Tag Archives: Abraham Ortelius

Crafting an Imaginary Atlas for a Dystopianly Disproportionate World

What is one to make of the silkscreen prints Hong Hao assembles from digitized versions of antiquated printed world maps?  While dispensing with anything like an exact correspondence to the world, each creates a fantasia of borderlands, and offers something of a wry response to the frustration at imbalances of globalization, as much as they appropriate antiquated cartographical conventions and forms.  Hao’s silkscreen prints manipulate scans of older global maps, he’s argued, as a set of confines or parameters to draw the world in new ways, but in doing so deploy the conventions of mapping to empty the familiar authority of the conventions of cartography.  The huge success of his production of world maps in the series Selected Scriptures, which this ambitious and eclectic printmaker began in the 1990s, but dramatically expanded after 1995, have reached a demanding public.  Is there appeal how they question how we see nations as best described on a map as they make foreign–and winkingly poke fun at–the authority of the print map as a register of the nation-state or territorial boundary lines?  Or does it lie in the special appeal of their static form, presented as a classical sewn binding of an encyclopedia, in an age when most of the maps we use are downloadable networked media?  In an age of online and digitized maps, Hao seems careful  to design the sequence of maps as situated and constructed forms, that open to the viewer in the site of a stable book.

But the maps that he produces also chart an increasingly globalized world, no longer subject to the confines of antiquated or inherited cartographical forms he creatively has appropriated, and seem to gesture to the construction of a warped world of a less clear balance of power or status quo, concealing many unseen networks of financial exchange or political relations.  The introduction of corporate logos, upbeat slogans, and fractures of linguistic translation into the imaginary corpus of maps Hao has produced with astonishing invention and rapidity question not only the hold of the power of maps but the medium of mapping, by dislodging the conventions of mapping from a familiar story and by suggesting the outdated nature of narratives of bounded territories and balances of power, as well as to indicate the increasingly skewed nature of global relations.  If Hao has chosen the silkscreened image to be confined by antiquated formats of mapping, unlike the screens we use to view maps on hand-held devices, his crafted silkscreens take the map as a liberatory form to reorganize global space in something of a provisory or provisional fashion for their viewers to contemplate.  In ways that dispense with notions of geographic correspondence or way-finding, and adopt the conventions of mapping to undermine western narratives, Hao distances us from paper Rand McNally maps in ways as appealing as they are successful on the international art market.   In appropriating Western conventions for viewing global space, Hao surely comments on the power of mapping as a symbolic form and graphic practice, if only by undermining and defamiliarizing the coherence of the map as a record of familiar territory:  not only do his silkscreen prints mutate forms of mapping, by altering names, locations of countries, color-schema and mirroring continents in wry ways, but adds weird arrows, graphs, and currents mark the ties of countries and continents.  Rather than confusing the surface of the map, the direction of viewers’ attention to the map seem to reveal fractures and imbalances in the globalized world, even if in ways that seem to undermine–or question–the map’s own claims to reality, by releasing the map from claims of accuracy or indeed truth-claims.

The appeal of these images among his other attempts to synthesize an eclectic variety of scaned brightly colored objects from everyday life seem quite distinct.  For not only do they indulge in the translation of maps to Chinese culture (and a global art market), but they raise questions of how all maps are translations of reality in ways that are comforting in an age of the web-based map.  If Hao severs the map from claims of precision or forms of way-finding, he rehabilitate antiquated structures of mapmaking, now somewhat foreign to our period eye, to orient us to the impossibility of proportional mapping in a truly disproportionate globalized world.  The images Hao defines are extremely popular as a sort of response to the failure of globalization, and indeed the failure to create a new map of the modern world.  The sustained return to the map as a medium seems quite unlike the numerous ways that artists have long referenced the authority–and formal objectivity–of mapping as a register of the political status quo, in how they question the vision of global unity that maps and politics that maps have so long bequeathed.   For if Hao uses the palette of mapping as a clear set of constraints to in Selected Scriptures, an inventive sequence of silkscreen prints that create revisionary maps of the world’s countries, begun from 1992-95,  dismantle the oppressive presence of the map in our world to question the new hybridization of map making by moving it out of a “western” art.  There is a sense for many art critics of a Duchampian inspiration; each seem to announce “This Is A Map,” or maybe even “This is a New Atlas” as a ready-made form.  Hao reached back to the conventions and forms of printed Rand McNally-esque mapping forms–if not an earlier cartographical sublime–appropriating the claims of novelty and reduction of information as an elegant and economic statement of truth to make an artifact that  lies between found objects and the “ready-made,” even as his final products seems to satirically advertise their own cheapness and untrustworthiness as a vehicle:  the translation of the format of mapping in much of these works not only undermines its authority, but suggests an impatient and persistent attempt to find meaning in the map.

Hao’s sequences of silkscreen prints chart dystopia in faux open pages of an imagined traditional thread-bound Chinese encyclopedic text–as if to create the fictional broader corpus of which each form part.  While they do not pose as recreations of an actual experiential world, they seem to comments on the mapping of the world that have particularly pressing urgency to the material presence of the map in an age that is increasingly online.  Hao’s work, including imaginary pagination from the encyclopedia of knowledge from which they ostensibly derive, register glimpses of an atlas that charts the oppressive nature of global divisions, or an imagined atlas of the social construction of space, if not of an attempt to start dialogue with a “new world order.”  The prints appeal s a way of romancing the hand-made map, in an age of the web-based maps and a surfeit of digitized data, however, by recycling such foreign, if familiar, conventions of printed maps to orient the viewer to a disorienting world.  In place of the data visualizations that chart the process of globalization, Hong’s recourse to screening maps to show inequalities and disparities seems by no means accidental.  For Hao takes the map’s surface as a field for further manipulation:  the world seems an open book, in the silkscreen prints shown below, made after the original series, and use the cartographical surface as a charged field for modification, inversion, and inscription, adopting the abilities offered by digitization to create a mock-permanence in his prints.

Take two examples.  The very mutability of the medium of mapping in his work suggest not the tyranny of modern mapping, but the provisory nature with which maps translate space for their viewers, and the indiscriminate nature of how they present global inter-relations as a space that can be read in “Selected Scripture, page 1999, The Memory of Millennium” (2000).  If all maps are translations, these are quizzical ones, as much as physical ones–filled with corrections, misprints, and ways of subverting their own iconic authority as maps, and glimpses of an imagined atlas of a nonexistent world.



Latest Practical World Map


In the first, the excavated distorted “North America Ocean” and “South America Ocean” are dotted by odd arms and insignia, their actual confines warped to create imagined lakes and emblems of airplanes and Microsoft, unlike the “Asia Ocean,” and oceans become land mass.


America's Microsoft Explorers


In the scanned maps Hong has altered and manipulated, America might be expanded, renamed as the PRC, Asia folded into obscurity save Japan, and Canada foreshortened into a swelling United States, all to upset viewers’ expectations for reading their surface, which he reiterated in “New Political Map, 2” (2000), “New Political Map, Which One” or “New World No. 1” (2000), repeatedly playing with the constraints of mapped space in ways that not only skew actual relations, but invite us to recognize the arbitrariness with which we map our mental space or are accustomed to do so.


