we approach Christmas and the season of gift-buying upon us, it makes sense, as Philip Bump, with some help from folks at Esri and Stamen, suggests, to consider the stores where we realize shopping habits and alternatives as criteria that increasingly divide us–and consider the consequences such divisions hold.  Indeed, the divided commercial topography in many regions of America reveal–even more than real estate–a deeply drawn set of cultural divides rarely considered in attempts to understand our fractured political landscape:  so dense are the clustering of large stores in certain areas that they obscure the legibility of place names.  In ways that reflect something like a Google Maps query “shopping at private business near [ZIP code]”, the distribution of data suggests how the landscape of shopping shifts in regions of the United States that provide a deeply qualitative record of our society.  But rather than generate a list of sites, or map all stores, selective parsing of large scale vs. independent shops provides a neat filter to measure the commercial contours of the landscape in ways that won’t so much correlate as reflect a composite image of the lower forty-eight. What’s the new political topography of the United States?  Well, perhaps it’s less red states vs. blue states, here shown in two views of the divisions between Democrats (blue) and Republicans (red)–by data here parsed at county level and by intensity of affinities–map a deep set of social divides that have strikingly played out in weirdly clear geographical blocks in presidential elections.

As Steven Pinker put it, “Regardless of who wins the presidential election, we already know now how most of the electoral map will be colored, which will be close to the way it has been colored for decades.”  Why, indeed, are some red states so red, and other states so blue?  Is this a sign of a divide between rural and urban inhabitants and political preferences–or is it deeper, and, if so, how did we become so divided in our imaginary of what the nation should be?  Are these maps creating differences, or do they reveal some of the deeply-set social divisions codified by Mason and Dixon as a latitudinal divide, but whose division is now reflected ban urban/rural divide? We all know that the last few elections have been stunningly fragmenting–

votes-  red v blue, by county and interest level

In a coy reference to collective mapping, Aaron Black of the Washington Post used Gallup’s annual rankings of which states are the most conservative and which are the most liberal to create a heat map of populations across the nation, employing the popular cartographical device so often adapted in infographics to chart virtual a spectrum of political opinion, which, while less intended to emphasize the fixity of divides within current public opinion, showed that outside of Alabama and Wyoming, the number of self-declared “conservatives” in the country does not follow such a close divide:  yet it is hard to find a less changing term than “conservative” and “liberal,” and these don’t map onto the breaks in voting that have recurred across four presidential elections.

%22Open Heat Map%22Washington Post

But the pressing question of where these divides actually lie have led folks to return to maps with considerable zeal–both as powerful heuristic vehicles of statistical measurement and projection, and to find possible answers for these real divides.  The prevalence of infographics and talk radio have conspired to make this a real issue of political debate for the The American Conservative, where Patrick J. Buchanan placed the question of secession on the front burner this year, corralling red state secessionists and blue-state secessionists into the same category as folks who acknowledge we either face increasing ungovernability due to geographic expanse or having little in common:  the issue of what we have in common, not much of a question for the very notion of a nation or state was in the past understood to balance multiple interests, may be less the question than the “spirit of intransigence” that we face in most political debates.   Does this have to do with the vociferous defense of issues that won’t be debated, or the fact that we have been all too often poising debates in quasi-imperial essentializations of what is un-American?  Or is it due to “lifestyle”?

Can we remap these divisions along lines of population density, as Robert Vanderbai of  Princeton University has argued, whose compellingly recast the electoral map to reveal how two alternate styles of sociability came to inhabit one land.  By throwing the stark red/blue political topography into 3D relief, Vanderbai invites us to look at that divide, not fractured by different data, but mapped onto density so that we might better understand our electoral maps:

Blue v. Red Topo Raised

The divisions in the electorate have also, of course, encouraged the weirdly popular but loosely credibly parsing of local attitudes across the nation.

Despite the hugely informative value of this density distribution, the question of how the distribution of the landscape we have created might be as well illustrated by the commercial topography we have created, and the space that they create.   For the interesting map that charts a distribution between the majority dominance of large box-stores or chain-stores over smaller privately-owned stores suggests a unique landscape that we have become all too used to inhabit, and a measure of density all its own–but not necessarily in tandem with Vanderbai’s glorious and striking distribution of a two-color bar-chart.  Although Vanderbai’s chart makes the compelling case that our distribution of electoral votes no longer in fact reflects the population distribution in the country–and indeed the possibility of the winner of a popular vote losing the number of votes in the electoral college–the map is less than informative of the landscape we have created in the United States–a landscape that is still being repeatedly surveyed.  To be sure this reflects or is a reflection of density, but also offers an alternate index of social topography.

Let’s peak at the regions that Bump has created, in far more fuzzy fashion, by agglomerating the number of stores across its 40,000 zip codes, and taking a measure of those regions where large retailers show a clear dominance to the extent that they have pushed out all but one privately owned retailer, noted in reds of varied intensity, versus those blue dots where privately owned retailers constitute the majority, and the corridors that this creates, despite its lack of clear contours.  While the ZIP-code breakdown is reflective of the new concentration of wealth on the eastern corridor, the relative decline in incomes provides a clearer index of where such box stores (predominantly discount retailers, who appeal to the pocketbooks of their customers) will tend to concentrate.

Fuzzy USA

Income by County:2012

The contours of these divides provide a basis for re-examining the arguments implicit in most recent choropleths, and thinking about the nation we are poised to become.  Although not exactly mirroring the levels of declining income, one can detect in the areas of the spread of the big red superstores a reflection of the yellow states with median incomes below $22,126 a year, showing a selective density of big bog scores pushing in toward Denver, and congregating around Michigan, the Great Lakes, Iowa and near Arkansas.

Red Crawling INland to Denver

Starting small, for example, take the data that Natural Earth and OSM mappers help reveal about the new topography of shopping in the Midwest, that both reflects density but even more the sorts of incomes that can support private businesses:  as one moves outside of urban areas, the proportion of zip codes composed almost or entirely of exclusively large retail stores rises in clusters, often clustering (predictably) about pockets in precisely those cities also able to support small businesses:


The blurring of the map, in a far fuzzier version at larger scale, suggests a veritable field of red that is almost aligned in belts, and creates a strong contrast to many parts of the country lying further west . . . where they seem to choke off privately owned stores.

Fuzzy Mid-West

Returning to view the southern reaches of the country a greater scale, the discreet stores in much of South appear as oases of small businesses in relatively open land–presumably where small businesses don’t crest above a level of 50%– in Nashville, Atlanta, and Memphis:

Southern US

Looking at the odd distribution of the Eastern seaboard, a region where large stores appear to dominate the landscape of all but the coastal corridor, and gain a distinct density as one moves inland and approaches a different economy.

Fuzzy NE

A more fine-grained view of the same region–focussing on New York to Baltimore–reveals a more complicated topography, but echoes the general division between small pockets of private stores and box stores that choke out the competition, being the chain stores that they are, which, with relatively cheaper real estate at malls that can be bought up and leased out by developers, creates a new division between our populations that may be deeper than–if it is created by–a gap in income or disposable wealth.  Interestingly, an abundance of privately held, smaller stores is often concentrated around smaller towns, as well as taking on density at large cities.

New York to Philadelphia

What sort of social topography does this create?

The distribution of stores has not been indexed for growth rates, but might be measured against recent census findings about declining incomes.  The depressing image of the appropriately colored “brown” marking declining median household incomes in a period of just five years nicely captures the tone of depression of much of the country, and the difficulty of political classes to capture much backing outside the venting of folks whose incomes have declined.  Despite the aversion of a serious depression after the banking crisis, we’ve been hardly hit.

Median Income Changes, 2007-12

But the choking off of private businesses might be a sad consequence of these declining incomes, and the road trip searching for big bargains at Dollar Discounts that might be taking up the weekend breaks of much of the country.  While demanding further investigation, the number of chain stores that have emerged across in the country surely reflect the declining incomes in the nation, as much as changing costs of real estate.  And these m

The proliferating choropleths that have emerged to explain our social divisions, something of a tour of data visualizations that have duplicated like rabbits on the web will reveal, have in fact tried to uncover divisions in moods as dividing the country–although this map, with the authority of a DSM, seems to assign fixed moods to the boundaries between states that we have come to internalized, so nurtured are we in reading data visualizations as records of objective truth.

On one extreme, the heuristic value of those boundaries between states are fetishized in a spectacular fashion in America’s Mood Map, which uses statistics originally published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology to detect underlying differences of constitution–the personal, rather than the political–that creates an odd visualization whose  very terms (“relaxed and creative”; “friendly and creative”; “uninhibited”) make it sound like we’d all really get along quite well, aside from difficulties of understanding tone, and downplays any political division by recasting the map in terms of something like affect.  By ostensibly mapping divides of personality types and tabling the political, this map even invites you to find the state that best matches your mood, if one is to believe self-reported data.  (The division was parsed, with a straight face, as reflecting weather–hypnotized by the ubiquity of the weather-map and seeking to invest something like objectivity in the odd color-scheme below as something that revealed actual differences to invest the odd graphic with similar credibility–for more on the notion of mapping how “different regions have different personalities” in a data visualization, look here.)

America's Mood Map


Regional essentialization has proceeded, in an attempt to map the country as made of different nations.  In the drive to map national divides, Frank Jacobs parsed nine nations of North America on largely economic criteria, rather than personality, distinguishing regions of similar economic production, and casting each as a separate GDP, based on concepts of the uniqueness of our nation from WaPo journalist Joel Garreau, and again granting them stark objectivity via a choroplethic map that similarly served to instantiate diverse regions of the continent:


GDP map Is this a proposal for introducing new tariff lines?  If so, how much such a distinction makes sense–what about that “Empty Quarter”?  what on earth do they do, and how can they exist?–can be tabled.  And the future of the “foundry,” if it rests on metallurgy, is certainly on the rocks.  And what does Quebec produce, aside from fleurs-de-lis? Colin Woodard sought to describe national divides into some eleven groups, arguing that we’ve “we’ve never been a nation-state in European sense,” for all who imagined the possibility of American political unity, and wrote a slim book that recast the Progressive notions of a ‘melting pot’ by explaining that each region reflected its own distinct stock, and illuminate differences to which our democracy, supposedly, had unfortunately rendered us blind–but whose divisions Woodard appears to suggest might explain all American history, including the Civil War, up to the spread of the Tea Party.  Woodard’s pedantic mapping of distinct regional variations combines racial essentialism and a “revenge of geography” to point up our innate fragmentation: ELeven Nations

The distinctions were starkly mapped in alternative iterations of the “American Nations” were presented as a key to better understand ourselves, as if to hold a mirror to the land:


American Nations Sean Wilkinson Design


Sean Wilkinson Design Woodard’s work extrapolated from the historian David Hackett Fischer’s argument about the differences in the settlement of different regions–particularly the northeast and south–by different Anglo cultures, and the effects of Anglo farmers who settled the northeast from the Scots-Irish herders who settled the Deep South, and from the work of many anthropologists and the psychologist Richard Nisbett on the culture of honor in the South.  But despite some  neatness in registering cultural differences in the map, it doesn’t take huge skill to reveal the culture of separateness in the Deep South, and a floating barrier of “Appalachia”–the ‘light South’–around it;  yet problems arise when one moves from the map to individual experiences. Despite the evocative names with which other regions are endowed, from Tidewater to the New Netherlands, their relative stability or homogeneity as entities comes to break down, as does the notion that their boundaries are so firm.  The odd coherence that he supposes in such regions as “New France”–would Québécois see anything similarly to folks in Louisiana or even New Orleans, let alone accept them as affines?–and other regions–how isolated and cut apart is this “Left Coast” today?  What could ever be mapped as weirdly as Yankeedom, and is it still alive?–seem animated by an ethnic essentialism belied by the shifting map of ethnic divides and affiliations in the United States.

And it is not clear that these areas will retain meaning with and over time–although the deep danger of which the map is something of a symptom is a pronounced lack of national belonging across the land!  Woodard’s sense that American history “all goes back to who settled those regions and where they came from” flattens history, and would not be readily recognized by any local inhabitants. No doubt these can be traced to the deep and unavoidable social divides and fissures that exist in our country, and to the different parts that different regions have played in the culture wars.  Perhaps it might make sense to adopt an approaching demographic forecasting, less entrenched in the categories used today, and the apparent generation of megaregions.





There are, of course, true socioeconomic divides that fragment the country in all too real ways.  The frighteningly influential role of real estate in shaping the country is sadly evident when we map residential space by income, and illuminate truly early modern concentrations of wealth.  Using the American Community Survey to map a choropleth by variables of income, real estate, and educational levels attained, we can perform something like an archeology of the national map, digging deeper to examine the real divides among its inhabitants.  Dividing regions of the country by median level of income, clear pockets of navy blue surprise the eye and remind us about the unavoidability of underlying social divides–that, I’ve elsewhere argued, mirror local reception of the Affordable Care Act.




Or, again with an eye to the opposition to the ACA, long after the Great Society, we can divide our choros by clearly drawn concentrations of poverty as much as wealth, using a distribution of  local populations living below the poverty line in each of the nation’s counties that reveals a similar concentration of poverty in the deep south and southwest:




Not to mention the map–which somewhat scarily illustrates parallels–of the percentages of adults over 25 years of age who did not complete High School, in a sort of national map of educational attainment as they are reported in US Census figures:


Over 25 w:o High School Diplomas?