%22New World No. 1%22 p. 2001


Hong Hao was trained in printmaking, and values the medium of silkscreen prints as versatile tools not only to sort objects and create catalogue, but to treat the map as an ordering device.  The series of Selected Scriptures, which are distinct from much of his work in their ostensible unity, are distinct from Hao’s interest in sequence of assemblages that are characterized as mosaics of found objects, for the maps he has invented are anything but disinterested collections of visual information or compilations of objects.   Hao’s sharply observed maps are not aestheticizations, so much sharply observed post-modern satires, and comments about the recoding of information systems and the processes of the translation of information that occur in maps.  In his powerful series based on the clever appropriation of older maps, the antiquated nature of the maps allows them to be treated as a new expressive field.   For Hao’s Selected Scriptures (1992-2000) seems to ask us to about the role of visualizations in suggesting the global imbalances of networks of power often removed from actual terrestrial relations in an our over-mapped world, treating the map less as a totalitarian constraint or a set of fixed conventions than something like a musical piece that could be assembled, varied, and reorganized in sharply provocative ways.  Hao has created skillful digital transpositions of world maps in his silkscreen on heavy wove paper, as if to recall their craftsmanship and artifice to contrast to the mechanical reproduction of serially produced maps of topical concerns.  The contrast of materials of their subject and handmade production recall the power with which printed maps once assembled the lived world, in ways that masked all its inequalities and absence of proportions, working within the structure of the maps to undermine their content and reveal the very inequalities that they concealed.  Hao has claimed to be especially attracted to historical maps as being “capable of inspiring ideas on what we take as common knowledge” and as “almost the most direct and most economical way to know the world.”  But the economy of mapping by no means limits his variation of his range of artistic expression in this series:  Selected Scriptures exploit this economy of graphic expression and its organization as an inspirational guide for playing with their formal transcription of space, redeploying the map as a new arrangement of space in works that bear such self-titled silkscreen prints as “Latest Practical World Map,” “New Political World,” or “New World Physical“–to cite the prominent English typeface in his Selected Scriptures series.

Several of Hao’s set of maps, which appear below, capture the promises of how maps make new claims to organize the world’s totality in readily legible ways that make us look at maps in new ways, alternately whimsical, quizzical and ironic look at space.   In an age of online and digitized maps characterized by the near-constant mapping of financial transactions, geographic locations, and activities, Hao’s images are less about “found” maps than the rediscovery of the assembly of space from digitized images maps and varied map detritus that he wields and transfers onto his chosen medium.  For he has adopted the particularly copious formal syntax of mapping, preserving the appearance of cheaply printed maps that he emulates, to ask how successfully maps might ever translate an image of our world, subtly reshaping their economy to upset their meanings–evacuating the map of any sense of wayfaring tools, but enriching its symbolic form.


1.  The formats of mapping that Hao appropriates are, of course, removed by several generations from our own notion of map-use or the medium of mapping in modern life.  If it is increasingly confusing how to orient oneself to an increasingly imbalanced world whose inequities have been put on display in how news media often ignores most inequities in the inhabited world–not to mention the disproportionate threats of global warming to ecosystems, regional economies, and global food supplies–Hao assembles more light-hearted–if deadly serious–maps that invites us to engage the mystifications on maps.  Artists have long worked with maps.  But rather than offering an aestheticization of the map’s surface, as Jasper Johns, whose re-used the familiar image of the names of states in the United States, repainted to transform a well-known image,  converting familiar conventions of maps to encaustic, in an etherial blurred space of dripping paint that obscured clear lines of legal divides, and render the conventions of four-color mapping a ghostly haunting blur rather than a symbol of space–




–Hong Hao actively remakes the surface of the map as a map.  And his works demand to be taken for that reason as maps, or at least as interventions in practices of mapping, rather than images that appropriate cartographical images, conventions, and signs.

Hao’s maps map, of course, a globalized space as a space into which the artist makes his own interventions, although his work is in ways resonant with Johns’ evacuation of mapping forms.  For Hao’s maps re-assemble the disparities and tyranny of the globalized (over-mapped) world.  The disparities within the global economy has the danger of being recapitulated, of course, in ways that he lampoons.  The collective atlas that he imagines, which collectively run against the global maps we carry around in our heads, or the maps that we use to try to come to terms with unimaginably complex implications of global military constellations and warming processes.  Already, in a work that predates the Selected Scriptures, Hao’s “The World Distribution of Guided Missiles” [sic] (1992), a monochrome silkscreen print replete with the mythical beasts and figures that recall the figures on medieval portolan charts for ocean travel, shocks us with the explicit charting of state secrets.  It also suggests a new playful engagement of the map as a communicative form, even as he works to expand the boundaries of a map’s informational value.  When he locates the bulk of guided missiles in Antarctica, the effect expands the map as a record of inhabited space, repurposing of the cartographical iconography with which he knowingly plays:  in this map, the effect is oddly to diminish the appearance of the world’s size:  at the close of Operation Desert Storm, of Gulf War, and the inundation of airwaves with images of US fighter jets on a sustained campaign of aerial bombing more extensive than expected, and provoked counter-attacks, Hao imagined the world as cowering from missiles poised for launch in the “World Distribution” silkscreen i seem to translate the cheaply printed paper ink map into his own image that magnified China at its approximate center.  As much as translating western cartography into a new art language of classical Chinese origin, Hao seems to confront the difficulty of mapping power in this and his many subsequent silkscreen prints.


World Distribution of Guided Missiles (1992)


The disproportionate prejudices in these maps are well-known.  Global warming, a concept few can claim to understand, is also the,  most mapped–if perhaps most disproportionately mis-mapped–is repeatedly wrestled with in a variety of maps that try to lend the process a concrete appearance.  Despite the fact that 40% of the world’s population lives within sixty miles of the shore, and  200 million people live within five meters of sea-level, the disparity of the dangers of shifting shorelines that are poised to shift dramatically with global warming are only partly evident in an interactive “Global Heat Map” produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists:  and the extreme dangers that the shifting shorelines poses for low-lying countries is by no means limited to the United States, even if this sometimes seems the case in our own news media or the relative blindness or radical shortsightedness government working papers on shoreline sensitivity–subtitled “American Starts to Prepare–on the impacts of global flooding of low-lying lands.  (Even if there are exceptions in American media publications.)  The deepening disparities of our own mental maps–evident in the apparent perplexity that one out of six Americans in where in the world Ukraine is located, according to the Washington Post, which almost makes one wonder if the survey was credible or if it generated sarcastic responses–the lopsided maps we contain may make Hao’s imaginary  corpus of lost maps apt commentaries on global inter-relations, as much as a formal syntax for creative expression.  But they grapple, if in a light-hearted way, with the problems of mapping the globalized world.


2.  Hao’s work is a retrospective recreation of a cartographical sublime that reaches back to a lost medium of paper maps.  The particular productivity of mapping as a new form of invention in Hao’s work from the late 1990s, suggests a particular neat coincidence of how maps speak to power, or power through maps, that interestingly mirrors the growth of online mapping:  although Google Maps was only launched just less than a decade ago, in 2005, shortly after Steve Coast created a free, editable map of the world, OpenStreetMap, based on Wikipedia, in 2004, the first online mapping service, MapQuest, If OpenStreetMap responded to the inability to freely download government-run and tax-funded projects like the Ordnance Survey in England, as these mapping projects have expanded, the epistemic remove of maps such as those that Hao uses–and the apparent chronological distance of a map created by silkscreen, but belonging to a printed encyclopedia bound as a classical Chinese book–gains new appeal as a rehabilitation of mapping as an aesthetic medium and as a tool for imagining and locating geopolitical abstractions.  Unintentionally, the rise of GPS and geocaching as modes of map making, satellite imagery, digital searchability, the branding of Google Maps and the Google map viewer, and dramatic expansion of use in over one million websites of the Google’s API, have conspired to so remove the five-color map from our “period eye”, that its epistemological antiquity may be increasingly difficult to distinguish from the thread-bound classical encyclopedia Hao’s Selected Scriptures referenced.  (Google’s corporate logo is absent from Selected Scriptures, but the presence of Internet Explorer and other corporate insignia suggest a need to locate the web-based map on the borders of what we once new as the world’s inhabited territories.)

Yet the weird notions of contiguity of a flattened earth that Google Maps has perversely re-introduced–reinstating a continuous block of Eurasia and Africa, for example, isolating China, Australia, and North America–mirrors the  oddness with which Google Maps has rehabilitated its own variant of the long-discredited and cartographically retrograde biases of the Mercator projection, a handy solution to the flattening of the earth’s surface to coordinates of straight lines of latitude and longitude but which amply distorts its surface, irrespective of actual land-mass, but whose convenient centering on Europe provides the basis for all Google-derived web-maps.  (China’s role in this internet society is contested, with most social networking sites banned in the country, including Facebook from 2008, Twitter from 2009, and Google+ as it was introduced–despite relative open-ness to LinkedIn, reborn in China as 领英, pronounced “ling ying”).


Contiguity in Google Maps


For all the personalized coziness of the Google Maps Navigation, Google Street View, or My Maps, this close variant of the quite retrograde Mercator projection has perpetuated a primarily targets that Hong skewers as a frozen model of global relationships of power, which is striking for how it eerily corresponds to Hao’s “New Political World” (1995), whose evocation of the modernity of rewriting the world’s geopolitical structures is not only reminiscent of the early modern cartographers Mercator or Ortelius–the former’s “Nova et Aucta Orbis Terrae Descriptio ad Usum Navigantium Emendate Accommodata” [“New and more complete representation of the terrestrial globe] properly adapted for use in navigation]” of 1569 and the Nova totius terrarum orbis geographica ac hydrographica tabula . . .” of 1570–but also to announce new political configuration of landmasses in relation to one another.  Although Hao didn’t prominently include Google’s logo among the logos of international corporations  in the sequences of maps he has designed from 1995, his work succeeds by upsetting our Westernized confidence in mapping, more than playing with cartographers’ formal conventions.

And if Ortelius prided himself on drawing national boundaries and distinguishing the world’s expanding number of continents, Hao’s silkscreen prints take pleasure in redrawing boundaries, reconfiguring the shapes of countries, and shifting and switching toponyms, as if to describe a world less defined by boundaries than the continued symbolic authority that maps have long continued to exercise.   Indeed, rather than accessing or retrieving data in the format of a map, we are presented a map in the legible form of an open book and private space, even if we are invited to imagine the audience of readers for whom such a map might be mechanically reproduced.

The maps are forms of imagining a conscious redesign of the balance of power and populations that antiquated static maps once mapped.  Indeed, Hao’s reassembly of the map may as a form of memory might even recall the famous translation of the Ortelian project in 1602 by Matteo Ricci, working with the astronomer, mathematician and geographer Li Zhizao (1565-1630), who engraved it, in ways that affirmed the dynamic and interactive nature of the actually static nature of a woodcut print map.  (Although Hao may not reference this famous notion of cartographical translation, his appropriation of the format of world-mapping seems to intentionally reverse the trajectory of Ricci’s importation of cartographical iconography and place-names on a somewhat comparably busy and densely crowded symbolic field.)

Ricci Map 1602James Ford Bell Library

Hao’s subversion of western mapping as a national political tool is often too crudely cast as reaction to the western–and American–dominance of constructing the world map, and an incorporation of traditional cartographical tools within a “Chinese” art.  This is too simple, and too readily essentializes “western” and “Chinese,” and where these works of art lie in relation to map making as a craft–or how Hao’s art relates to the currency of the mash-up as a map.  For Hao works with antiquated maps–indeed, making maps, rather than than only find them, to play new stories out on their surfaces–and indeed its distance from the imbalances of authority in our geopolitical world.  Reading the surface of the distribution of political power in the eponymous “New Political World” (1999) in the Selected Scriptures project playfully inverts the notions of legibility to demonstrate a balance of power regularly elided:  the playful projection of geopolitical values is exploited to present a new way of reading a familiar demarcation of terrestrial expanse divided by naturalized boundary lines, playing fast and freely with some of the iconography from news maps or other cartographical images.

If we love to read maps to move across space, and cross frontiers drawn in space, the shifting toponymy and place-names that we encounter in the imaginary Atlas of Hao’s device opens up a world we’re sad to read but that we can at the same time also recognize as something that the anonymous mapmaker has synthesized.  Hao’s work suggests a uniquely hybrid creation, as well as a satirical relationship to the Rand McNally political atlas, which seems its primary target at first.  Hao, who graduated from the Beijing Academy of Fine Arts the year of the suppression of protests in Tiananmen Square, has specialized in transposing digitized images to silkscreen prints that skew the actual geography of the world in his prints, much as they play with the reproduction of five-color maps in print culture with the format of an hand-made artist’s book, but derive from reproduced images scanned, digitally altered, and reproduced as silk screened images, linking traditional crafts, the Cultural Revolution, and modern digitized media to deconstruct and repackage (or redeploy) the map as a political statement.

The weird translation of cartographical images is part and parcel of the project, evident in the irony of the most “accurate” map in the Selected Scriptures, the “World Defenge Layouy Map” [sic] (1992), a variant based on Hao’s earlier 1992 work:


Scriptures Hao

Hao’s new map of nations illuminates military power by relatives geographical sizes of nations to reflect military power, recycling the map as a metaphor.  As much as it suggests a cheap reproduction, with its title seems suspiciously printed in uniformly spaced letters, the image of a “new political order” is meant to dislodge our expectations for reading a map centered on t:  and on the map, although the pathways of world travel include a sailing junk, but are dominated by fighter jets among large pinyin characters that immediately strike a western viewer, and reminding us that all maps are both constructions and translations and that, indeed, the power of the map in part lies in its success in translating reality to a seamless whole.  In Hao’s Scriptures, the integrity of the map is disrupted by the shifted orientation in the digitized images of names, landmasses, and pastel hues, as if to recall the mass-produced posters on cheap paper that recall Maoist times, the upbeat candy-colored pastels worthy of PAAS Easter Egg paints rather than a five-color map.  They describe a scary surface of disproportionate global powers, with the PRC at their center, now straddling the Atlantic and Pacific, whose places are oddly reversed, as if one emptied a Rand McNally map of toponyms and reshuffled their location, as if to mock the faux disinterested nature of maps from the  perspective of the current PRC, which finds itself somehow between the Atlantic and Pacific, in the place of North America, an expansive Israel to the North, and the United States displaced from its position of power:


%22New Political World%22Metropolitan Museum of Art


3.  Artists have been making maps–or using maps to make art–since before the first printed atlas, if not since the first globe.  But Hao takes the map to excavate it of meaning, and ask about the oppressive world system we have inherited, playing with the oppressiveness of that system and the almost light-hearted pastels of artificial colors (pink, yellow, orange, blue and green) we use to divide the inhabited world in printed maps to suggest that the map has little bearing on it.   The odd remoteness of the historical map offers a “tool to think” that exposes the discrepancies of our mental maps of geo-bodies.  Hao all but ignores the actual geographical contents that are the ostensible subject of a map:   and as the project progressed, the maps he creates have an increasingly ironic organization of space.  Reading the surface of the distribution of political power as referenced in the eponymous “New Political World” (1999) plays with notions of legibility that are regularly erased or elided within print maps, but seem especially pregnant with the distance of time:  the playful adoption of the map’s projection of geopolitical values is exploited in Hao’s work in order to present a new way of reading a familiar demarcation of terrestrial expanse that is divided into naturalized boundary lines, playing fast and freely with some of the iconography from news maps or other cartographical images:  Hao’s map of nations illuminates military power by relatives geographical sizes of nations to reflect military power, but even its title seems suspiciously printed in uniformly spaced letters:  and on the map, although the pathways of world travel include a sailing junk, but are dominated by fighter jets among large pinyin characters that immediately strike a western viewer, reminding us that all maps are both constructions and translations.