These stunning choropleths, courtesy Calvin Metcalf, Kyle Box and Laura Evans, reveal a Southwest and deep South we knew, but weren’t ready to acknowledge.  They tell an interesting story as to why Virginia and Florida belong less to the Old South–or to what it has become.   To look more closely at a comparison of other local trends in the Community Survey, look here. Yet we might do well to look elsewhere to map national divides, and new databases to grasp our emergent geographic divisions and continental divides.  While real estate markets have much to do with the divides, we seem to have individuated the intersection between density and real estate across state-lines, by taking the presence or absence of small businesses in our communities as a sort of tipping point.  For the benchmark of zips with one or more privately owned businesses reveal a major fracturing of the local landscapes in the country, oddly resonant with our divided electorate.  The huge regional discrepancies of coasts and interior needs to be read with density, in ways that few openly consider, as a means to map the habitation of the landscape, shifting from questions of bodies, ethnic composition, or other criteria, toward the nature of interaction between self and place that shops afford, and even the sorts of relations to objects that are synthesized in the contractual relations of the marketplace, not to mention the stimulation and relative criteria of judgment that a diverse marketplace affords customers. The below map of the nation is limited to those spots with no or one small businesses within the ZIP in question (the red dots, which often cluster and overlap, and are more intensely red to reflect the intensity of that concentration) and zip codes which are distinguished by a majority of small businesses (blue dots).  While this omits large regions of the country–where there are an intermediate percentages of small businesses, and they don’t register–those are of course the very regions where large stores are equivalent or exceed small businesses, making them likely sites of the inevitable large box stores.  And the selective optic of the map is precisely its virtue as a portrait of contemporary agora, or our evolving landscape of exchange.


small shops:large shops


In ways of considerable sociological significance, the map reflects the landscape we’ve made for our country, or we make for our selves, by mapping some of the sites where we define ourselves to what is left of the public sphere.  The map may indeed suggest some interesting sociological detail about where the country is heading, with interesting correlations to level of educational completion below which it lies.  There is something that goes beyond or beside a decay of discrimination, but leads to a shift in one’s relation to the market and how one is a participant or spectator in a collective activity, in the geography of box stores that can be mapped across America.   The dominance in a mental universe of Home Depot, Walgreens, Wal Mart, Dollar General, Target, Lucky, Thrifty, Family Dollar, Dollar Tree and even Sports Authority exposes a topography of disorientation and dislocation, rooted in the offshore production of goods and plastics, undermining face-to-face encounters in 24/7 Emporia that offer the best deals may well conceal endemic conditions of placelessness and timelessness:  in a country where 80% of the stores nearest to anyone are large retail chains, one has to interrogate the ramifications of what sense of social space we retain:   as we become consumers in another Holiday Season, bracing ourselves for sales, what sort of social change lies in no longer having a corner store? Where’s the analysis of this shift of commercial topography when you need it?

In ways rich with sociological significance, the map tells much about how store-goers orient themselves to the publish sphere, direct consciousness to the relation of goods’ producers, and regard the social contract or social nexus as a given or negotiated part of the status quo.  For as much as it lies in our pocket-books, perhaps the deepest divide among us of all lies in the landscapes where we spend it.  Perhaps the deepest divides of all rest on not so much in levels of income or consumption across the lower 48, so much as the shops available for perusing or spending time–and the attachments to place, to space, to objects, and indeed behavior pursuant from them, which inevitably cascade from how much time inhabitants devote to patrolling the aisles of brightly lit box stores of Sam Walton–rather than looking in at local businesses to greet their owners and examine their wares.  Based on a search for the places where “small business really thrives” in the lower forty-eight among the nation’s 40,000 zip codes, data from OpenStreetMap has allowed a map of the sorts of stores in each–noting in red those zip codes hosting none or one small businesses, whereas those where small businesses constituted an outright majority enjoy varied shades of baby blue.  The resulting small-business texturing of the country provides a valuable index for looking at–or reading, if not actively interpreting–the nature of its communities, and an alternate American Community Survey of its own.

While this doesn’t exactly correspond to a political divide, it may tell us more about what sort of a nation we’ve become–and what sort of commercial contacts that we value, or personal contacts we are able to cultivate to the owners of shops, places more likely to apt local products.   The division of red vs. blue is less reflective of a political divide, but seems to offer itself as an alternative metric to those above introduced to measure social divides, and belongs in the company of other social indicators taken as prognostics of political divides in the electorate, if not of an alternate community survey.


small shops:large shops


In ways that do not map directly onto the distribution of real estate–shown in the first map from data of the American Community Survey above–as one might expect, the topography of shopping that it indicates suggests deep social divides to which Nate Silver might pay some attention:  while the coasts are brightly blue, in California we can detect the conservative central valley and interior; the absence of blue in much of the central states is shocking, and preponderance of red throughout the south–save coastal Florida–overwhelms, although the Northwest seems reliably blue.  In Minnesota and Wisconsin, the red blotches shade to pink and dissipate; Texas seems divided with deep red concentrations.  Indeed, the problematic position of Pennsylvania in the national picture is nicely illustrated by its deep red isolation, whereas privately run business dominates the Northeast Atlantic seaboard, particularly north of New York, as well as in much of New England:




The irony is hopefully apparent, given that the defenders of Republicans are presented as the champions of free enterprise.  Maybe they are:  they are not, it seems, defensive of independent shops or businesses. The sea of red in the middle of the country, but seems a growing miasma that doesn’t necessarily respect political affiliations, but also bodes pretty badly for the survival of a culture of localism, at least in terms of the future (and profitability) of independent business:


Growing Miasma


The map, in the image it offers of the Midwest, reveals a striking clumping of regions without independent businesses–clumps not necessarily paralleling cities–the like of which is probably a major shift in our society the likes of which the world may have never seen:




Those places with greater income may simply be ready to foot the extra bill for local boutiques, some will say, or forget the offers of Amazon’s free shipping:  but we see a deeper divide, I’d argue, shaped by the market as much as responding to lines of wealth, and conditioned by all those aisles of shopping centers illuminated by starkly lit flourescent lights, lured by the slogan “Save Money.  Live better,” and names like Dollar Tree and Family Dollar that remind shoppers to keep the bottom line first and foremost in their shopping experience, rather than cultivating stores that might provide more jobs to their neighborhoods.   (Even if their parking lots may use LED lighting, most stores have a sort of blinding or blanching flickering flourescent light so recognizable that it seems potentially addictive as a unique neurological experience.) We can see a new mapping of the landscape around cities, which, if we take only the midwest, emerge as something like islands with private stores, surrounded by areas of box stores that cluster around the nearby highways and urban belts, to take Chicago and St. Louis; smaller towns are dominated by zip codes dedicated to large chains:


Around Chicago

St. Louis

And in the deep interior, many zips feature the near-absence of anything but larger super-chains:

In Illinois

And we can see the fracturing of a political landscape in divided states–such as Colorado–where diverse concepts of the geography of sales, as it were, present different models of a lived landscape, almost cheek by jowl, alternating between spaces of chain stores and a telling density around Boulder, Denver, and Colorado Springs–with a few exceptions–of small businesses.  In some ways, this reflects the deep debates in the state on such issues as gun-control, birth-control, ecology and a more nuanced or complex relation to federalism.

Complicated Colorado



Where we shop is increasingly what we are not only because of our attachment to objects or commodities, but how we are oriented to the world through the market–and as we map our relation to markets in different ways,  the ongoing onslaught of this attack of the big box stores has deep repercussions for our society’s unity.  Go forth and map as you do your holiday shopping . . . To be honest, some of the maps derived from this data don’t make immediate sense to me, or at least jibe with my own experience, such as the large number of small businesses found in Las Vegas, although I suppose this reflects the definition of a “small business.”


Las Vegas?

But the image of the Bay Area is somewhat recognizable, and recognizably blue.


Bay Area

Yet a broader landscape and context emerges as one expands to adjacent ZIP codes in order to include bordering strip malls, including those inevitable and all too visible nearby strings of outlets, and sections of highway that are dotted exclusively with box stores.


Bay Area Large

Leave a comment

Filed under American Community Survey, choropleth maps, Mapping Box Stores and Small Businesses, OSM, Red states v. Blue States, Red States/Blue States

Sacred Toponymy Matters: Framing Canaan, between Sacred Site and Jurisdiction

Symbolic maps of the Holy Land are unlike the local maps created for establishing territorial boundary lines or land-ownership that set.  But they have come to enshrine shared precedents and common recognized grounds of law, defining property lands of cultivated land.  Such maps acquired the status of legal precedents–indeed, they were ways of enshrining rights of possession in the law, even when limited legal grounds existed for territoriality or for dividing rights to areas where no evident natural boundary existed, and were to an extent imitated in these maps of the Holy Land.  The influential fourteenth-century jurist Bartolus of Sassoferato, among whose many briefs of Roman civil law  one had defended the legal governmental rights of city-states in the area of central Italy, famously appealed to the authority of maps to resolve disputes over river rights and alluvial deposits between towns by maps.   Although Bartolus’ influence, considerable before 1800, developed outside of a clear notion of government territoriality, he appealed to maps to resolve ownership boundaries outside of local statutes, in ways to create a common understanding and consensus about the occupation and ownership of a potentially disputed plot of land. The determining tools of cartography afforded the authority for manufacturing the map in ways that provided a precedent for drawing property lines, and bounding a landscape’s expanse which could be regularly provided and widely recognized.  This 1689 image of Bartolus’ treatise on the manners of measuring river rights uses a quadrant of Euclidean derivation to transpose a river’s winding serpentine course into geometric fixity, translating his discussion of to seventeenth-century surveying practices. illus244s Lines of jurisdiction are of course still particularly fraught, despite Bartolus’ appeal to the rule of the quadrant, and difficult to transmit, and not only around rights to rivers, some centuries later, but the value of maps in recording an authoritative transcription of rights emerged as a powerful judicial concept in similar quaestio, providing a precedent to which one could appeal as a form of priority. The authority of the map as a form of access to a precedent emerged in a context of reading that shifted from historical terms to juridical terms in an oddly circuitous way, in which the conjuring of territories came to be invested with quasi-legal qualities; indeed, to argue that the map conjures the territory or synthesizes it into existence collapses the complex process of mediation, causation and transmission, in which the map serves in very powerful ways. Sacred maps demarcate a sacred space that collapsed historical time in powerful ways. But once translated into historical terms, such maps materialized cartographical precedents, even if they when more rooted in a cartographical imaginary than in surveying practices or jurisdictional claims of a state. But historical maps of Palestine acquired a sense of authority as precedents in what might be seen as a sort of cartographical promise, as the map came to offer a tangible image to the historical imagination that also suggested a record of historical precedent.

For although they were less easily treated as precedents of similar binding force, historical maps increasingly came to stake claim to the inhabitation of the land. And in few cases can the relation between map and territory become more fraught with complications, and more delicate–especially when the same map is also being used to construct a nation, and is so strongly conjured from biblical writings as a way to imagine the existence of a new homeland. The historical maps of Palestine, framed in considerable detail long before the eighteenth century rise of jurisprudence, offered a compelling basis to organize and encourage readers’ familiarity with sacred toponymy and bounds that long anticipated European settlement of the land–and encouraged increasingly complex narratives to be attached to their own reading. The description of the historical borders of ancient land of Canaan encouraged an outpouring of early modern cartographical materials in the first age of widespread cartographical literacy, or familiarity with the authority of the map. The expansive fourteen-sheet wall map of Canaan executed by that industrious seventeenth-century mapper of England‘s territories, John Speed, is lost, but it expanded the 1611 “mappe of Canaan” he designed for the King James Bible–whose design was sufficiently tied to his cartographical competence that he secured a privilege for its reproduction. The map organized narratives about the Holy Land in ways that invested the region with a clearer sense of territorial identity it seems not to have earlier enjoyed. When Speed mapped the Holy Land in the seventeenth century, the map created a model for reading biblical space; William Stackhouse amply provided extensive maps in his 1744 New History of the Bible from the Beginning of the World to the Establishment of Christianity as historical documents of the boundaries dividing Canaan: the map of Canaan in his History afforded a material basis to understand how the Roman census divided inhabitants of the Holy Land, a territorialization of tribal divisions lended concreteness to the occupation of the region by Israelite tribes into discrete regions administered by Roman governors on clearly drawn lines. The national maps that Speed had earlier fabricated provided a precedent for mapping Canaan–not only as the “eye of history,” as the humanistically-educated Jean Bodin and Abraham Ortelius proffered in their maps–but as a form whose boundaries constituted something like a precedent to a modern nation-state. Speed had received a privilege for his “description of Canaan, and bordering countries” in 1610 that took advantage of recently increasing cartographical literacy to extend biblical readership by supplying maps of ‘the Ancient World’, ‘Palestine as Divided among the Tribes of Israel’, ‘Palestine in the Time of Christ’ and ‘The Eastern Mediterranean World in the First Century.’ Such images recast the functions by which maps invited religious meditation in the early printed bibles of Lutherans, by evoking territorial terms that prefigure if not invoke sovereignty. The curate Stackhouse, former grammar school headmaster expanded the authority of engraved maps in Bibles printed from 1733, and expanded in a two-volume edition of 1742-4, “rectifying Mif-Tranflations and reconciling feeming Contradictions, the whole illuftrated with proper Maps and Sculptures.” In it, Stackhouse’ “Map of Canaan, Divided among the 12 Tribes” was a surrogate for the map Revernd Stackhouse surmised with due consideration God provided “to shew Moses the compass of the land.”

Twelve Tribes Mapped in Stackhouse by Hinton

The Reverend Stackhouse explained to his readers that, given the difficulty of displaying the land of Canaan from Mount Nebo, “Jews indeed have a notion, that God laid before him a map of the whole country, and shewed him therein how every part was situate; where each valley lay, each mountain, each river ran, and for what remarkable product each part was renowned”–although he expressed doubts that this was the case, since it would dispense with any reason to ascend the mount “since in the lowest plains of Moab, he might have given him a demonstration of this kind every whit as well.” But what Moses saw from the mountain was itself quite comparable a map: although the “visive faculties” required to see Dan and Mt. Lebanon to the north, and the lake of Sodom and Zoar to the south, or the Mediterranean to the west and land of Gilead to the northeast, were “a compass above the stretch of human sight,” scriptures had it that the 120 year old Moses’ eyes “were not dim;” no doubt, Stackhouse surmised, “God strengthened them with a greater vigour than ordinary” that “‘gave his eyes such power of contemplating it, from the beginning to the end, that he saw hills and dales, what was open and what was enclosed, remote or high, at one single view or intuition'” (vol. III, chapter IV, 34-5) The visual presence of the map that Stackhouse imagined bequeathed a sense of concrete entity and identity to the territory that no doubt reflected the authority that printed maps of England had recently assumed, and indeed that the map had assumed as register of national identity. The notion of demarcating a legal territory in biblical times echoed the five maps Speed designed for the King James Bible, and gained a privilege for designing, although based on the earlier efforts of “the learned divine” John More. These maps were commissioned to encourage vernacular biblical readership, but respond to a sense of cartographical literacy unlike earlier maps of Palestine or Canaan. Speed’s maps coincidentally paralleled his project of uniting the parcels of English territory in the 1610-11 Theater of the Empire of Great Britain, creating a composite legible image of national sovereignty across England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland, in ways that abstracted an entity from the land that was earlier difficult to be cartographically imagined. The widespread republication of Speed’s atlases and Theater in the 1670s and 1680s that included maps of “His Majesty’s Dominions Abroad” on its title–and maps of New England, Virginia, Barbadoes, and the Carolinas, broadening the canvass of the nation. Reverend Stackhouse built on this precedent of recording imperial unity by offering a territorial explication of biblical narrative in his New History of the Holy Bible: his “proper maps” were proper since they set a standard for the symbolic mapping of the region that might have been read by Abraham, and offered a basis to understand the distances from Nazareth to Bethlehem as bound by legally binding frontiers, linking the name of each tribe to a region that reflected the Roman imperial administrative divisions drawn across the Holy Land, as much as its cities. In addressing a larger readership of printed bibles, such maps concretized a detailed and palpable relation to the territory.