The power of the map in part lies in its success in translating reality, so that the PRC now occupies where we expect the United States:



New PRCMetropolitan Museum of Art


The humorous reconfiguration of space in these maps transpose space and place with a flighty flippancy foreign to any actual land map.  Why is Hong Kong now at the mouth of the Mississippi, in the place of New Orleans?  The legibility of the rest of the world is almost made ridiculed, not only as the ocean off of what seem Alaska’s shores is labeled “Atlantic Ocean,” but since the region is actually Uganda, nestled beside the newly bordered Israel and Chad, creating a perverse geopolitical world that seems an absurdist collage of what might be:  as the People’s Republic of China now occupies, save in Florida and parts of Norther California, most of the land that one might associate with the United States; to the north, Israel lies lazily across current Canada; London is dispatched to the South Pole; Canada is relocated to a strip of diagonal land in Eastern Africa, beside the Indian Ocean; Europe divided between Vietnam and Mozambique as if their names are dislocated from the geographic fields in which we are accustomed to find and locate them.

Hong Hao all but ignores the actual geographical contents that are the ostensible subject of a map:   and as the project progressed, the maps he creates have an increasingly ironic organization of space.   Many of Hao’s works trumpet their modernity in analogous, if tongue-in-cheek fashion–“The New Political World Map” (1995); “The New World Survey Map” (1995-96); “The New Geographical World,” Selected Scriptures p. 3085 (2000)–as if they offer windows on a newly registered reality to readers. Is ‘place’ less of a signifier, in the map, than the global distribution of power?   The sizes of countries are ordered, not only in terms of the military and economic power of nations, but in ways that upend the semantics of the legibility of space, despite the familiar color-scheme.  The result is often a fairly scary image whose totality one pays far more attention to, decoding the configuration of countries and assessing their sizes with an eye to power perhaps far more than geographic relationships, which are–witness the fighter jets–of far less import today.  The clearly cultivated flimsiness of a mistranslated map, standing askew to the actual world and placing Asia at its center, pushing mirror reflections of Europe to its margins, and dispensing with America, in ways that not only skew spatial relationships but show the reproduced map as a field for staging imbalances of power.


New Political World Hao

National Gallery of Canada




Selected Scriptures, p. 1999, The Memory of the Millennium” (2000) assembles a grab-bag of cartographical inventions around an inversion of land and water, so that oceans that connect and separate continents now seem landmasses:  as if to exploit the map not only as construction, but assemblage of cultural artifacts that desperately press space into readily legible terms, Hao presses the fertility of the format of the map as a signifier into his service to new extents:  emblazoned with the prominent descriptive legend “New World Physical,” the map is difficult to orient oneself to even more than his earlier work, its oceans (NORTH AMERICAN OCEAN; AFRICA OCEAN; EUROPE OCEAN) erase landmasses, as if to repurpose this most conservative of media so that where once lay land, oceans are overburdened with objects.  Weird graphs erase any familiar promise of the legibility of mapped space.  The didactic iconography of educational maps becomes a repository for graphs, varied iconographic detritus from warships and the logo of internet explorer:


Memory of the Millenium (2000) Artsy Artis


The playful array of translations in the map–both translations among mechanical processes of reproduction, and contexts for viewing maps, as well as translations of map-signs, conventions, and toponymy–play with the “novelty” of the map and its antiquated medium to make a new material object for readership.  By using a base-map, scanned from a four-color map of Westernized derivation that seems printed on foolscap typical of the posters of the Cultural Revolution, which Hao cast in the form of a traditional hand-made book in  a set of individual silkscreens, as if it belonged to a corpus of lost maps in the Chinese tradition, rather than informed by Western cartography.   We are a far cry from the Eurocentric “Map Translator” functions, if the adherence to a cartographical structure and the color-scheme is oddly familiar:  Hao takes the the levels of translation, indeed, in a much more playful and wryly sarcastic direction that exploits the almost generative fertility of the proliferation of meanings in mapping forms, that consciously reveals the power of mapping forms that are left as a neutral backdrop in the image that uses the Google Translate API.  To be sure, unlike the Google API, the maps Hao crafts, if in their collective dizzy the viewer in percussive ways, rather than retrieve or access data, present a fixed tableaux.


Map Translator_Nation State



Some of the other imagined pages Hao designed from Essential Scriptures of 1995, as “Latest Practical World Map,” manipulate and lampoon the sense of practicality of a map, even as they introduce emblems of consumerism as much as militarism within the map the maps themselves, in ways that play with their surfaces by renaming continents so that countries, continents, and cities are no longer recognizable, hydrography abstractly symbolized and an eery globalism illustrated in the surface of the map itself–and slogans such as “Be satisfied” or “Be careful” will later give way to those of free market neo-conservatism, from “Control, gain, own, exploit” to “Fame and fortune:  you can have both”:  these maps have been compared suggestively to a traditional Chinese landscape in which the manipulation of the conventions of landscape become a register for a subjective state of mind, although in Hao manipulates conventions takes aim at their ostensible objectivity, and indeed the images of globalism they present:  the conceptions let silent in the map are used as commentaries on mapping practices, or on the concepts of globalism.  Or, the map becomes a surface for an almost random generator of slogans and injunctions–“BE SATISFIED,” “BE LONELY,” “BE CAREFOL,” “DON’T BELIEVE,” “BE LONELY”–that suggest the alienation of its viewers.   Whatever constitutes the practicality of a map, the combination of odd translations, even odder graphs, juxtapositions of slogans and generic injunctions uses the historical remove of the map-as-image and inscribed surface to puncture its utility and authority, and point up some of the odd ways of reading truth into maps.


Latest Practical World Map bigArtis


4.  What, indeed, constitutes practicality in a map, and how is the translation of the world to “practical” terms defined?  Practicality suggests that it offers ease of ready consultation by readers, but we find a surplus of significations that mimic many maps in their almost distracting quality.  Many of the slogans that are on the map–“NO RELEAE IS TERMITED OTHERWISE WILL BE–subvert any sort of reading for sense.  Indeed, Hao’s intentional layering of odd  translations (BE CAREFOL), odd graphs, juxtapositions of slogans and generic injunctions uses the historical quality of the map-as-image to puncture the very notion of utility, and point up some of the odd ways of reading truth into maps.