The translation of the findings of surveys to such widely diffused maps–and the translation of surveyors’ findings from these maps to later maps that won a large readership in sacred texts–deserves to be examined as a subject of cultural history.  To argue that the map conjures the territory or synthesizes it into existence collapses a complex process of mediation, causation and transmission, in which the map delineated an imagined “geobody.”  And the emergence of “historical” maps of the Holy Land raises questions of how the map only becomes the territory over time. Where the palpability of such images derived from, and how they were deployed for a wide readership across a broad geographically dispersed readership, raises questions of the sort of cartographical literacy that came to be communicated about the Holy Land. The layers of translation from territory to map and back again open something like a chasm of misreading how a map maps to a land.  The attempt to restore the bounds of a broader “Greater Israel” beyond the national bounds of the nation–and returned its bounds to the “Promised Land” described in Ezekiel or Genesis 15:18-21–bizarrely transpose a sacred text to the project of  the mapping of the nation, current among some  more right-wing parties of the current Israeli state.  The multiplication of alternative maps expresses a dueling between contesting visions, still needing to be fully mapped, and exchange between an imagined unity and the state’s actual boundaries.  As the reality of the state of Israel has grown, the map that informed it, however, takes on new urgency–if only because of the expansion of a mythical-historical perspective on the identity of the same land.


The inclusion of a series of geographically situated Battlefields of the Twelve Tribes in this 1864 map of the same territory lent considerable tangibility to the map of the Holy Land as a detailed historical topography, based on the current surveying of the same landscape.    The positioning of the sites of ancient battles against this field of clear elevations, hillocks, rivers, the Dead Sea and other topographic realities created a sense of concreteness that bestowed a sense of strategic encounters in an actual lived terrain–something of a proxy for the hopes for territorial repossession of an actually remote sacred land:


Did such glorious four-color relief maps, published before the Hungarian journalist Theodore Herzl called for the creation and foundation of a Jewish homeland in his 1896 Der Judenstaat, help to conjure the territory? For by 1897, Herzl described the goals of Zionism “to establish a homeland in Palestine [that was] secured under public law,” the idea gained resonance because the map had already concretized a claim to the territory and the “legally assured home in Palestine”–long before the the 1917 Balfour Declaration affirmed “the establishment in Palestine of a national homeland for the Jewish people”–transposed the sacred map into a legal precedent, mapping a mythical historical toponymy onto an actual territory in ways with which we continue to struggle, and to which numerous counter-maps have been articulated at the same time as maps are used to try to narrate the geographic displacements and renaming that occurred–so often in the name of remapping the map to the territory, and re-asserting the complex narrative that was itself generated from the increasingly fraught relation between territory and map. The concrete detail of the maps realized the imaginary existence of the region with a concreteness that provided a recognized and recognizable image of lands settled by the Twelve Tribes by 1900 as if it were their property.


And, to jump wildly–and fairly irresponsibly, it must be admitted–across time, after 1948, the negotiation of these sites of settlement and creation of places of habitation was considerably more complex to negotiate, as this recent map of Israel’s relation to the occupied territories reveals, a process of negotiation building from and negotiating the attempt to integrate Gaza or the West Bank in an earlier notion of a “Greater Israel.” More pressingly and compellingly, than this cartographical fantasy is the manner that the image of land defined the bounds of the land’s inhabitants by 2007.


The “other” side of the historical story is presented in this 2012 map of the scope of the declining expanse that was bounded in the Palestinian state from virtually the same date–1897–up until the present, a map that seeks to conjure, if it obscures the human cost of displacement of some 5 million Palestinian refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars and their descendants, now living in Jordan, Libya, and Syria, as well as the West Bank, at a moment commemorated on May 15 as the Nakba Day [يوم الن], or the Day of Catastrophe.


The map is striking for how it reveals a counter-example to the above fantasy of occupation–paralleled a renaming of the land, and a government committee dedicated to the erasure of some thousands of Arab place names, from cities to hills, valleys and springs, was delegated with the task of creating Hebrew names as when David Ben-Gurion affirmed “We are obliged to remove the Arabic names for reasons of state,” dedicating the nation to the project of determining place-names in the Negev, or southern half of Israel. For a more expansive version of this post, please click here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bartolus of Sassoferato, Holy Land, Israeli toponyms, Israelite Tribes, Mapping the Holy Land, Michael Chabon, Nakba, Traditional Palestine, Twelve Tribes, William Stackhouse

Sacred Toponymy Matters: the Territory and the Map

In few cases are the associations of place-names as powerfully resonant across time as in those that derive from a biblical frame of reference.  Local toponymy on a cartographical canvas is rarely (if ever) so evocative of narratives that are present in a collective memory as in maps of the Holy Land:  although many of the best-known maps of the regions are reconstructions, the location of holy sites as Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho, Caeserea or Mt. Sinai create points of entrance for multiple master-narratives from diverse historical epochs; the map is alternately the container and the field, but also the screen.  The place-names in maps of such maps mark sacred space in the Middle East in ways that illustrate the dual deictic functions all maps have of showing or making present and of conjuring narratives.

So evocative is the verbal map of the region in scriptures that the map they help to weave and any later maps that respond to this image create a place where time collapses–where the present is poised to dissolve into the past. If the Old Testament discussed military maps, administrative maps, and historical maps, these were written, instead of drawn.  Reading the Pentateuch or New Testament extends an invitation to organize an image of regional coherence absent in the Hebrew or Christian Bible, however, and in a society where maps were increasingly familiar medium of information, they offered a powerful poetic and increasingly a polemic means to create a palpable present for readers of scriptures even when they were–or perhaps especially because they were–both physically and geographically removed from the region and the very space that they described.  Maps drawn of Palestine and of biblical history combine the ostensive functions of displaying place (showing) with the connotative functions of map signs to make present a landscape that was perhaps never seen as such:  in so doing, they show readers where they might be, and offer a map that corresponds to their reading of sacred narrative.  But they are most powerful examples of a form of “distanced reading,” around which one can weave multiple narratives about the territory, or narratives of pilgrimage and sacred visitation, without necessarily going there and visiting the very sites that the maps situate before the viewer.

For the particular power of maps of the Holy Land lies in how they offer the possibility for a reader to enter the narratives as much as they provide a description of space.  When the most familiar verbal map of Canaan–“from Dan to Ber-sheba” (2 Sam. 24:2)–created a very loosely defined region, it allowed viewers to enter the specific sites it described.  Drawn maps served to frame the pilgrimage across and intellectual inhabitation of a region and emplot specific events for viewers who become, even when physically removed from the region, vicarious witnesses to an always-present Holy Land.  This makes them especially difficult to translate into territorial records.  Such drawn maps offered spaces of mental inhabitation, even when removed from an actual territory, by organizing place-names redolent of biblical events from Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Kings, and lending concreteness to sacred places in a collective memory.  This post seeks to trace the reading of the drawn map across communities of readers, moving from how early and Enlightenment maps of the Holy Land collapsed a sense of time, bridged spatial distances for their readers, and rendered them particularly powerful vehicles of thought and imagination.

Such maps collectively created an affective tie to “place” and moving their readers and mapmakers in particularly compelling ways in ways that led the territory currently occupied by Israel and the Palestinian authority to be redefined, and this post hopes to illuminate how they did so.


1.  The particular power of toponymy in evoking a place of settlement–and resettlement–indeed reveals the power of maps in making territory.  The excitement at the prospect of bounding and demarcating the region is clear in the prominence that Abraham Ortelius gave in his chorography of the Holy Land to the indication of its most famous metropoles and cities by his cartographical skill in a map of the reigns of Judea and Israel, originally from the collection of historical maps, or Parergon.  The map itself offers a sort of cartographical commentary on history that Ortelius, a great humanist as well as a cartographer, who saw his maps as encyclopedic compilations of worldly knowledge, printed simultaneously with the first printed atlas, or Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, in 1570, to great acclaim.  The coloration of a slightly later version of 1589 highlighted how local qualitative detail functioned to communicate a more concrete or immediate–enargaeic–notion of place to its readers, in which they might voyage as both map-readers and observers, and suggests the rapidly increased levels of map-reading and interpretation among Ortelius’ audience.




The Dutch map bound the regions by mountains, as biblical precedent described, and did not derive its authority from citation or footnotes, but presented an impressively coherent arrangement of toponymy against the field of a richly defined landscape, combining the density of its coast with a richly populated interior–and provided a model for defining and demarcating fixed regions of the Holy Land.  Part of the deeply humanistic function of the Ortelian map, which made it such a monument, was to create a legibility of the Holy Land, instantiating the regions of “Israhel,” “Judeae,” and “Arabic Israel” in the historical map printed in conjunction with his early atlas,  embodying that legibility unlike the Christocentric tradition of medieval mapping.  The map created a concrete cognitive relation to a region removed from readers’ experience, exploiting its properties for demarcating expanse and noting place.


Greater Judeah


Such a relationship could not have been conceived in earlier epochs in similar terms.  Widely reprinted in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and commands significant prices on EBay, even in its reprinted versions, the written density of the map was originally crafted as a vehicle both for exploring a region removed both in time and space; the map wove coherence among places most often occupied in the mind, and served as the basis for Ortelius in 1570 to map the Itinerary of St. Paul round the Mediterranean–in a map included in Ortelius’ comprehensive collection of maps, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, to stake the historical unity of the Mediterranean region more cogently than had ever been articulated or expressed. The particularly detailed toponymical density of Ortelius’ 1570 map of the Holy Land reflect intense interest in assigning these places a tangible form, and a deeply humanistic sensitivity to preserving a register of place and region able to be mentally and cognitively occupied that invested a transparency in the map’s surface, as it naturalized the spiritual landscape.  The image had religious and cultural implications for the artifice of map making:

Ortelius - Palestinae SiveTotius (Holy land) (1572)_002.jpg.png


Ortelius’ map created something of a precedent for the legibility of later maps of the Holy Land.  As much as it offered a projection of terrestrial continuity, the map itself served as a field of projection, on which a viewer’s relation to the region that it described could be written in ways that its authoritative form lent a new level of credibility and materiality as a cartographic document.   If all maps are ‘arguments,’ the mapping of sacred space around Jerusalem, from the space occupied by the Twelve Tribes to the itinerary of St. Paul, presented vehicles and media for collapsing time and forging an affective relation with “space” across different cartographical standards and competencies. The space of the Holy Land was mapped and re-mapped as if to affirm its existence as a space of redemption–a space of redemption by whose mapping you could affirm yourself as also redeemed, and whose readers could affirm themselves, by being vicarious witnesses to the continued presence of a Holy Land, redeemed.  In a land haunted by many ghosts, multiple narratives link to its powerfully evocative toponymy.

Perhaps the strangest part of any map of the “Holy Land” lies in the intense play between the distance and proximity of how it is imagined:  hence, no doubt, the compulsion to remap the area, and to wrestle for its identity.  Those who first mapped the Holy Land in Europe did so to preserve an image of the far-off land for future generations–men like the church father Eusebius, or his follower Orosius, or the monk Honorius of Autun, reconstituted place-names as a form of reading space in a tradition of “imago mundi” popular among early members of the church.  Their written geographies created set a basis for translating narratives into a map by which to imagine greater proximity to a distant sacred land. Early manuscript maps that accompany their texts set a basis both for locating specific places in the broader canvas that a map offers, and for weaving them into a cohesive territory.  The function of mapping grew as a practice of preparing a legible field for the translation of toponyms, and preparing a surface that could be readily read and that existed to be internalized.  Rather than being only associated with a religious age of scholastics, consultation of the map as a vehicle of redemption  have continued to inform a contemporary search for spaces of redemption, even as they offered a reassuring view of the world for earlier readers of the Bible or Christian monks.


2.  As much as telling their readers where they were, maps of the Holy Land had long earlier oriented viewers to the continued occupation of sacred space.  For the contents of such map, whether either symbolic in nature or naturalistic in their construction, holding something of a contract and promise for the continued inhabitation of that space both in the medieval period and through modern worlds.  This post hopes to place the investment of importance and the historical resonance of place-names in these maps to understand the debates of mapping toponyms and indeed mapping the settlement and continued territoriality of modern Israel against such a broader canvas, where place-names have an ability to summon up not only a sacred narrative, but, in neo-Biblical terms, a land that was unlike and distinct from other nations, and places whose historically sacred nature defined their relations to specific people. One of the greatest barriers that existed in the premodern world was not only geographical, but between human and divine.  Indeed, the practice of medieval mapping might be understood as reconciling the divine and human eye, as Denis Cosgrove argued, by mapping a divine perspective in terms men could understand.

Medieval maps of the Holy Land listed place names with few orienting guides, but seemed to promise to traverse geographical distances, allowing a sort of imaginary travel not only across space–as Cassiodorus was quick to tell his monastic followers of Christ–but also across time. The map provided a reassuring model of reading the toponyms mentioned in the Bible, even when, as this extract of the Holy Land from an encyclopedic world map of c. 1110, probably executed by Henry of Mainz from a geographic encyclopedia, they derived from lists of place-names whose classification is removed from a coherent territorial record.  Rather than assembling a coherent description of space that provided a base-map, Henry of Mainz’s map  ordered toponyms that referenced other sources and narratives to offer a reassuring relation of the relations among the sacred city of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, land of Judah, the sea of Galilee, and Antioch in relationship to the Mediterranean–Hellespont, Alexandria, Egypt and Libya–that could lend spatial coherence and concreteness to existing biblical passages, trigger stories, and lend them proximity.  And already its regions were separately distinguished by clearly ruled lines.


Detail of Middle East:Holy Land on Mainz world map c. 1110


Such manuscript world maps may evoke the barrier between human understanding and sacred history by noting sites associated with the story of Christ, such as Jerusalem.  But these maps also allowed readers places to enter a parallel narrative structure of the Old Testament and other historical periods, framing the Kingdom of Judah, for example, the tribes of Asher, Dan, Benjamin, Simeon, Issachar, or Antioch in Syria, for the benefit of its readers. Did the map create the territory?  While abstract in nature, during the time of the crusades, Jerusalem was a far more familiar place than it had previously been for Christians.  Maps of the Holy Land and Palestine collapse time and space more immediately than other maps, instantiating categories as timeless, and often offering pleasure not only in their universal and encyclopedic scope but in their labelling of place:  such sites as Mount Sinai, the Tower of Babel, Babylon, Jordan, Sumeria, the Dead Sea and Twelve Tribes offer entrances to familiar sacred narratives.  Ruled lines divided the region along clearly drawn regions, which, unlike the undulating shore or the islands of Rhodes or Canopus, offer points of access to a narrative.  Although the Sea of Galilee, Babylon, Damascus, Antioch, Tarsus and Nazareth, seem atomized to us, they allow readers to imagine a sense of proximity to narratives.   Even if the form what appears discontinuous and schematic , and to not describe continuity in a meaningful frame of reference to modern eyes, the map offered a sense of crossing a boundary from profane to sacred space, inviting viewers to enter a sacred topography disclosed to privileged observers:  it makes one consider the huge power for ordering space by lines in maps, as if to impose fictional divides on space in order to better process them.

Oxford, c. 1110 extract


The sort of concrete connections that maps might produce from individual narratives or sacred history existed as a conceptual space for its sacred readers that could be divided into plots–no doubt as if to better emplot places in an accurately mapped space. If the above map was drawn at the same time that the region gained new materiality and presence, as one that was visited by crusaders, it was removed from geopolitical bounds as we know them, and was never seen as a region by most of its intended readers.  It creates, however, as all maps do, invitations to explore space, and to provide a way of telling its readers “You Are Here“–a particularly poignant invitation when it comes to the toponymy of a region drenched with sacred connotations and narratives, which served as keys to memory as much as points of orientation, and provided orientation to a sacred space, as much as the space medieval crusaders had sought to recapture. Yet the territorial unity clearly emerged from the map, if only from the verbal map of sovereignty that the Bible described.

For readers of these maps perhaps more than for others, they weren’t there, and the map was more of a marker of a site of existential importance more than being a place that they would ever actually stand in and occupy.  In establishing the distance of readers from place, as much as opening it for them, the place-names opened a region where time collapses–the present poised to dissolve into the past for the foreseeable future.


3.  This heritage of drawing lines that bound the regions of the Holy Land will return in the construction of present Israel.  Indeed, only in delineating the region as a form that maps are able to give form to the region as a “geobody,” and to become a territory over time.  One can trace something like an archeology of this becoming in maps, and to attend to the ways–both mythical and historical–by which the territory comes to appear as such a compelling (if fictional) construction, as it is translated in somewhat circuitous circular fashion from territory to map and back again.  The materiality of relation to a region was translated and mediated through maps in crucial operative ways.  Few boundary lines have been evoke with such absoluteness as the biblical border lines demarcating the lands granted to the Tribes of Israel in the time of Abraham.  When Kings 23:8 describes the “towns of Judah” as extending “from Geba to Beer-sheba” or Judges 20:1 evokes an expanse “from Dan to Beer-sheba,” they powerfully conjure a territory with considerable staying power across time as divinely sanctioned, although they predate our familiar notions of how space and expanse are demarcated and defined.   Numbers 34:8-12 conjures a similarly mythical verbal map of land allotted the Tribes of Israel extending from the Mediterranean to Mount Hor “to the border of Hamath so that it ends at Zedad” and from there extends as if by clearly bounded limits.  “The border goes to Ziphron and ends at Hazar Enan,” and extends to the eastward “from Hazar Enan to Shepham; from Shepham the border goes down to Riblah, east of Ain, and continues along the eastern slope of the Sea of Galilee along the Jordan River” to end at the Dead Sea. Did these places so clearly bound the region as has been assumed?  Before the map assumed its own authority, the scriptures opened a search for precedents among boundary lines, as if in the hope of recuperating lost territory.

So powerful evocative did the verbal map of the scriptures conjure a region that the region became a mental space at the same time as it described a physical place.  Maps of the Holy Land hence come to resemble a place where time collapses–where the present is poised to dissolve into the past–and that threatens to do so for the foreseeable future.  To be sure, the collapsing of time in the region created a longstanding confusion as to what counted as relevant precedent.  The odd notion of “biblical boundaries” juxtaposes a mythical ancient homeland, based on the boundaries transmitted in Mosaic tradition (Numbers 34:8-12), with the conventions of mapping the boundary lines of a state, investing a coherence in the region beyond the current state of Israel–whose current boundary lines here appear colored a lighter shade of lime green as if to invest it with a mythical status and harmony that it arguably never enjoyed within such clearly drawn bounds.

The attempt to restore the bounds of a broader “Greater Israel” beyond the national bounds of the nation–and returned its bounds to the “Promised Land” described in Ezekiel or Genesis 15:18-21–bizarrely transposed a sacred text to the project of  the mapping of the nation, current among some more right-wing parties of the current Israeli state. While the map’s naturalistic topography seems more real than the disjoined toponyms drawn on sheepskin in the medieval maps above, it links historical place to narratives of the drawing of mythical boundaries of a “Greater Israel” whose boundaries is shown in lime green.  Drawn between and around recognized toponyms, the conjectured boundary lines on the map create imaginary boundaries that frame the land as if to give it coherence in modern recreations of the past, in ways that collapse time.  The invocation of a restitution of “biblical boundaries” in Israel today is premised on investing a similar coherence in the region whose current boundary lines.


Biblical Boundaries


The above map is a constellation of meaning or pastiche that invites the consideration of boundary lines in something approaching transhistorical terms.  Indeed, it reminds us of the repeated compulsion to draw boundaries in the region, even as it blends multiple mythic-historical narratives with reality that evoke the multiple narratives that grow up around the region, rather than how it was experienced by its inhabitants at a historical time.  For in taking the topography and current boundaries of Israel as its base map, the map shows possible boundaries described as running between towns and settlements in Numbers 34:8-12, without interrogating how the land was experienced or existed for its inhabitants any map than the maps associated with Henry of Mainz or the Imago Mundi of Honorius of Autun.  In using the Israeli state as a base map, it may reveal the impossibility for us of reading any map at a remove from a territory–even if the concept may have been far removed from people at that time, few of whom if any could likely imagine the territorial entity existing with the coherence and continuity that the map describes. To argue that a map conjures a territory or synthesis it into existence collapses far more complex mediation, transmission, and translation by which the descriptive powers of maps transformed, augmented and grew.  What, indeed, does it mean to lend coherence to this land of narratives as a legible territorial block, in ways that would of course have little meaning for its inhabitants?  Although maps enjoyed little authority as bounding a continuous authority in King David’s time, we make such maps in order to create a sense of historical precedence by sorting them, as well as to register what archeological digs have revealed about the geographical spread of economic dominance.  They also provide a form of time-travel.  The map forces us to confront the problem any historical mapper faces in introducing analytic tools not accessible to or used by people of that time.   Even as maps such as the above are based on archeological findings suggesting economic or political influence, the limits of the map’s descriptive properties are concealed, and a bit mystified.

This post takes maps of the Holy Land as a basis to perform an archeology of the significance that was attributed to the region and its landscape–reviewing the meanings invested and projected through maps, and how maps invited readers to invest significance in specific locations they defined–to perform something like an archeology of how the region was mapped.   For by examining the strata of significance that linked the map with the territory, or performing such a cartographical archeology, we can prepare ourselves to uncover the meanings and ends for which the territory is so often remapped, and indeed the rhetoric of remapping its extremely significant and evocative toponymy.




The expanse of the mythic Kingdom of King David is oddly mapped above, noting few places other than Jerusalem–despite contextual markers of Babylon, Nineveh, Typsa, or Tyre, and, further afield, Suma.  The Kingdom is moreover  anachronistically shown as an entity.  Although it places Jerusalem at the center of David’s Kingdom, colored bright red, the boundaries of regions it suggests “under direct central administration” are provisional, and conjectural, and unclear in significant ways, as well as mutable over time.  What does it man to lend coherence to this land as a continuous block?  The cited scriptural passages conferred a concrete reality on these sites before the map assumed authority, opening the way for church fathers  and later erudite readers over the region’s expanse that has continued to the present day.

The preparation of a mental space of settlement long predates an acceptance of standards of cartographical accuracy.  The tradition of grouping or listing place-names afforded an aid for spiritual meditation, expanded in world chronicles beyond biblical history, in geographical inventories that offer an odd sort of visual proof.  What sort of places did these maps indicate?  What sort of orientation did they provide to their readers?  Although the map is to some extent based on archeological records, this post seeks to suggest the importance of performing something like an archeology of the map, and to use a cartographical archeology to trace the practice of mapping the Holy Land. Part of any mapping is a cultural translation of boundary lines into the expectations of what one finds in maps–or the authority of the map as a document that unites a set of recognized place-names in a form that one can readily scan and imagine as an entity.  There is  particular sedimentation of historical space in Palestine that makes all biblical discussions of the region of interest or significant as offering a form of precedent.

But can the invocation of a Hebrew Nation, or indeed any nation, be adequately understood by our notion of the territorial precision that is usually implied by a printed map?  Or is our historical notion of the map not in itself something that is anachronistic as a device to map the Holy Land?  When the reign of Solomon is conjured in the biblical narrative, or the Kingdom of Herod described in scriptures as having reached to the Trans-Jordan from Beersheba, or a festival in the age of Solomon showed the kingdom said to include people up to “the Wadi of Egypt,”  can such passages be said to justify boundary lines, or even for an authoritative map as we know it?   But boundaries are instantiated in new terms once drawn in a map–and in part prepare for the project and prospect of the historical resettlement of the region by the modern Israel, as if to anticipate the now-historical process of its resettlement.


4.  Maps allowed a neat trick of legitimate resettlement.  The historical sedimentation is apparent in massive projects of erudition partly prepared the prospect of resettlement of the territory by shifting its toponymy; the erudition expressed in the contemporary Oxford Bible Atlas in twenty-seven gloriously detailed full-color maps of the region’s toponymy, shown on a clear topographic base-map.  The sequence of maps suggest a melding of historical time within a particular place as the place is described as both timeless; the Bible Atlas offers a resource to imagine a timeless a geographic entity, based on a fixed notion of the inhabitation of the land around principal areas of settlement, providing little detail about what level of inhabitation it actually seeks to register.


%22Towns of Judah


Any map as in some sense a record of the conquest of space, investing inhabitation with something like political terms:  this map seeks to peel away the level of Roman conquest of the Holy Land, but presents a richly evocative image of a landscape where time is collapsed, but a historical base-map is comfortingly assumed, and whose familiar categories provide a template against which we can read both the narratives we know about the ancient habitation, and the difficulty of drawing clear boundaries of the modern state. Any imagined construction of space–a construction that manufactures and cultivate rich emotional connotations and affective ties that did not exist before–risks or threatens an endless cycle of conflicts with mapping that construct onto a space that is actually occupied–as the historical-mythical construction of place, or of a fictional place, is forced to be mapped onto an actual site and, even more, as the bounding of a notional relation to region is mapped by the delineation of an actual boundary line–it is, indeed, both quite jarring difficult to imagine the mapping of the region without place-names or boundary lines–most particularly without the claims of division that organize the region’s deep historical divisions between Israelite and non-Israelite people from the 13th century B.C., between the Hebrew kingdoms of Judah and Israel or among the Twelve Tribes, but also such familiar landmarks of Mt. Carmel, Mt. Lebanon, the River Jordan, and the Planes of Sharon–all bleached from the map below.

Indeed, it is hard to look at a map of the region, stripped of its toponymy, and not be reminded of the claims for legibility that all maps make for this historically sacred space.  The very format of mapping is indeed something of a mystic writing pad, not only, in the Freudian sense, as “a materialized portion of my mnemic apparatus,” but a field to realize and embody the traces transmitted in a collective memory, much as, in the Oxford Atlas of the Holy Land, celluloid layers of the shifting toponomy of the Holy Land in different historical epochs were layered on one another, able to be removed and reimposed by the user to better read its surface and to register its organization, and indeed to perceive the region’s settlement.


Palestine No Name!


The above delicately colored base map, now stripped of all toponymy, curiously evokes a notion which gained wide currency in the 1930s, incidentally.  Early visitors to the region who observed the Bedouin tribes that moved in the area argued the region was at first a site of semi-nomadic peoples who came to settle the region they called Canaan as they transitioned from nomadism, in the very way that the Bedouins lived in the desert that they observed–as a people without clear bounds.  There was a serious argument that the land became inhabited by a gradual and peaceful process of regional settlement–although the a gradual shift to sedentarization and settlement from nomadism seems less removed from displacement.

The image of a primordial nomadism derived in large part from the encounter with nomadic Bedouins in Palestine by visiting Europeans since the sixteenth century, who believed they were observing people who had the same customs since Abrahamic times, fit well into notions of the societal evolution common in the late nineteenth century:  that model tended to essentialize maps of the region as an area where present and past melded, time flattened, and societal organization had never changed.  The timelessness of the Holy Land was, in a sense, recapitulated in many of the early maps of the region long transmitted in the West.  (Ironically, perhaps, it is the very community of some 70,000 semi-nomadic Bedouins that was made by Israelis to leave the land on which they have lived for generations (and of which they comprise almost one-third of the inhabitants) into government-planned towns–a plan of forced resettlement which has been recently withdrawn after being widely condemned.  The plan calls for the destruction of some thirty-five “unrecognized towns.”

The Arab human rights center in Israel, Adalah, argues that “The real purpose of the legislation [is] the complete and final severance of the Bedouin’s historical ties to their land.”) For all of its mythic qualities, the “Land of Canaan” is in fact notoriously difficult to map.  Any project of clearly drawing lines of habitation and settlement in earlier times includes–as the below map shows–multiple uncertainties about the locations of historical sites–and indeed several question marks.  Indeed, it is divided more broadly into regions–rather than lands.



Moab Sector



5.  The renaming of place in modern Israel proceeded from a biblical-historical imaginary.  Such toponyms had acquired such considerable mythical-historical significance by the mid-twentieth century that the remapping of the Middle East–and especially the Holy Land–was a sort of foregone conclusion.  The prospect of the settlement of the land was inseparable intertwined with the refamiliarization of a map with rich historical significance, in ways that led to a mapping of the past onto the present, an evocation of reserves of collective memory, and a reconquest of a land whose places were known, even if only from a distance, for centuries, but that had recently begun to make their appearance once again upon terrestrial as well as historical maps.  In confronting and renaming the land, there was a constant sense of the affirmation that “You are Here,” or had arrived, and the project of renaming and refamiliarizing oneself with the wealthy toponymical catalogue of the scriptures was an ongoing project of remapping the land for a large audience of readers.

The shifting narrative of Israeli settlement of Palestine began from a quite different picture of how the land was inhabited, if one examines the 1911 ethnographical maps that attempted to parse the populations of the land over which the Ottoman empire continued to hold sovereignty.

The mythical-historical connection between the land and the Jewish people suggest not only a transposition or importation of the coherence and unity of “Jewish nation” from scriptural to territorial meanings, but a cartographical redefinition of the land that moved us from the composition of Palestine from a region almost exclusively populated by Palestinians.  The “Map of Eastern Turkey in Asia,” published by the Royal Geographical Society in 1910, suggests the problems of negotiating a historical mapping of the region with its inhabitants, and the difficulty of relinquishing the authority of a cartographical fantasy by how the land was already occupied: Palestine was overwhelmingly Semitic, but filled with Arabs (Palestinians), save small enclaves of Jews.