Hao’s “New World Survey Map” engages playfully with the ways maps symbolize the proportionality of space in powerful ways, reduced Asia, as it magnifies Japan, but shows the globe wonderfully distorted with the magnification of Europe and America, in a playful accentuation of the disproportionate distribution of weapons and political influence.  Or is this the image of the political order that the West–or an exaggerated and hugely magnified Europe and [North] America and Japan–purports to create and legitimize at such political organs as the UN Security Council?  In the below map, the “legend” is of little help, but the map says enough, shrinking oceanic expanse and magnifying countries that are bloated in the disproportionate attention that they receive from news channels, or in international political bodies, as if to render a map based on their prominence in a world historical record or online news-sources:


New Topographical  World Map


This utterly “othered” “New World Survey Map” (1995) punctures the hegemony of the map, and stubbornly it refuses to relinquish the truth-claims of a map:  if the westernized cartographical tradition to diminish all Asia save the Japanese, which it so greatly magnifies.


5.  The invention of re-inscribing the cartographical surface in these silkscreen prints provided Hao with a particularly rich vein of production among his varied projects, and one that met a large audience.  “New World No. 1” (2000), Selected Scriptures, p. 2001, contracts the known world to a scary picture of three imagined continents or landmasses, surrounded by warships, arms, and satellites that suggest their military might:  where the Typus Orbis Terrarum is a contraction of Eurasia and the United States, who bracket the vastly expanded island of Japan, improbably raised to the status of a Superpower among them, and only a hint of Antarctica to the south.   America is emblazoned by iconic “lounging ladies” between Las Vegas and Texas, this map is emblazoned by the odd emblems of progress from the ancient Skylab to Internet Explorer, as if this “New World No 1″‘s order were antiquated already, its seas haunted by blueprints of jet fighters or warships, inhabited surface surrounded by satellites circulating its perimeter, as if floating in outer space.


New World No ! bitArtis


The image of a new book of world history and global powers is particularly powerful, not only for disturbing the mapping of a stable geopolitical orders that maps perpetuate, in a sort of inversion of the Peters’ projection disturbed our preconceptions for seeing the world as imitating or mirroring a political order, but inviting us as viewers to make and remake the maps that perpetuate political orders and biases in our minds, and how the an atlas for a disproportionately under-represented world might be renegotiated by its readers.   The reproduction of these cartographical orders of representing global powers becomes a sustaining theme in Hao’s work, so infinite and unending is the variety of silkscreen maps that he produced, almost haunting by the disproportionate images of the world and by maps as the flimsiest of representations that continued to be accorded a significant weight for so long:  the map is lampooned as a reproduction, albeit one with deep westernized connotations of arrogating claims for totality to itself, while presenting a diminished image of what it purports to map.  Indeed, the flimsiness of its reproducibility is evident in the difficulties of its translation, laden with “corrections” and odd graphs seem to record the map’s remove from the viewer, lampoon the tyranny of its own absurd assertions.


Latest Practical World Map bigArtis


6.  Hong Hao is by no means alone in questioning the inheritance of mapping forms.  His work is evocative of Ai Wei Wei’s interest in the hybridization of Western commercial logos and ‘traditional’ art forms, apparent in his powerful statement of the naturalization of his “Map of China,” (中国地图) (2006).  Ai Wei Wei’s work that might be said to literally translate a map of the frontiers of China into the stolidity of a classically Chinese material–wood of Qing dynasty temples–that might be verging on sacrilege.  The “map” suggests the consolidation of the official map of China from fragments of the past, as much as a terrifying isolationism, unlike Hong Hao’s odd global refigurations.  Yet Wei is far less interested in the symbolic conventions and legibility of the map than what might be called its iconic form–even if his work indulges in some of the same questions of the synthesis of old materials and practices with modern symbolic forms, and the translation of maps to new media.

Yet rather than present the “fantastic and absurd” world “governed by violence and greed,” Ai’s art-map forces us to find the map in and that is refigured from it, even as it asserts the isolation and frontiers of the unit of the Peoples’ Republic of China, as if a continuous tree trunk.  In translating actual geographic frontiers to something that looks like it emerged from a 3D printer more than a map, Ai Wei Wei invites viewers to linger over the shifts in shading on its face, even as it distances the map as powerful construction, emptying the stale medium of the map of its stale symbolic authority by translating it to another medium:  in the above, the PRC is fashioned out of Qing dynasty wood; the below, out of recycled cartographical imagery.


Ai Wei Wei

New PRCMetropolitan Museum of Art


Both images ask what sorts of opaque surfaces, rather than mirrors, something like a map creates.  But  perhaps the playful irony of distancing any of the positive associations–if any still remain–from globalism in a more engaging view of the legible conventions of a bounded map, Wei comments on the fetishization of the form of the map and its delineation of naturalized frontiers.  Hong Hao’s work seems more engaging, and more familiar, because it speaks more incessantly to our own habits of reading of maps, and the increased business of the making of the map’s surface as a format that increasingly unceasingly begs to be read and re-read.  Hao returns us, with comfort as well as to produce considerable unease, to the reading of the map’s surface, making fun of its transparency and referentiality at a time when online maps dispense with claims for transparency or signification that now seem to be artifacts of letterpress typesetting or print.  Hao’s maps recall objects of serial production–and he indeed seems to be serially producing such artifacts for an eager art market–in ways that recall habits and formats of reading space that are in many ways no longer accessible or familiar, but which register the difficulty of the possibility of undertaking an ethical mapping of the inhabited world.  Not connected, and not networked, Hao’s almost serially reproduced maps gesture to the translation of the authority of the static map from another time.  Rather than offer images delivered by the screen or accessed remotely, even if he does not think so, Hao’s maps translate back to western eyes as cartographical eye candy and comfort food.

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Filed under Beijing Academy of Arts, Google Translate, Hong Hao, Map Translator, OpenStreetMap, silkscreened maps

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.

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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.

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

Java La Grande

The map “Java La Grande,” an imagined continent that invited close inspection from viewers, gives new meaning to the assertion that the map is the territory.  For although this territory never existed, it was mapped: the medieval construction of the antipodes, a mode to balance the continents, was an artifact of early modern European cartography of considerable duration and lasting power.  When Matteo Ricci mapped the world’s regions in 1607 for his Chinese hosts, his copy of the Ortelian map included a large discussion of “Guinea” as a place not studied or known well by Europeans, and perhaps an independent island or attached to the southern pole–albeit one that was not known to be inhabited, and with which little if any contact had been made.  In this sense, Guinea remained an outlier in the age of discoveries, and a somewhat rare blank spot on Ricci’s global map.


Ricci SE Asia.png


As an artifact with an esteemed cartographical lineage, the image of the continental landmass continued to be mapped into existence by the mid-nineteenth century.  But its appearance in the below chromolithograph of a Renaissance map from the library of baronet Sir Thomas Philips was declared the first map ever recorded of nothing less than the very continent of Australia, as ostensibly witnessed by the Portuguese sailors in the pristine state of nature in which they had allegedly first discovered it.  The map was prized as an image of initial discovery.




The anonymous artist-cartographer recorded the recession of space in this map, which as it recedes its inhabitants are registered in brownish tracery, foregrounded the idyllic life of this entirely unknown land.  You get the idea of arriving in a region taken as Australia that was the entrance to a landscape of untold wonders in the map of “Java La Grande” designed for Nicolas Vallard’s nautical atlas of 1547 in Dieppe, a center for the diffusion of Portuguese nautical charts for an elite audience of European nobility, reproduced in this 1856 facsimile now stored among the jewels of the Australian National Library.