Palestine's Ethnography in 1910 pre-WWI

Library of Congress

While nominally part of the Ottoman Empire before World War I, the region had entered in through the mental back door of broader cartographical literacy, long before it was actually mapped.  “Israel, or a place more or less coextensive with Israel as we know it,” Michael Chabon eloquently wrote, has been cast as a home for Jews “spiritually and in physical fact” from the time when the Jews of the first Babylonian Exile “began to wire a longing for Jerusalem, for the restoration of the Temple and the sovereignty of the Jews over Israel, into the core circuitry of [the] religion.”  In creating this hard-wiring, first word maps and later five-color maps provided extremely powerful tools, able to conjure and shape narratives about place scarcely imaginable without them.  We would do well to interrogate the map as a performance of meaning, both of naming places and creating a comfortingly concrete surface.  The practice of the re-naming places was tied to a process of repossession in the American West (where local names were erased and replaced by cities with Christianized names), in New England, or in central Europe and Russia in Soviet times (and again for cities that sought to erase the Soviet past in post-Soviet times).  But the renaming of lands in the Middle East was distinguished by the fact that thy drew from a rich historical reservoir of memory, dense with connotations and mythic narratives, and to which others could readily attach themselves.


6.  The detailed engraved fold-out image of the Holy Land in the 1689 Bar-Jacob Haggadah from Amsterdam–one of the most literate sites of mapmaking in the early modern world–transposes biblical toponymy to set boundary line.  This late seventeenth-century map, produced in a capital for the engraving of maps, offered an urgent vehicle of memory–consolidating an imagined Holy Land–even if it lacks the pretense of staking territorial claims.  In a book whose yearly reading concluded with the hope or wish of active longing, “Within the coming year, may we be in Jerusalem”–words whose recitation have been part both of the annual Seder as well as the Yom Kippur service since the middle ages– the presence of the map was the concrete manifestation of a sort of promise.  For the engraved map printed in the Dutch Haggadah created a tangibility for names transmitted in common memory, concretizing the eventual return to a land with the Messiah, in response to the melancholy experience of exile.


Bar-Jacob Haggada, 1695 AmsterdamBar-Jacob Haggadah (1695)


The mapping of this land for Jews living in the Netherlands no doubt engaged with the detailed maps of the Holy Land that were engraved by Abraham Ortelius of the land of St. Paul just a century previous.  But it recalled the laments that dated from the Babylonian Jews–“If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither” (Psalm 137)–balanced by the metaphorical embrace its topography offered:  “Jerusalem,” reads another Psalm, “is surrounded by mountains as God surrounds his people forever” (Psalms 122:2-6).  If culture is the system of meanings by which people orient themselves to the world, the map mediated  a spiritual orientation toward Jerusalem, the lost integrity of the lost past and a real topography of spiritual narrative of return.  The hope expressed each Seder–Leshannah habah b’yrushalayim–was less an actual hope for a homeland, than, after the recounting of Exodus at the Seder, something more like a hope for future peace, in a period when the idea of a Jewish homeland was not only foreign, but the Jewish people described and understood themselves apart from the community of nation-states.  (Goyim, from Genesis 10:5, acquired the sense of non-Israelite nations or non-Jews; if the Jews were a unique nation, the Yiddish sense of non-Jewish people first emerged among Jews living in foreign nations.) In the face of the absence of a homeland, or actual territory, the ritualized incantation of place-names and narratives of religious identity inseparable from the map created an intense familiarity with the reading and ingestion of place through the map so that it was, indeed, readily dislodged from the territory.

Indeed, the map–verbal as much as physical–served as a precedent for a home, wired not only into the “core circuitry” of the religion but orienting readers to the refoundation of the temple and the restoration of a region coextensive with ancient Israel.  Such maps invited readers to imagine their own place as coextensive with it. The conclusion of the annual Seder with the optative prayer, “Within the coming year, may we be in Jerusalem”–also part of the annual Seder as well as the Yom Kippur service since the middle ages, oriented readers to the Haggadah’s narrative of exile with a tangibility transmitted in common memory, no doubt comforting in response to the melancholy experience of exile as well.   The ritualized incantation of narratives of religious identity created an intense familiarity with the ingestion of the concept of place through the map.  If culture is the performance of a meanings to orient oneself to the world, the map mediated  a spiritual orientation toward Jerusalem and the lost integrity of the lost past and a real topography via a spiritual narrative.  The return to scriptural names of place provided a basis for meditation on a vanished homeland–the “land of Israel” or אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל–as if that homeland could be mapped, but less as a hope for a homeland than a hope for peace.  The attempt to restore the bounds of a broader “Greater Israel” beyond the national bounds of the nation–and returned its bounds to the “Promised Land” described in Ezekiel or Genesis 15:18-21–have now lent an oddly literal sense to the mapping of the nation, among some of its more right-wing parties of the current Israeli state, as if that land could be re-mapped.  The multiplication of alternative maps expresses a duel between contesting visions, and an exchange between an imagined unity and the state’s actual boundaries. Yet as the reality of the state of Israel has grown, the maps that informed it take on new significance. In literally speaking across ages by creating a new affective relation to the story of Exodus from Egypt, the map created a material form of reassurance that, to borrow from Jean Baudrillard, long preceded the territory:  especially when it was so firmly rooted in the historical imagination.

The map existed before the land,  mapped by the earliest of land-grants to be inscribed in the imagination, in ways that raise questions about whether the territory can ever be disentangled from the considerable staying power of the paper map:  and its mythical-historical precedent has provided a lens to view the land.  It also, needless to say, presents an image that can be readily accessed and inhabited in one’s imagination.  If the wanderings of Jews in Palestine were not often so clearly mapped in Haggadot, the pictorial map designed by the illustrator Fritz Kredel, painted in Mainz in 1927, who later immigrated to America where he was a successful artist; in his map, printers’ red ink names both registers familiar places of historical settlement and serve to chart the territory it describes.  The thick black lines suggest the status of as a network and a mental space as much as an actual territory.  The boundaries transmitted in Mosaic tradition in the above-cited passages from Numbers 34:8-12 that seem removed from a modern sense of territoriality provided a basis for meditation on a vanished homeland–the “land of Israel” or אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל.


Kredel Haggadah Map


What sort of a sense of historical precedent did such maps create?  What sorts of categories of jurisdiction or territory did they come to convey? 7.  Symbolic maps of the Holy Land were of course qualitatively unlike the local maps created for establishing territorial boundary lines or land-ownership that set and shared the precedents commonly recognized in law of defining property and cultivated land.  For such maps acquired the status of legal precedents–indeed, they were ways of enshrining rights of possession in the law, even when limited legal grounds existed for defining rights to areas where no evident natural boundary existed.  Yet the definition of legal boundary lines seem to have been to an extent imitated in these maps of the Holy Land.  The origins of legal definition or status of lines on maps are difficult to map, but the influential fourteenth-century jurist Bartolus of Sassoferato, among whose many briefs of Roman civil law had defended the legal governmental rights of city-states in the area of central Italy,  appealed to the authority of maps to resolve disputes over river rights and alluvial deposits between towns by maps that were not clear in local statutes.   Although Bartolus’ influence, considerable before 1800, wrote outside of a clear notion of governmental territoriality, he appealed to maps to resolve ownership boundaries, invoking maps to create a common understanding and consensus about the occupation and ownership of a potentially disputed plot of land. Tools of cartography afforded considerable authority for manufacturing the map as a precedent for drawing property lines.  The divisions within a surveyed land were translated into physical maps able to bound a demarcated expanse which could be regularly provided and widely recognized in courts of law–although usually about relatively small plots of land–that lent cultural status to map making as a formalized enactment of ownership and shared memory.  This 1689 image of Bartolus’ treatise on determining river rights uses a quadrant of Euclidean derivation to reconcile by geometric precepts and surveying techniques a river’s serpentine course, illustrating the value of seventeenth-century surveying practices as a technology of exact mapping of territorial rights.


Lines of jurisdiction are of course still particularly fraught, despite Bartolus’ appeal to the rule of the quadrant and to geometrically informed expertise.  Bartolus’ procedures and reasoning responded to these difficulties of transmission, creating something of a share standard for acknowledging ownership that extended not only around rights to rivers.  Some centuries later, the value of maps in recording an authoritative transcription of rights emerged as a powerful juridical concept in similar quaestio, providing a precedent to which one could appeal as a form of priority.  The authority of the map as a form of access to a precedent emerged in a context of reading that shifted from historical terms to juridical terms in an oddly circuitous way, in which the conjuring of territories came to be invested with quasi-legal qualities as a technology of surveying jurisdictional rights or ownership; indeed, to argue that the map conjures the territory or synthesizes it into existence collapses the complex process of mediation, causation and transmission.  As secular nations reflexively appropriated mapping as a means of rationally drawing boundary lines around lands, and defining national boundaries with a coherence that they lacked, the redrawing of sites of sacred toponymy gained new persuasive coherence.

Sacred maps demarcate a sacred space that collapsed historical time in powerful ways.  But once translated into historical terms, they materialized cartographical precedents, even if they were more rooted in a cartographical imaginary than in  jurisdictional claims of a state or techniques of surveying that might be informed by a neo-Bartolan tradition.  Historical maps of Palestine acquired a sense of authority as precedents that might be seen as a sort of cartographical promise that also suggested a record of historical precedent and appealed not only to the historical imagination, but was translated to a territorial description in increasingly tangible ways.  For although they were less easily treated as precedents, historical maps increasingly came to stake claim to the inhabitation of the land.  And the relation between map and territory became in few cases more fraught with complications, and more tenuous, than when maps of the Holy Land were used to construct a nation that was so strongly conjured from biblical writings and to imagine its existence as a new homeland.  The historical maps of Palestine framed the region in considerable detail long before the eighteenth-century rise of jurisprudence.  But technologies of surveying offered a compelling basis to organize and encourage readers’ familiarity with the evolution of sacred toponymy that long anticipated European settlement of the land–and encouraged increasingly complex narratives to be attached to their own reading the region as a nation.
The description of the historical borders of ancient land of Canaan encouraged an outpouring of cartographical materials in the first age of widespread cartographical literacy.  For audiences that were increasingly familiar with the authority of the map as the transcription of a continuous territory or space.  The expansive fourteen-sheet wall map of Canaan executed by that industrious seventeenth-century mapper of England’s territories, John Speed, is lost, but they expanded the 1611 “mappe of Canaan” he designed for the King James Bible, and lent the land a coherence comparable to his maps of England.  The map’s design was so tied to his technical expertise in mapping England that he was able to secure a privilege to reproduce it in printed form.  The Enlightenment maps of the Holy Land prepared after Speed or Ortelius linked cartographical expertise to a discourse on the real–as much as the legible–that offered a powerful way of reading both their form and content, investing them with a proximity and tangibility that bridged the materiality of their ties to readers.  In ways that bridge historical discourse with a realistic discourse, these maps combine their descriptive and explanatory elements that broadened their appeal as artifacts.
These maps organized narratives about the Holy Land in ways that invested the region with a clearer sense of territorial identity it seems not to have enjoyed earlier.  When Speed mapped the Holy Land in the seventeenth century, he created a model for reading biblical space that William Stackhouse expanded by amply providing extensive maps in his 1744 New History of the Bible from the Beginning of the World to the Establishment of Christianity that he presented to readers as historical documents of  the boundaries dividing Canaan.  His map of Canaan afforded a material basis to understand how the Roman census divided inhabitants of the Holy Land that they could read against their own familiarity with national maps.  The map suggested a process of the ‘territorialization’ implicit in its mapping of tribal divisions, moreover, that lent concreteness to the occupation of the region by Israelite tribes into discrete regions administered by Roman governors on clearly drawn lines.  The national maps that Speed had fabricated just a few years earlier had provided a powerful precedent for mapping Canaan–not only as the “eye of history,” as the humanistically-educated Jean Bodin and Abraham Ortelius offered to readers of their maps–but as a form whose boundaries constituted something like a record of a modern nation-state, whose continuity was present in its map.

Speed had received a privilege for printing his “description of Canaan, and bordering countries” in 1610 that took advantage of recently increasing cartographical literacy to extend biblical readership by supplying maps of ‘the Ancient World’, ‘Palestine as Divided among the Tribes of Israel’, ‘Palestine in the Time of Christ’, and ‘The Eastern Mediterranean World in the First Century.’   Such images recast the functions by which maps invited religious meditation in the early printed bibles of Lutherans, by evoking territorial terms that prefigure if they did not invoke sovereignty.  William Stackhouse expanded the claims for the legibility with which a map of the Holy Land could gain in his own commentary and edition of the Bible, using it both as a historical document and an illustration for his readers to understand their own relation to the Holy Land, and indeed to experience the revelation to Moses of a newly named land. The curate Stackhouse, formerly a grammar school headmaster and no doubt eager to exploit the pedagogic and didactic ends of mapping to render believers present at the scenes they illustrated, expanded the authority of engraved maps in Bibles that were printed from 1733, and then expanded in a two-volume edition of 1742-4, “rectifying Mis-Translations and reconciling seeming Contradictions, the whole illustrated with proper Maps and Sculptures.”  Stackhouse’s “Map of Canaan, Divided among the 12 Tribes” was a surrogate for the map Reverend Stackhouse surmised with due consideration God provided “to shew Moses the compass of the land.”  Even though it is primarily divided among tribes, the boundaries are defined in the manner of European national regions.


Twelve Tribes Mapped in Stackhouse by Hinton

Stackhouse explained to his readers that, given the difficulty of displaying the land of Canaan from Mount Nebo, “Jews indeed have a notion, that God laid before him a map of the whole country, and shewed him therein how every part was situate; where each valley lay, each mountain, each river ran, and for what remarkable product each part was renowned”–although he expressed doubts that this was the case, since it would dispense with any reason to ascend the mount “since in the lowest plains of Moab, he might have given him a demonstration of this kind every whit as well.”  But what Moses saw from the mountain was itself quite comparable a map:  although the “visive faculties” required to see Dan and Mt. Lebanon to the north, and the lake of Sodom and Zoar to the south, or the Mediterranean to the west and land of Gilead to the northeast, were “a compass above the stretch of human sight.”  Scripture had it that the 120-year-old Moses’ eyes “were not dim”; no doubt, Stackhouse mused, “God strengthened them with a greater vigour than ordinary” that “‘gave his eyes such power of contemplating it, from the beginning to the end, that he saw hills and dales, what was open and what was enclosed, remote or high, at one single view or intuition'” (vol. III, chapter IV, 34-5)

The map that Stackhouse imagined bequeathed a sense of concrete entity and identity to the territory that no doubt reflected the authority that printed maps of England had recently assumed, and the actual maps printed in his Bible.  In ways that conjured an authority similar to the map as register of national identity, Moses held a map to better imagine the territory he had been shown by God. The notion of demarcating a legal territory in biblical times was echoed in the five maps Speed designed for the King James Bible, and gained a privilege for designing, although they in fact had been based on the earlier efforts of “the learned divine” John More.  These maps were commissioned from Speed to encourage vernacular biblical readership, but respond to a sense of cartographical literacy unlike earlier maps of Palestine or Canaan.  Speed’s maps paralleled his famous project of uniting the parcels of English territory in the 1610-11 Theater of the Empire of Great Britain, creating a composite legible image of national sovereignty across England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland, in ways that abstracted an entity from the land that was earlier difficult to be imagined as a unity which revealed evidence of administrative integrity.