The pictorial landscape chart was a luxury embellishment of the sorts of rutters that were drawn with artists of local topography.  The material object was prized and promoted by Phillips as a record of the first encounter with the territory of Australia, reproduced with such painstaking care in the mid-nineteenth century  as a chromolithograph from the first baronet’s library when he tried to disperse the Vallard atlas and other early modern books to the British Library, inspiring the reproduction of the map, which he mis-titled “The First Map of Australia,” to promote the value of his collection   The map made for the Vallard atlas by an unknown painter was probably valued because it seems to record an image of Portuguese encounter with the indigenous inhabitants of Australia.  As part of the corpus of Dieppe charts that were, unlike earlier nautical maps, pictorial syntheses Portuguese discoveries of almost ethnographic qualitative richness as depictions of inhabitants for elite audiences, the image has provided a touchstone of a vanished native culture that is particularly powerful as an imagined precursor of the discovery of Australia, valued as an image of imagined contact.  The Vallard map possesses the distinctively attractive qualitative lushness peculiar even to the Dieppe school of which it forms part.

The identification of Australia with the mythical “Java La Grande” is not entirely rooted in geographic fancy.  Java La Grande was described by Marco Polo as the largest island in the world–but reflected some recognition of this unknown landmass that extended to Antarctica, and recurs in the Dieppe maps as a cosmographical idée fixe as not an island, but terra firma:  at the same time as the current-Java was described by geographers of the 1540s, the Dieppe school identified La Grande Jave as an extension of the Antarctic Terra Australis, and it was taken as an early evidence of the southern continent’s early discovery.

The map became taken as the territory.  And so why not preserve this map as a treasure of the collections of the Australian National Library, even if it is a nineteenth-century copy–and quite a faithful one–of a map that represented quite a different imagined land?



Early identified as the first map made of the continent, this map provided a list of coastal ports that an artist proceeded to fill in with imagined views of inhabitants advancing as if to greet newly arriving visitors with arms literally open in welcoming signs, if not in a ritual procession.  The intensity of play of imagination is evident in contrast to a later 1777 nautical map showing two ships’ circumnavigation of the world under the command of Antoine de Bougainville, whose cartographer constrained himself to parts of the Eastern coast observed with sufficient detail to establish for readers, allowing far more local detail to the as yet unsettled continent, and confined himself to the better-known shorelines of its coast:



Yet what was later prized as the “first map of Australia” is  distinct from a roughly contemporary 1543 chart by Guillaume Brouscon of the same school in Dieppe, who synthesized information from prized Portuguese charts to a new audience of landlocked European nobles.  This earlier map devoted a considerable space to “Java La Grande,”  extending the rectangular format of the engraved global projections later standardized after their printing by Mercator and Ortelius, if already adopted by humanist geographers, and offering far more detailed depictions of the settled interior than nautical charts that confine themselves to coastal towns.  The almost ornamental multiplication of compass roses that proliferate like heraldic crests on this map suggest its ornamental nature in a corpus of maps.

A fair amount of extension of the topos of cartographical invention or the mediation of new discoveries that animated these excited atlases of the late 1540s in Dieppe are reflected the map of Java le Grand among the 56 maps that the nautical sailor and self-styled cosmographer Guillaume le Testu included in his Comosgraphie Universelle, selon les Navigateurs, tant anciens que modernes.  The work’s comprehensive claims derived from its use of a range of Spanish and Portuguese charts together with maps of his own design that synthesized recent maps of the Americas:




He readily presented this map as rife with cartographical invention, as well as following cartographical conventions, as if suggesting the frequent embellishment of persuasive or recognizable detail in maps, more than the license his own achievements in mapping much of the Americas may have merited:  “what I have marked and depicted is only by imagination, and I have not noted or remarked on any of the commodities or incommodities of the place, nor its mountains, rivers or other things; for there has never yet been any man who has made a certain discovery of it.”  The absence of “certain discovery” is an odd juxtaposition with his own discoveries, and the admission of the absence of such “certain discovery ” led to a land that was entitled to be created by the imagination.

The imagined land’s expanse was documented as well in nautical maps limited to shorelines, offering far less qualitative local details than the expanse of its coast, but suggesting in an enticing fashion its expanse, and multiplying elegant compass-roses as if for an excuse to include more gold leaf, as a sophisticated ornamental boundary of decorative motifs:



These abundant cartographical imagery suggested the fascination of imagining how space extended far beyond a situated eye, and a sort of key to processing the extent of that dramatically expanded spatial expanse of the inhabited world.  But for Brouscon, as for le Testu, Java was both a continent of sorts, that extended to the pole, and needed to be accommodated by an extra flap of paper to be contained, but an uninhabited or at least unknown place in the “Terra Austral,” jutting up to Indonesia to reflect geographic tradition and, perhaps, to balance the landmasses distributed elsewhere on the chart:
Java in Brouscon's Map
The addition of far greater detail and qualitative content in the Vallard map developed the notion of the materiality of the map in the Dieppe school.  If we are struck most by its interior, the coastline of Java in the Vallard map suggest a detailed attentiveness to local toponymy, derived from Portuguese sources, of more specific scope, despite the lush detail of its interior, and a playful alteration of inks of different colors to add variety to its form:
java's Coastlines
The considerable local detail depicting something like the discovery of a pre-Adamic life is something of a counterpart to that expansion of the inhabited expanse in early world maps:   the clothes of its inhabitants, cast in somewhat neo-Orientalist garb as following their red-turbaned leader to greet arriving men, are paired with curious dwellings, customs, and styles of work, as well as a uniquely local bestiary and vegetation, as   well as different customs of social life: two figures on the left of this scene almost seem foreign observers, describing what they see:
Dancing Inhabitants.Vaillard


The narwhale rising from the waters just off the coast, shown without regard for the scale of islands or inlets on the coast, paired with a resting bobcat or lynx.  This image of the Eastern coast of Australia is only slightly embellished from Vallard’s original.

It’s been recently suggested that the inventive maps of the Dieppe school fabricated the entire continent out of geographic legends to evoke a potential land for colonization by the French monarch, as in this earlier 1566 Desliens world-map.  Indeed, these deluxe manuscripts reflect the broader interest of the materializing of wealth on the map, and, on the surface, seem to cast Java La Grande as something of the potential equivalent of what the Spaniards found in the Americas.


Nicolas_Desliens_ World Map 1566) with Java


The notion of this fabrication of continent seems absurd, but had confirmation in geographic theory.  Java La Grande is projected as a land of potential conquest and wealth, and is a survival of medieval written geographies that was transposed to a recognizably modern cartographical form, if it antedated the imagined expansive island of Taprobana, identified with Madagascar but often shown as a land of wealth, and in ways moved this target of European interest further East toward the Spice Islands and Indonesia.

The exquisitely tangible nature of the contents of the Vallard map may give some confirmation to its invention.  The upper register of this first image of the original Vallard atlas, now in the Huntington library, showed the region’s aboriginal inhabitants in a monochrome hues of striking similarity to a cave-painting as proud hunters bearing spears:


Dieppe atlas origianl


The image now held in Canberra is a striking copy of this image of the inhabitants of Java le Grande, which featured its  inhabitants in a procession across the newly mapped land:


horseback procession in Java on horseback


The placement of  initial folio perhaps as it was the most pressing communication of cartographical news–pays particular attention to the forms of habitation in Java, and the houses in which the inhabitants live and the palm-nuts on which they live:  as if to embody the information displayed in disembodied form in later world map projections:  in the years before Mercator’s Theatrum orbis terrarum, nautical charts concretized viewers’ material relation to spatial particularity.


First map Vallard atlas


The map offers something like a luxurious window into the newly discovered land for viewers to contemplate in ways that simple terrestrial projections did not allow.

The imagined continent of luxury and untold riches, filled with nutmeg and cloves as well as “idolatrous inhabitants,” made its way onto the globe by 1583, if somewhat assimilated to Antarctica:




This might explain the staying power of nautical charts, based on observational practices of sailors and possessing a clearer pedigree as transcriptions of space, into the seventeenth century.  At the same time as material goods were arriving in Europe from west Africa and southeast Asia, maps provided something of a spatial catalogue to understand their arrival and place them somewhere in a lived topography, as much as they offered tools of orientation.  Java La Grande was attractive as something of an evidence of the inhabitation of a region later identified with Australia, before the arrival of Captain Cook, in ways that depicted the inhabitants that occupied its expanse in something of a romantic light.


Add. 7085, f. 1


Filed under Australia, Java La Grande, La Grande Jave, Nautical Charts, rutters

Europa Regina

The cartographical personification of Europe as a regal figure is not only figurative:  the woman whose golden gown extends across the region, hemmed along the Danube helped personifies the integrity of the new relation of the Habsburg court to Europe.  Indeed the situation of her imperial crown in Spain, suggests the investment of the house of Habsburg the head of the Christian world, her right arm holding an orb rooted in Sicily and her left scepter at the same time as European expansion brought the first age of globalism.  While comprehending all Europe, and bridging its confessions divides in an image of sovereign unity, the map celebrated the European continent as a community in an oddly retrograde if deeply evocative symbolic form–transposing the region to a single regal body, and isolating that body from the interconnected global world.

The proud personification was not mapped as a continent, but in more qualitative than quantitative ways asserted its regional unity in figural terms.  In contrast to the inhabited world mapped according to the recently rediscovered techniques proscribed by the ancient Claudius Ptolemy, the engraving provided an artistic rendering and a chorographic image analogous of Europe as if removed from a spatial continuum of surprisingly long-lasting currency and purchase as a map.  Analogously to the legible rendering of national toponyms of European states as a cohesive whole, removed from Turkish dominion and as a Christian world, if not in anthropomorphic form, the continent is symbolically removed from Asia and Africa with an oddly powerful autonomy that has persisted to attract visual interest and engage map-readers.  Indeed, if John Eliot has argued that in discovering the Americas, Europe rediscovered itself–and lent greater coherence to its cultural and religious unity as opposed to other worlds, the mapping of a triumphant figure of Europa Regina openly celebrated Europe in a coherent body, apart form two other regions of the old tripartite world–opposed to Africa and Asia–as opposed to the insularity that was characteristics of individual towns with their separate charters, constitutions and rulers or laws.

The collective community of Europe, united in the inherited political theology of a body, but now a female body of the Phoenician queen Europa, was an image that gave coherence to what was seen as a separate region of the world, bound, as Martin Waldseemüller had put it, as is “bounded on the western side by the Atlantic Ocean, on the northern side by the British Ocean, on the eastern side by the river Tanais [] ,” but shown as if it composing a good part of the inhabited world.  Sebastian Münster chose to map the insularity of Europe in his popular 1540 Cosmographia as one region–at the same time he had mapped “new islands [Novae Insulae]” of North and South Americas on a page, when he mapped Europe as a complementary large island.


Europa Munster 1550.pngfrom Sebastian  Münster, Cosmographia” (1540)


contrasted with the prominent centrality of the place that Europe occupied in the pioneering 1507 map Waldseemüller and the school of St. Die produced in a detailed world map, using a Ptolemaic projection to expand the prominence of Europe and allow it to be densely filled with a rich modern toponymy as a densely legible text.


Museo Galileo, Firenze/Institute and Museum of the History of Science


Waldseemüller, as a good humanist writing for a circle of European humanists, described how the region that “includes Spain, Gaul, Germany, Raetia, Italy, Greece, and Sarmatia . . .  is named after Europa, the daughter of King Agenor” who was “believed to have been carried off by Jupiter, who assumed the character of a snow-white bull” before “while riding on his back and he gave her name to land lying opposite that island” in his Cosmographiae introductio (1507).  In curiously post-Ptolemaic ways, “Europa Regina” similarly foregrounded the community of Europe, but as the image was transmitted and adapted in the course of the sixteenth century–and most particularly from 1580, if it compellingly obscured national boundaries, it persisted in maintaining the centrality of Europe, in ways that almost polemically distinguished the content of a ‘chorographic’ map of a community–or choros.  The ancient goegrapher had described chorographic, rather than geographic, maps as proper to artists, from the crafting of geographical maps whose terrestrial purview designed by geographers.  The peculiarity with which the woodcut exploited the encomiastic function of such local images by incorporating multiple city views within a newly unified community.  In an age of geographic mapping of the continents, the image however seemed both a gesture to an older, medieval mode of mapping the globe over the body of Christ, as a “corpus Christianorum,” and a deeply figural proclamation of geographical harmony–in ways that dispensed with the criterial to map terrestrial position by exact mathematical criteria of positions.

The harmonious organization of the continent of Europe as an isolated standing figure–almost an island–suggested the triumph of a region of the world during the mapping of terrestrial relations when the above image appeared in the early 1580s, as if a resolution of the religious wars in a figure of European clothes, customs, and models of imperial authority as much as of rulership and sovereignty understood in terms of nations or the mapping of religious difference onto sovereign lines of division.  For the image that later widely circulated as Europe as a Woman [Europa prima pars Terrae in form Virgo]” was a powerful symbolic–if post-Ptolemaic–early exercise in imperial metageography.  While retaining a symbolic role rooted in emblematic traditions of an image of sovereign integrity, the inventive powers of such a  plastic if composed image of “Europa” as a graceful figure gained purchase as an illustration able to resolve questions of cultural identity and integrity in a globalized world.   The dynamic integration of textual passages, landscape, and cartographic forms was pioneered in the Ortelian atlas, but the map Europa regina as provides a parallel story of the qualitative and symbolic figural mapping of Europe as a region which maintained its centrality in the inhabited world.

For if Europa regina emerged as a poetic conceit of the newfound coherence of Europe in the light of Turkish incursions–and the assertion of imperial authority–the popularity of the new figuration of Europe and its anthropomorphic embodiment that paralleled the recognition of its increasingly diminished prominence in the newly mapped world.  Indeed, if the region of “Europe” was placed front and center in this map of the continent, whose frame privileges the presence of its expanse at the expense of neighboring continents of Africa and Asia in the 1540 edition of Sebastian Münster’s Cosmographia–at a remove from the specter of Turkish domination– “Turcica ditione“–of increased presence after the close of the Ottoman Siege of Vienna.   If the fear of “Turcica ditione” was feared on the borderlands of Hungarian nation and the margins of Ottoman rule–even if part of Hungary, although not in the Habsburg point of view, was in fact under Turkish dominion–the specter had evoked the first mapping of Europe’s integrity and coherence.  But by investing a European landscape with a geographic integrity, if without anthropomorphic unity, the region was emphasized as having cultural and historical insularity, as a large, oversized island, from the Atlantic and the Don, whose vastness ran from Spain to Constantinople, above Africa, seemed ringed by seas, cut off from Asia.



De Europa quae nostro Aevo Christianum complectitur orbem 1550.pngSebastian Münster, Cosmographia (Basel, 1550)

Although the prototype for the rendering of this map of Europe is unclear, the rich riverine landscape distinguished its fertility in geographically informative ways and celebrated it as a chosen place, or locus amoenus for cultivation, as if a new bucolic region, far from war.  The place that Europe’s anthropomorphic figuration gained decades after it was first designed, in the image known variously as Europa regina or Europa triumphans represented not only a triumphal image of the region, belying its imperial character, but retained the image of Europe’s relation to Asia and Africa–a heritage of medieval T-in-O mappaemondi–an image of far more celebratory character, whose iconic content and text existed in dynamic relation to a figural form.