The widespread republication of Speed’s atlases and Theater in the 1670s and 1680s included maps of “His Majesty’s Dominions Abroad” on its title–and maps of New England, Virginia, Barbadoes, and the Carolinas, broadening the mapping of the nation beyond the island of Great Britain, but affirming its continued integrity.  Reverend Stackhouse built upon this precedent of recording imperial unity by offering a territorial explication of biblical narrative in his New History of the Holy Bible:   his “proper maps” set a standard for the symbolic mapping of the region that might have been read by Abraham, and offered a basis for understanding the distances between Nazareth and Bethlehem by showing the territory in which they lay as bound by legally binding frontiers, linking the name of each tribe to a region that reflected the Roman imperial administrative divisions drawn across the Holy Land. To argue that the map conjures the territory or synthesizes it into existence collapses a complex process of mediation, causation and transmission, in which the map delineated an imagined “geobody.”  The translation from this mental imaginary of a historical space to a geobody (a territorially and juridically bounded body of worldly territory) is complexly fraught:  the strength of mental images–and the mental construction of the territory–threatens to upend and stand in conflict with the people who actually inhabit (or inhabited) the land.  The emergence of “historical” maps of the Holy Land raises questions of how the map becomes the territory over time.

Biblical scholarship on sacred toponymy was crucial in assigning and defining at atlas of sacred toponymy, and led maps of the Holy Land to be inscribed; the process of its mapping (and the precedents for its mapping) difficult to disentangle.  While we tend to discount the symbolic value of most medieval maps, for many medieval readers of these maps, Jerusalem might have had more considerable reality when mapped in the eleventh century among societies familiar with crusaders as for Bible-readers of the seventeenth century,  as it described the actual geographical place in a recognizable context.  “The map is the territory; science is an atlas,” runs one maxim in the history of cartography:  yet the map only becomes the territory over time–often in ways that seem to emerge from the map, like Minerva from Zeus’s head, as much as that maps create.  These might be some of the charges, as least, that a cartographical archeology could provide.


7.  The translation from map to territory assumes several layers of translation in the case of the Holy Land:  from scriptures to  map to territory, to the process of being recodified within a map.  But the layer of translation as one moves from text to map to territory and back again sometimes opens something like a chasm of misreading or interpretation of the ways that a map conform (or actually maps onto) a land.   The image of a land of memory had taken on particular cartographical concreteness by 1898–three years after Theodore Herzl called for the creation of a Jewish Homeland of Palestine–as the region filled by the borders of the Twelve Tribes.  The twelve tribes of “Palestine,” in this late nineteenth-century American engraved map of considerable toponymical and topographical detail, shown below.  The map showing “Palestine, After the Conquest” employs four-color conventions to map a contiguously defined sacred land around Jerusalem, as if assuming an entity earlier absent, by focussing on a dense network of cities, rivers, and mountains to give physical integrity to its division by Biblical tribes.  This 1885 map, destined for American Sunday Schools, staked a surprisingly concrete relation to a lost land–presenting the territory after the conquest as both a scenario and a background for historical events.  Did its makers presume a similar rhetorical intent?




The inclusion of a series of geographically situated “Battlefields of the Twelve Tribes” in this 1864 map of the same territory similarly lent credible tangibility to the Holy Land’s historical topography based on current surveying of the same landscape.    Indeed, the transference of the results of actual surveys to a topography designed for sacred reading demands further investigation as an area of cultural history.   The positioning of sites of ancient battles against this field of clear elevations, hillocks, rivers, the Dead Sea and other dense topographic realities created a sense of concreteness on the region.  Indeed, they invested the map with a sense of strategic encounters in an actual lived terrain–in somewhat of a proxy for the hopes for territorial repossession of an actually remote sacred land.




Did such glorious four-color relief maps, published before the journalist Theodore Herzl called for the creation and foundation of a Jewish homeland in his 1896 Der Judenstaat, help to conjure the territory?  By 1897, Herzl described the goals of Zionism as “to establish a homeland in Palestine [that was] secured under public law.”  The idea gained resonance because the map had already concretized a claim to the territory and the “legally assured home in Palestine,” long before the the 1917  Balfour Declaration affirmed “the establishment in Palestine of a national homeland for the Jewish people.”  It almost effectively transposed the sacred map into a legal precedent, mapping a mythical historical toponymy onto an actual territory in ways with which we continue to struggle and contend. Numerous counter-maps have been articulated to narrate the geographic displacements and renaming that occurred, re-asserting the complex narrative that was itself generated from the increasingly fraught relation between territory and map.  By 1900, the concrete detail of sacred maps seems to have realized imaginary existence of the region with a concreteness in a recognized and recognizable image of lands settled by the Twelve Tribes as if it were their property.



1759 detail Palestine


After 1948, negotiating these sites of settlement and creation of places of habitation was considerably more complex to negotiate, as the below map of Israel reveals. 8.  For, to jump wildly–and perhaps a bit irresponsibly, it must be admitted–across time, Israel’s relation to the occupied territories shows a process of negotiation building from and negotiating lands, as much as the attempt to integrate Gaza or the West Bank in an earlier notion of a “Greater Israel.”  This very broad chronological leap is meant to raise questions for clear rhetorical effect.  For more pressing and compelling than the above cartographical fantasies  is the holding power of the map as an image of the nation, and what a nation constitutes as something that is able to be mapped–questions that are evoked, here, by the manner that the image of land defined the bounds of settlement by 2007.  It also suggests the deep tensions by which, in the end, as boundaries were increasingly drawn around the same land, the territory came to threaten to fall to pieces as the map was redrawn.




But to make such a leap is valuable, because it suggests the readiness to map the nation of Israel on a land that was, in fact, occupied, and the extent to which the historical-mythical construction of a place of clear boundaries is impossible to map onto a land that is inhabited.  Indeed, the prospects for the two-state solution seem to rest on the abandonment of such mythical boundaries as the “Biblical Boundaries” associated with scriptures and Mosaic tradition, as sedimented as they are in a language of sovereign or monarchical rule–and the relatively clear confines of Palestinian people within the bright green areas is a radical expansion of the partition of 1947, when Jerusalem appeared a neutral orange; the since-defined confines are understandably not ready to be enshrined in print.


SMALL_map-i_unpartition SMALL_map-i_unpartition


Moreover, the practice of “mapping Israel” was not only a practice of technologies of surveying, much recent research and documentation has shown.  It was predicated upon the active displacement of its earlier residents.  The destruction of Palestinian houses within occupied territories–according to data released by the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories,” or B’Tselem, numbering some 4,170 Palestinian homes as of 2000, in a process that extended back to the beginning of those territories occupation in 1967.  The homes of some 1,400 residences were demolished during the first two decades of the occupation after 1967; another 700 were destroyed by way of reprisal at the time during the four years of first “intifada,” and another 600 since then through 2004.  (According to Middle East Watch, the only other country in the world to have demolished homes as a form of punishment was the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein.)

The stakes are high.  Only after the March of Return to Independence Day of 2002 did agreement emerge to identify with Arabic names Palestinian villages that had existed in Israel before 1948, as well as their Hebrew names; many were taken by surprise by this strange proposal as late as 2000. The “other” side of the narrative of Israel’s settlement is presented in this 2012 map of the diminishing expanse of land occupied by Palestinians from 1897 up until the present.  The below map cannot capture the human cost of displacement of some 5 million Palestinian refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars and their descendants, now living in Jordan, Libya, and Syria, as well as the West Bank; it cannot adequately present the moment of the expulsion of Palestinian people from the former Palestine, still commemorated on May 15 as the Nakba Day  [يوم الن], or the Day of Catastrophe, as a day of tragic loss of regional autonomy and land-ownership.


Map6_RefugeesRoutesPalestine Remembered


The map is striking for how it exposes a counter-example to the above fantasy of nation-building, however, that began from the passage of existing confines of the Balfour Declaration and 1917 Mandate for Palestine, or that the notion of a Jewish state in Palestine led to “the mapping of a homeland for the Jewish people” as Balfour had hoped–and the messiness with which “Palestine was reconstituted as the Home of the Jewish People,” in Rothschild’s words to Balfour.  The expulsion of residents of Palestine paralleled a massive project, only recently reconstructed, of renaming of the land, and a government committee dedicated to the erasure of some thousands of Arab place names, from cities to hills, valleys and springs, was assigned the task of creating Hebrew names; David Ben-Gurion affirmed, “We are obliged to remove Arabic names for reasons of state,” dedicating the nation to the project of determining place-names in the Negev, or southern half of Israel. (The Bedouin who were asked to leave the Negev are omitted from the rural and urban refugees above.)

The Government Names Commission was established in 1951 in order to consolidate the nation’s identity.  Indeed, by, creating a new national landscape that was distanced from Arabic names, extending the place of Hebrew toponyms across the map of Israel, Ben-Gurion government hoped not only to invite Jewish settlers, but to illustrate sovereignty.  The project of naming places in ancient Hebrew when possible, despairing at the “foreign-ness of place-names, mostly Arabic, [that] exuded foreign spirit” actively sought to purify the land of Palestinian toponymy in 1951 and actively “to abolish foreign sounds and to enrich the map of the Negev with original names, close to the heart of the Hebrew defender of and settler in the Negev” (my italics); newly printed maps “purified of foreign names” confirm the identity of the Israeli state.  Ben-Gurion–who effectively re-baptized himself in taking his Hebrew name from the medieval Jewish historian Joseph ben Gorion, instead of his given name David Grün, as an illustration of his Zionist passion:  he similarly valued the aim of the commission as an ability to “to redeem the entire area of the Land of Israel from the rule of foreign language” in ways they concretely represented in maps.  The “Hebraicization of Israel” was achieved by a “Hebraicization of the map”:  the state promoted a project intended to “Judaize the map of Israel and to affix Hebrew names to all the geographical features of the map of Israel. Yet the costs and consequences of eliminating toponymy is poorly understood.  To be sure, the interests of Palestinian residents are extrinsic to a deep historical commitment to restoring the recognizably Jewish historical geography through toponymy.  From 1925 to 1951, Jewish memory provided a pool from which to draw Biblical or Talmudic place-names, such as Hebron or Jerusalem, conflating Jewish history and Zionist memory with the empiricism of geography from the time of the British Mandate.   Maoz Azaryahu and Arnon Golan have found that over four hundred names of villages were altered and obliterated after the 1948 war.

This very process of renaming no doubt left scars or festering wounds as familiar sites were replaced by Hebrew toponyms, drawing from both the 174 toponyms that were mentioned in the Old Testament studied in late nineteenth-century historical geography.  The degree to which Biblical studies itself came to provide a new Hebrew toponymy in not clear, and places often drew from Arabic place-names but modifying them in Hebrew to identify them with the Israeli state.  The new map recognized by Jewish residents or settlers seemed to recognize and cement the traumatic loss of territorial land by inscribing it upon the surface of the map, to re-embody the Holy Land by cartographical tools and familiar place-names.  By imposing Hebrew names of settlements on a 1942 British Mandatory Survey, this map on a scale of 1: 100,000 illustrates the transformation the region of the Negev on the surface of the printed map, as Azaryahu and Golan reveal an ardor of cartographical re-description and the resurrection of lost toponomy to recreate the landscape as it appeared on maps, and would be recognized by the state, absent of earlier inhabitants.


Toward a New Hebrew Toponymy OVerprint


The creation of a new, Hebrew landscape on the topographical surveys that were crafted in Israel was intended to provide a “Hebrew map” for the general public, bleached of Arabic toponyms.  As Azaryahu and Golan write, the Israeli government instructed the Ministry of Education from 1951 “to influence the schools, their teachers and pupils, to take upon themselves the task to uproot foreign names and to root the Hebrew names”– a metaphor linking the replanting of life within the desert lands to cultivating a national consciousness, and that was promulgated both by the military and on the radio in later years.  By 1992, over 7,000 Hebrew names had been determined by the Commission “according to the geographical-historical truth of the Land of Israel,” as if it were by excavating the true meaning of the land and exorcising traces of any previous inhabitants. The perspective that is offered in any map must be recognized–for the perspective is one of reading territorial space and its actual inhabitation, both by bounding and, moreover, by narratively situating the boundaries that define the coherence of a territorial expanse. The narratives that are told in maps are particularly powerful, as Ben-Gurion realized, not only for “reasons of state,” but for orienting readers to a narrative of how they occupy expanse.  The appeal to the map as precedent that has arisen after the Hebraicization of Israeli toponymy seems to seeks to establish a new common ground, revealing the narrative uses of maps as extending far beyond what they describe.  The actual loss of land and contestation of the region’s territorial bounds has been not only commemorated but actively engaged by Palestinian authorities.  Indeed, Palestinians hae created quite polemical counter-maps of the transformation of lands that the redrawn map, creating a sort of counter-commemoration of the Nakba–inverting the more familiar and triumphal narrative of the re-acquisition of the (lost) territory of the Jewish state by casting the nation’s growth as mirroring an erosion of Palestinian landholding in the Middle East.  The below images maps an alternate narrative context for Israel’s accommodation to its boundaries:


Loss of Land--1897 to present (2012)


The increasing rigidification of these boundaries–clearly drawn about the crucial toponyms of local habitation and control–reveals an ongoing process of territorialization, expressing the final culmination of the process that the Ministry of Education had set into motion back in 1951, on account of which an increasing number of narrative were tied to and wrapped around the map, reflecting the dramatic  expansion within the levels cartographical literacy across the several generations since regional maps were introduced to schools as teaching aids.  The process of territorialization drawn about increasingly rigidly demarcated boundary lines of frontiers in Israel itself was reflected in the below map of land concessions that provided a sort of inverse portrait of the Nakba over a restricted historical record:  the relation of the mapped land to the place-names are omitted in this alternative map of attempted repatriation or historical compromise, but it presents an alternately wrenching narrative of sacrifice, itself evocative of narratives of its own; it aims to demonstrate the preservation of a united and still cohesive territorial space in times of increasing duress, as the expansive “greater Israel” imagined by right-wing parties contracted and were dramatically reduced from 1967–although it omits the dramatic territorial expansion that the 1967 connotes:




In beginning from the boundaries of 1967, the narrative created about the maps have shifted to the defense of boundaries, although the boundaries of pre-’67 Israel are clearly delineated within its cobalt blue. The tables of territoriality seem to have been turned again–and the rhetoric of mapping gained the upper hand–in a powerful a cartographical translation of the figurative archipelago of Palestinian settlements recognized by Israel on the West Bank into a nautical chart. It can almost be said that in the negotiation for new jurisdictional bounds of the Palestinian Authority.  For as much as a map of territorial unity, territory lies in something like shreds.

Those  territories cobbled together and granted autonomy at the Oslo accords remain raise the question of what map could be drawn about regions where they were granted varying degrees of autonomy in a coherent manner–and the implicit fragmentation that such degrees of concessions of autonomy creates.  Julien Bousac made the point when he mapped the territories as an archipelago or an early modern island-book–or perhaps evocative of the fantasy maps of Robert Louis Stevenson–to question what sort of lands were actually surrendered or sovereignty granted in the “name of peace.”  In mapping Palestinian sovereignty as a landlocked archipelago registers the unsatisfactory results of the process rather than actual distances or proximities, by providing its viewers with a literal reminder of the extent to which such a compromise over territoriality implies a cartographical dismembering of the two-state solution:


Palestinian Archipel -- Boussac, Le Mond DiploLe Monde diplomatique/Julien Bousac


The pointedly polemical nature of Bousac’s map charts the deeply compromised nature of the coherence that the Palestinian Authority holds in the very regions where it was conceded authority in the Oslo Accords, and the level of fragmentation that the Accords instantiate across the territory. Despite multiple proposals that have been entertained indifferent cartographical renderings of a two-state solution, Bousac’s 2009 map registered his apprehension of the process already in place to accelerate the fragmentation of existing territories by zoning produced by the Oslo accords.  For his map suggests a fragmentation and denaturing of the very idea of territorial unity–the zoning would have limited communication among Palestinian territories.  Indeed, their autonomy would be  overseen by surveillance at Israeli checkpoints, and which would effectively permanently divide Gaza Strip from the West Bank into two states and allow only limited restricted internal communication among them.  Bousac’s map reveals an imaginary archipelago where none exists of questionable viability as a state.


9.  A more familiar cartographical image maps a Palestine settled by Palestinians in traditional costumes, while intentionally erasing the existence of Israeli cities, to retrieve an imagined community and affirm and imaginary continuity with a land  lost long before 1948, staking a fictive communion with the past by perpetuating a harmonious image of a counter-mythology that belies the current country’s deep-set divisions.  The map not only embodies territory but actually settled the region with figures in traditional garb–as if in a throwback to the early modern Ortelian atlas, but placing the traditionally costumed figures at the center of a current map, rather than on the margins of its ornate borders–and affirming them as the resident inhabitants of the land, if it might double as a tourist map.


Based on 1945 Palestine, ommitting Israeli cities


But more accurate registration of the dispersion and displacement that was experienced underlies this fantasy map, which in light of their actual geographic displacement, might in fact be termed something of an exercise in mapping as a survival skill.


Refugee Bubble MapMonde Diplomatique


For the stakes are particularly high, if one needed any reminding, in the current mapping of Israel as in much of the Middle East, where the numbers of refugees overrun actual borders, and seem to constitute something like a mobile population.  The above map of displacements aligns nicely with the diffusion of maps in textbooks used within the Palestinian Authority, although their remapping of the region to omit Israel reflects a somewhat terrifying refusal in large numbers of textbooks that are produced on either side of the Green line to reflect the “other” in adequate ways: the claim that only some 4% of schoolbooks for Palestinian schoolchildren depict the Green Line, and six out of ten show no boundary between Israel and the PA is not only an act of wish-fulfillment typical of colonized lands, or a form of wish-fulfillment, but an act of actual resistance:  in Israeli textbooks, just over three quarters do not label Palestinian territories or omit these boundary lines, by presenting a “unilateral national narrative.”  But the complex omission of boundaries  are not only disinformation, so much as, for many Palestinians, no doubt an act of resistance, as much as an intentional fostering of a demand for reclaiming lost lands.

While such maps have gained most media attention for their secondary aim of denying the existence of a Jewish state, a major obstacle to the negotiating process, although the earlier erasure of Arab toponomy was an active remaking of the same map.  The erasure of Arabic toponymy in East Jerusalem shortly after it was taken over by Israeli forces in 1967 had already brought the removal of Arabic names. In ways that foreshadow the recent kerfuffle about the political meaning of the public display of embroidered maps that not only affirm an Arabic presence in the region but erase the state of Israel–and reinstate the pre-1948 borders–in a UNRWA center serving Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.




The considerable brouhaha provoked by the public display of this map by UN officials was of course about its refusal to recognize Israel’s claims to statehood–and existence as a state–and apparent erasure of a national history.  But the omission is a common occurrence in many maps produced in the territory of the Palestinian Authority–and indeed in many of the lands that still do not recognize Israel as a state.

Yet the proximity of these maps to as highly map-literate a culture as Israel–and indeed one in which maps provide a clear basis for affirming and defining the sovereignty of the modern nation–constituted a huge cause for alarm.  The lack of consensus about the territorial boundary lines in the Middle East and Holy Land in an age of Google Maps is in fact stunning: only 4% of maps in school textbooks used within Palestine show the green line separating Palestinian territory from the Israeli state, or include the place-name identifying “Israel” to the west.  The effect seems to obliterate the country’s historical existence: some six out of 10 maps depict no borders, and another third include the green line but make no reference to Israel.




A Palestinian map proudly charts a bright green and united territory as if to bestow identity upon the region, imaginary cleansed of its current political boundaries or place names, as if to restore the land to its earlier toponymy, in a quite intentionally bizarre obscuring of Hebrew place-names with Arabic toponyms that seems to revise the map as a potent site for argument:




The concern over the placement and instructional use of maps in educational texts and the classrooms controlled by Hamas within the Palestinian Authority; Israelis argued that they openly deviated from standing agreements about the school curriculum within the Palestinian authority.  Despite considerable concern that the omission of borders is mutual wish-fulfillment, the oppositional nature of this mutual self-acknowledgement threatens to derail the possibility of a two-state solution.




The refusal to recognize Israeli state gives new currency to earlier debates about imagining and representation of Israel as a state–and a tradition of melting history into the surface of the map, where Palestine was presented and transmitted as an integral and coherent cultural form.  The stakes are oddly different–Israelis guard their right to exist, while Palestinian teachers try to rearticulate their own relation to what they see as lost land. The 2001-2 map of “Palestine” used in a 7th grade textbook within the Palestinian authority imagines a single country, omitting any Israeli place-names and casting all toponyms in Arabic script–


Topological Map of Palestine, 7th Grade (2001-2002)

The 2002-3 schoolbooks prepared for third graders invited students to learn to locate cities in a “map of Palestine” as an undivided entity, with no evidence of a green line, and indeed the region of Israel and neighboring states tinted the yellow-and-green of the Palestinian authorities.
Map for 3rd Graders to Complete of Palestine, 2002-3


One should never dismiss the map as less than an argument, one might quite correctly conclude.  This 2002 Hamas “map” of Israel openly evacuates the region of the area of a state, and retains toponymy in Arabic script.  When found in the tent of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, co-founder of Hamas and often named as its spiritual leader, the discovery of the map was taken as evidence of his denial of Israel’s right to exist as well as an outright denial of Jews’ historical settlement of the same land.  It was quickly associated with Yassin’s demand that “Israel, as the Jewish state, must disappear from the map” and his fiery claim that the Islamic land of Palestine was “consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgment Day.” (The map, produced by Hamas and including data about the Palestinian diaspora and the refugee camps from 2000 on its left margin, beside the map, was allegedly found in Sheik Ahmed Ahmed Ismail Hassan Yassin’s tent after an attempted assassination in September 2003, however seems standard fare within the Palestinian Authority–not to mention Abu Dabi.)


Hamas maps Palestine


The mapping of the region becomes a creative act of remembering locations, and restoring, in some sense, a region whose toponomy was erased and rewritten since 1948, when the landscape, cemeteries, sites of worship and family dwellings were eradicated and renamed, and became of what is now Israel.  According to a recent 2012 study–albeit one that received some criticism from Israelis-94% of Palestinian textbook maps fail to identify of Israel while 87% of Israeli maps lack mention of Palestine or the Palestinian territories.  Demand for a bi-national textbook project has been greatly advanced by Prof. Sami Adwan as a result.  But the fights held on cartographical space (or maps) reveal something of a bloodless war, in which no shots are as of yet fired, for redrawing boundary lines in paper, with full-color visualizations of the absence of the state that settled it.  There is a constant dialogue in them, not between different practices of mapping, but between maps and memory–or how memory matters in the structuring of the map, and matters perhaps more than written knowledge, as in this version of the tapestry map similar to that delivered to the UNRWA.


'Popular' embroidered map of Palestine found in  Operation Defensive Shield

But such resistance, clearly, did not occur in a vacuum.

When the medievalist Meron Benvenisti, retired as deputy mayor of Jerusalem, in which capacity he had administered East Jerusalem and been the city’s chief planning officer in  Teddy Kollek’s administration from 1971-78, he converted some of his expertise on the role of the Christian crusaders who had transmitted so much knowledge of the Holy Land–and so many myths of the middle east–to the West, to compile a new database of place-names and political developments in the contested West Bank from 1984.  A fierce advocate of a binational state and critic of the “extreme inequality” Arabs face in the Israeli state, and a critic of the destruction of Arab homes in Palestine from 1948 too often disguised under such self-serving justifications like the “evacuation of intruders from state lands,” Benvenisti was skeptical of the mysticism with which the love of or longing for the Israeli territories had been for so long imagined as a “Land destined for us in the depth of its experience [sic] as was written in the Bible,” or the cult of the Homeland that underpinned the transfer of power to settlers after the 1948 war as if it were a practice of repatriation. The remapping of Palestine was in a sense a nationalization of a doubly spiritual and physical space–in which the map serves  as one means among others “for establishing and proving the claim of ownership over the redeemed Land of Israel.”

The cult was enacted by the attempt in 2009 to Hebrew counterparts in ways presented as “purifying” the toponyms exhibited on road signs, maps, and communities by removing the Arabic versions, in ways that were feared as an attempt to “erase Arab heritage from much of the Holy land,” as Jonathan Cook wrote;  when the transportation minister Israel Katz in the government of Benjamin Netanyahu issued an edict to remove Arabic names from Israel, East Jerusalem, and parts of the West Bank, he presented the change in the guise of a move of “standardization”–erasing the Arabic “al-Quds” or “al-Nasra” from signage identifying Jerusalem and Nazareth–in ways that received significant push-back.    Katz argued with barely concealed polemical undertones that “This government, and certainly this minister, will not allow anyone to turn Jewish Jerusalem into Palestinian al-Quds,” although Arabic, Hebrew, and English names had been exhibited on parallel signs in the past; Ahmed Tibi, an Arab legislator in Israel’s Parliament, objected ruefully that “Minister Katz is mistaken if he thinks that changing a few words can erase the existence of the Arab people or their connection to Israel.”  The attempt was recognized as an attempt to force the recognition of all Jerusalem as part of the Israeli state, and render invisible the Palestinian presence outside of areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority. 10.  The country becomes just difficult to map, even if granting territorial maps the status of legal precedents.  Indeed, the map of land-ownership by Jews before 1948, based on a 1947 British survey of the region prior to the partition plan that is often cited as a rebuttal of the origins of the Israeli state, reminding viewers of the memory of a land where Jewish ownership was limited, before the legal entity of the state of Israel existed, to keep alive a map that has been obliterated, lest it be forgotten.




A historical map of  Palestinian and Jewish land ownership that was developed at the same time for the United Nations reveals a slightly more mixed picture, much debated by different parties, and also clearly reveals (or forecasts) the problems of uniting the territory within the boundaries that Israel would come to occupy:



If the practice of mapping and remapping is in a sense a therapeutic act as a staking out of place, a reclaiming of memory, and act of possession, or a braiding of all the three, the negotiation on the land is far more contested, and rendered more potent, as it is cast or rendered as a covenant, as much as mere territorial bounds.  The territory, while drawn on the map, seems to remain both separate from it, as a result, given the provisional nature of maps–maps only approximate as a secondary version of a vision that exists, sadly, without little consensus or negotiation ever being able to be actually reached.  As, at the same time, new maps seem to always multiply, whose very multiplication opens new land for potential contestation–and push resolution (one fears) further down the road. But perhaps it is worth remembering that the map needn’t be the territory.  The sort of cartographical archeology uncovered in crumbling pages of archives, rare book rooms or on the internet provides a nice way to distance map from territory, paradoxically, by recovering the inhabitation of the map.

Leave a comment

Filed under biblical maps, Haggadah Maps, Israeli toponyms, Israelite Tribes, Mapping Palestine, Nakba, Palestine

Mapping the Cancer Corridor along Louisiana’s Gulf Coast

“Cancer Alley” does not itself appear on maps.  But this eighty-five mile stretch of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, into which are packed some one hundred and fifty factories of petroleum refining or chemical production, merits the name since its notorious wastes have grown so large to define the local landscape to merit the name–the amount of toxic and hazardous wastes that they regularly release has overwhelmed the landscape.  The simple austere presence of names of chemical compounds, no doubt sized in an elegant Times New Roman in a font-size that corresponds to their relative production, suggests an imposition of meaning inscribed on the map, stripped of any actual toponymy, save the ghostly half-tones naming the corporations who have remade the landscape the residence of chemical production.



Kate Orff, “Ecological Atlas to ‘Petrochemical America'”


The banks of this Louisiana Bayou landscape on which so many sites of the manufacture of petrochemical products are nested, transformed a former a site of sugar and cotton plantations into one of the most polluted areas in the United States of America.  The petroleum refineries, chemical industries, and hazardous waste containment sites along the winding river are a stark contrast to the sinuous bends of the lower Mississippi, but suggest the deep transfiguration of place that has occurred, as if complicitous with the erosion of so much of the wetlands region near the Louisiana coast into the open waters further downstream.  The smokestacks of factories of chemical synthesis produce clouds of emissions that have led it to be named “cancer alley” to reflect the high rates at which residents of the area.  Most of its current residents–largely poor, poorly represented, and largely African-American and with strikingly low levels of educational attainment–have been victimized by the discrepancies of environmental protection in the nation’s geography as a whole.  The question of mapping pollutants in the region is truly not only a map limited to one area, but suggests an atlas–a term Kate Orff adopts in her map–of the underside of the national consumption of petroleum products and their synthesis for American markets,  compressed to one small region of the lower Mississippi.

Is it that there is no objection to the expansion of industry on the largely abandoned riverbanks?  Or is it that the land long habituated to extraction has provided a new industrial landscape?   The over 26,000 pounds of vaporized ethyl acrylate that leaked from the stacks of the Dow Chemical plant–without a fine–or the forty-six thousand tones of toxic water in unlined containment sites of hazardous waste make the region a unique equivalent of a Superfund site.  If the concentration of creaky and leaky factories on the winding end of the Mississippi is peculiar in its proximity both to urban populations and stupendous bayous inhabited by endangered species, the map reveals a sort of legibility in the landscape that at times seems threatened to be lost.  Indeed, the map can only hope to capture the injustices created by the dense proliferation of industrial petrochemical refineries along the river, site of plantations in years past, settled with poorer populations living between New Orleans and Baton Rouge:  the industries have not gone under the radar of government environmental agencies, but the industries are itself part of the region’s landscape, not far removed from its surrounding dense cypress groves and former mangroves in what was once dense with plantations and wildlife.


Viewers of Kate Orff’s map are forced to confront the density of sites of chemical production and register how the collective industries that crowd the end of the Mississippi have created a post-industrial landscape of toxic waste that both permeates and engulfs the region as a whole.  The historical expansion of chemical industries along the winding river has grown with their increasing use of petroleum or conversion of chemical products that are derived from oil, coal, and natural gas.  Orff’s mapping of the spectacular concentration of industries that synthesize propylenes for acetone or plexiglass or antifreeze or polyethylenes used to make plastic bags into one poor residential region serve not only as a map of part of the bayous, but a map the petrochemical dependence of the nation, to allow us to see for ourselves the new landscape we have made.  In this sense, while focussed on one riverine landscape, Orff’s “ecological atlas” charts a devastating indictment of the transformation of our habits of land use, revealing and unpacking the depth of an industrial settlements along the shores of the slow-moving river.

For the eighty-five mile of bayous, no longer populated  by alligator, herons, raccoons, or ibis, are the site of the massive release of pollutants  whose density of waste-products to an extent almost unfathomable in their density or extent.  Orff’s remapping of one area of delta estuary on the Louisiana Gulf reveals the industrialization of a region which has also been a seat of National Wildlife Refuges–parts of the sleepy bayous highlighted in light tan–against, almost perversely, a light green map of the Louisiana landscape that remains that takes our eyes off of its pollutants, and by which one is tempted to note multiple protected areas in a region that once fell under environmental oversight.




Orff’s atlas was designed to complement the stunning photographs of the devestation of local bayous’ landscape between the two cities by Richard Misrach, one of which is reproduced below.  But  Orff’s river map opens the area as an area of industrial settlement, as much as population, also reveals the national landscape with which we may be left.  The atlas marks the potential release of carcinogens in an area whose ecosystem of the Southeast Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge is designated as an endangered ecosystem and seat of endangered species–although many of the local species, including the American alligator and bald eagle, were “delisted” as endangered during the 1980s or 2000s.  Yet rather than map the selective refuges of the Bayous, seats of hunting and wildlife fishing, Orff offers a chart the consequences of the region’s historical transformation from an agrarian to petrochemical industry that provides something of a narrative of the region’s transformation to a site of chemical synthesis.  This provides something of a counter-story–and counter-map–to the Delta National Wildlife Refuge, including the largest urban national wildlife refuge, the Bayou Sauvage Refuge, of 24,000 acres of freshwater lagoons and brackish habitats, including herons, pelicans, and cormorants–an area of restricted waterfowl hunting and fishing.

In the waters Orff maps a region just upstream of the Refuge, many products with which we have daily familiarity appear in different guises, and in a concentration that reflects the huge forces of demand for petroleum products–for inks, insecticides, plastics–in a cocktail of methanol, synthetic nitrogen, hydrochloric acid, styrenes, ethyl acetates, chloroform, kerosene or formaldehyde–a veritable catalogue of toxicity crowded into one place.  The map offers a veritable chart of our addiction to petrochemical products, by forcing readers to map and recognize the continued long-term presence of these industries of extraction onto a landscape in ways we rarely see, and indeed places them into a landscape that was the site of slave plantations and of longstanding economic exploitation.

What are, we have to ask, its costs?  Can they even be calculated or tallied?  For the environmental damages wreaked on the wetlands go beyond (if they are based upon) social justice:  even though we use maps of diseases to bring into being communication of infection or incidences of illness tied to the environment, as Tom Koch has shown, it is notoriously difficult to link cancer clusters to any particular or specific exposures to warrant liabilities, and the density of chemical products in the area–which almost appears zoned for the synthesis of petroleum products–dilutes any question of individual liability for the production of toxic wastes.  Cancer was, indeed, tried to be tied to environmental causes soon after it became an identifiable demographic reality in industrializing England by Dr. Alfred Haviland, based on the apparent concentrations of cancer mortality rates, in an attempt to map incidence in correlation to altitude, or, by analogy to infectious disease, either bodies of water or other biological models or determinants like parasites:  but no clear geographic distribution emerged, despite the attempted identification of “cancer houses” or “cancer streets” that might allow its occurrence to be understood, as John Snow’s famous 1854 map of the outbreak and spread of cholera in London.

Although the causal connection to environment was pursued, despite apparently clear clustering the difficulty of individuating cancer-causing influences remains, despite the continued attempt to map cancer–both on different types of cancer and distinct from other potential causes–for the vectors of cancer’s causation are poorly understood.  This diminishes the ability to map clear ties or relations:  no clear causational relation can be drawn between illness and environment, although environmental influences are evident.  The difficulty of mapping a clear and direct relation makes any cancer map impossible to draw, despite a preponderance of evidence, notwithstanding Orff’s map of the concentration of carcinogenic compounds, some of which are dispersed into the environment by the regular release of plumes of carcinogenic compounds from benzene to hydrogen cyanide and ethyl acetate.

On the heels of intense attention to the recent 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil well blowout–a toxic release that occurred not far offshore the already devastated landscape whose intense settlement by industries of petroleum-extraction and synthesis she maps–but only distinguished by the scale at which it released oil into the aquatic environment.  If the site of that massive and ongoing leakage was a source of ongoing petroleum pollution even after being plugged, the map reveals the intensely embedded nature of the petroleum industry in the land that rivals the Horizon blowout in its continued release of toxins to the waters and air of the region, as an ongoing threat even in an age of multiplying projects of coastal restoration.  Yet if these projects are conspicuously absent from the area covered in Orff’s atlas, the hidden nature of potentially toxic bayous of petrochemical dependence that have, with saltwater, devastated cypress swamps and mangrove orients readers a new topography of the poisoning of the wetlands.

CypressSwamp1-1.resized-e1364970905919Misrach, “Cypress Swamp, Alligator Bayou, Prairieville, Louisiana” (High Museum of Art)


The formerly agrarian landscape of the Louisiana Gulf now industrially harvests wide array of products we consider part of our household.  Its industrial production includes the synthesis of many of the food additives that enter our refrigerators or arrive on our dinner tables, the synthetic nitrogens used to make fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides that often enter, through the back door, as it were, into the food we consume.  It is a source of much food consumed, with just under 20% of the sugar consumed in our country being refined just outside of New Orleans, some of the least expensive that is most likely to be added to manufactured foods.  This has long been the landscape where the brutality of extraction was staged, both from plantation-based sugarcane harvesting–whose traces are still present–and cotton plantations, whose practices once crowded the very same river banks.  This habitat of dense planting and day-laboring, so nourished by the bends of a winding river that it was complexly divided by plantations in a patchwork which charted land-ownership on the Lower Mississippi and now abandoned river banks with cadastral precision by Benjamin Moore Norman in 1858.


jp2Library of Congress


The landscape of the winding river has been replaced by a register of petrochemical products, as if they have erased and replaced the image and notion of the landscape once so valued on the river’s rich banks.  Reading the names of petrochemical products in this new landscape one is struck by compounds  more familiar from the aisles of a supermarket or hardware store, but now, in place of the tracts of land that so densely divided these fields, are transposed to the landscape of the Mississippi. Orff reveals a dense concentration of such industries whose products are not only made for a growing market, but whose synthesis and storage significant risks to the population and well as its other inhabitants.  Crowded in the liminal landscape of coastal wetlands composed of former marshlands and pastures, many of them formerly rich ecologies filled with dense trees from bald cypress, black cypress, and mangrove trees–all marred by earlier deforestation and cross-clearing, we can imagine them crippled and palsied not only by the entry of saltwater but by industrial pollutants to the extent that may never be restored.


Bend in River

An earlier map of the bucolic landscape of low-lying lands on the Mississippi-Louisiana border haunts Orff’s petrochemical atlas, one crowded with plantation works whose coloring in vibrant yellows and greens indicate the regional density of sugar and cotton plantations in this region to which rich mineral sediment was carried by the Mississippi, in Norman’s historic map made when that land was scarce and extraction in high demand.  At the same time as almost two thousand square miles of marshlands have disintegrated into open, salty waters, and channels and canals made to stave off the loss of wetlands allowed the entrance of salty waters that kill off freshwater plants, the interstate river corridor has been settled by industrial factories based on oil extraction in ways that render the earlier plantation system almost entirely unrecognizable.

Mississippi-Louisiana map


Orff’s “atlas” unpacks if also conceals a dense and tangled narrative of historical environmental exploitation and change, and more than several decades of poor stewardship.  For those with time to read its detail with sufficient care, it describes the conversion of the formerly agrarian area to a site of industrial production, and the rewriting of its landscape as a site for the refinement of petroleum products that feed an ever-growing American market.  To the extent that the original landscape that was there–or the ecosystems that existed beside its sugarcane fields–these were effaced by the network of commercial industries from which the landscape appears impossible to disentangle, and which have mushroomed along its cheap land as the sugar industries have moved out.  The network of this one corridor suggests a compression of layers of contamination and chemical production into something like a forgotten land, or a liminal riverine space where the destruction is wrought that we don’t see as part of our urban life, and lies at a convenient remove a known landscape.  The factories regularly burn off excess gasses daily in production, or contaminants leech into the environment, giving the zone the name of Cancer Alley, as Orff has described in an interview on the project of environmental mapping.

The mapping of manmade carcinogens introduced into the landscape formerly inhabited by a rich ecosystem of flourishing alligators, herons and mangroves is haunted by the corporate landscape of America, revealed in the industries that now inhabit the lower Mississippi’s relatively inexpensive former farmlands, whose names appear in half-tones legible for the observer who approaches at closer detail to track the sources of these contaminants from copolymers to kerosene to insecticides and other chelates:  who knew that all these elegant compounds and liquids were spawned from the same region of industrial production?  The extent of environmental damages wreaked on the larger environment are based on but range far beyond the specific questions of environmental justice that they should force us to confront.


carcinogen map




This might well be a map of the poisons that have been released into this watershed, mapping as they do a scene of a terrible crime.  Although they own the land in which they work, from Exxon Mobil to Dow Chemical, Union Carbide, Shell, Honeywell, Syngenta, Dupont and TDI–present a veritable register of corporate irresponsibility.  The availability of oil from regional pipelines has created an economy of convenience that pollutes one of the richest watersheds in the land, and has lastingly polluted it by the leaching of underground storage sites of hydrocarbon wastes, themselves physically present and legible in the land, as well as released into the water and air of the ecosystem itself–and whose presence can at times be detected in traces downstream in the running tap water of New Orleans.



close up



The abstract map conceals some devastating effects of this leakage, yet also provides a window on the transformation of a land once worked by slave labor for sugar-harvesting:   still filled with sugar cane, the new geography of extraction and refinement reflect and refract the degradation of the agrarian landscape.  The immensity of the transformation of the landscape is difficult to comprehend in words, and words are even challenged to describe the historical layering of devastation of a formerly flourishing ecosystem:  it provides the footnotes for a story of the threats posed to the watershed by ongoing entrance of toxic chemicals into the region that demands to be explored, as do the toxic waste of Superfund sites already threatened with flooding in Hurricane Katrina–sites that threatened to release carcinogenic contaminants from heavy metals to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon.  The clustering of Toxic Release Inventories and Superfund sites in the same stretch of river from Baton Rouge, according to the  National Institute of Health’s “TOXMAP”–which marks Superfund sites by brown rectangles in the map below–suggests a tragic landscape of hazardous wastes.


TRI:Superfund New Orleans

superfund sites near Baton Rouge



The landscape of petrochemical America compromises its inhabitants most unfairly, daily exposing  large numbers of local residents to reported amounts of toxic releases between the single decade from 1998 to 2008, according to the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory.


Populated Bayoux


The Louisiana Gulf is by no means the only privileged site of such industrial pollutants–given the proliferating cycles of petrochemical contamination in an age of globalism, all bringing heightened risks of cancer and the large number of cancer alleys worldwide that now exist from the Nigerian delta, site of some of the most continuous oil flares to the rice fields and fishing grounds at Myanmar, not to mention the Persian Gulf (the global dataset on petroleum contamination here employed was originally provided by the Blacksmith Institute).  And in each area, as Orff maps below, the “cancer alleys” are underwritten by corporate interests, even if they remain in the shadows of the landscape.  But the gulf of the Mississippi is a veritable self-made Superfund site–notable even in a global context, and by far the densest concentration, due to the perfect storm of cheap land, nearby oil, and old factories in the Delta–not to mention limited federal oversight.


Cancer Alleys Worldwide


It is in many ways a return of the repressed, and the wound inflicted by the patterns of consumption to which we are so habituated.  But it is perhaps also, importantly, one of the most unjustly afflicting its residents, in ways that have only begun to be assessed, and whose complicated narrative of intertwined interests and toxic production remains untold.  Only by the detailed local mapping these landscapes that Orff has so magnificently achieved, and speaking out against their silences, can we reclaim knowledge of the land, as it were, and a topography where ethyl oxylates, glycols, esters or methanol displace and become more prominent features of the landscape than its inhabitants–for now, the molecular structures of petroleum derivatives haunt the land as much as the multinationals whose industries produce the “cancer corridor” that we can thank Orff for having begun to map, and whose collective responsibility for making we can perhaps all work to alter.


Alcohol Exoxylates


The photographs of Richard Misrach have been exhibited together with Orff’s maps at the Fraenkel Gallery at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, CA.  The traveling exhibit will continue be on view at Pomona and Carleton Colleges until December, 2014.  It is also available as a book.

1 Comment

Filed under Environmental Pollution, National Wildlife Refuges, New Orleans, Petrochemical America, superfund sites