Europa Munster 1550.png


The fear or Turkish dominion gave new impetus to the separate figuration of “Europa” in Münster’s work, investing it with a false integrity through the aura of imperial rule. The image may well have derived form the Bucius had dedicated to Ferdinand, “King of the Romans, Hungary, and Bohemia, and Arch-Duke of Austria,” an image of Europa as a woman that Putsch brought to Paris to be printed, but was also credited to the Sicilian historiographer to Charles V, Claudio Maria Arezzo, from Syracuse; they may have jointly presented the map, which seems a condensation of Ptolemaic geography in a new symbolic form, to Charles V in Sicily during the summer of 1535, when it redefined the distribution of places and nations in Europe as united in a Habsburg perspective–in which Spain, Hungary, and Muscovy are pictured as part of Europe, discretely removed from Ottoman or Tartar presence.


1.  The origins of this image and its Habsburg view of history reflected the remapping of European integrity in the court of Charles V.  The tension between insularity and expanse presented to the recently coronated Holy Roman Emperor by a former member of the retinue of Ferdinand I, who had studied in Italy and traveled widely to the empire’s eastern margins in Hungarian lands–the royal counsel had served as “usperemus in Hungarian secretarius.  In presenting the map to Charles V in Sicily–the old Hohenstaufen seat–it makes sense he would choose to distinguished in the map as the seat of an imperial orb, giving it clear local resonance, to proclaim an image of imperial sovereignty .  In visually transposing the legend of the Phoenician princess, Europa, whose carrying across the waves by Jove to Crete was to found a new monarchy, recounted by the poet Ovid in the Metamorphoses, the print celebrated and marked the movement of the seat of the Holy Roman Empire Charles V would unite to Spain.  Whereas Ovid described Europa as mounting the back of the God transformed to a bull, “innocent of on whom she sat” who carrier her across the seas against full tide to Crete, the figure of Europe is far more poised and composed than one might imagine Europa born across the waves.

The poised figure with her crowed head in Iberian peninsula figured Europa promise the unity of a Christianized continent, as well as a concise geopolitical statement of imperial concern:  as well as recognizing the changed political constitution of the Holy Roman Empire in its new geographical form, the courtly conceit of the image first engraved in Paris in 1537, after the imperial 1530 coronation by the Roman pontiff in Italy, and soon after Charles V had united the Habsburg territories with his native Spain, relocating the imperial capital in ways that expanded the initial core of Habsburg lands, even while cradling the imperial orb in Sicily, her body upright.  The re-imagining of Europa from a Habsburg point of view is attributed to the court counsellor and humanistically educated poet Johann Putsch, of Innsbruck, who presented the map to Charles V in the Sicilian city of Palermo, which was visited by the Holy Emperor, unlike his predecessors, as he sought to fortify its coasts and defend the Mediterranean against Turkish incursions in the Mediterranean.   For the occasion of the imperial visit, Putsch designed a map–now lost in its original, and only surviving as a woodcut–imbued with symbolic status, invested with the poetic conceits as much as cartographic skill, as if celebrating the confirmation that Sicilian residence bestowed on an emperor uniting the Habsburg lands and Kingdom of Naples with the Spanish throne with the Kingdom of Naples:  for rather than recall Europa as a victim of rape, her regal figure stood tall, in ways the images reprinted during the 1580s foreground.  Yet as well triumphal vision, the map, when paired with Putsch’s poetic anthropomorphic apostrophe, Europa lamentans, addressing Charles V to lamenting the new suffering of Europe before dangers from the Turks and Tartars, and from England as well, for being left unprotected–and exposed to violation–save in the German-speaking regions that constituted an ancestral core of the Habsburg lands of Erbland and Vorbland.

While the map of 1537 advanced the promise of its future unity, assured of holding an orb symbolized by Sicily, the image of a delicate patchwork of crests united by a regal presence:  if Crete stands in synecdochal relation to the world, for Ovid, where Europa’s son Minos was its first king and inaugurated a dynasty, at Knossos, the figure of Europa derives imperial orb in Sicily and crown from Spain–and rather than being raped, rules with a composure:  if Renaissance poets had described the abducted Europa as pained if “lovely and warm” carried on the back of a bull to Crete, her face paralyzed by fear and terrified, the composure of Europa is strikingly harmonious in the map transmitted from woodblock to copperplate over the century, her crowned looking downward at her terrestrial expanse from Spain, or at the imperial orb situated in Sicily.


Hellvettii Queen.png


Royal seat of Empire.pngParis, 1537/Basel 1580


Despite its strongly symbolic form, the arrangement of texts, emblems and expanse allow one to read the collective choreography of the empire as recording a shifting geopolitics of the relation of Emperor Charles V to Europe:  as the new emperor would effectively unite the Habsburg lands even after the transposition or migration of the seat of empire to his native Spain, the bodily unity of the region created an auspicious cartographical representation of the coronation of the new Holy Roman Emperor.  In Putsch’s organization of the map, the site of Ferdinand I’s empire in Prague appears as the pendant of a necklace, if not the heart of Europa, and the river of the the Danube doubles as Europa’s gown’s fold, or an image of the vena cava within the body politic of the Christian empire, and the Iberian peninsula the crowned head of empire symbolized a new image of Imperial integrity.  The encomiastic image was informed by Putsch’s classical studies in Italy, as an encomiastic rewriting of pan-European unity that embodied hopes for an integral mainland.

If the later iterations of the engraving from the later sixteenth century continued a similar poetics of unity which persisted in representing hopes for imperial unity during the wars of religion.  If the notion of the insularity of Europe echoed the image of Crete where Europa, mother of Minos, would dwell–“my world, my island, grove of the God Jove”–the depiction of a Europe rich with rivers suggested both a sense of insularity in such maps served as ways to process space and spatial unity, as they came to provide an image of a Europa triumphans in the face of wider geographical discoveries that dethroned the centrality of “Europe” from the inhabited ecumene.  The image was less of a satyrical map than a somewhat polemic affirmation of  the continued integrity and centrality of Europe as a community–and European manner–while a distinctly different qualitative picture of global customs, dress and globalism emerged, and might be seen as a sort of symbolic resistance as such–much as “Europa” cartographically crystallized as a unit as if in response to fears of Ottoman advance.


2.  When Europe was first mapped in the Cosmographia of Sebastian Münster from 1550 in an anthropomorphic form, Münster had already imported the poetic metaphor to define Europe apart in editions of 1542, 1544 and 1548, perhaps deriving from Putsch’s map, which lent considerable discursive identity to the coherence of the region of “Europe”:  the anthropomorphic image sought to symbolize its sustained unity as a basis for the cartographic self-representation that processed the first mapping of Europe as a region in the early sixteenth century school of St. Die, as a wall map–and, subsequently, as a region securely removed from Turkish dominion.  What Waldseemüller had described as “bounded on the western side by the Atlantic ocean, on the northern side by the British ocean, and on the eastern side by the river Tanais” was shown as cartographic unity defined by oceanic landmarks, as it was re-interpreted in graphic form at a remove from scientific or mathematical cartography.


KFHdVYLCosmographia (1542)


Hand Colored EUROPA 1552 MWCosmographia (1542)


EUROPA PRIMA NOVA Cosmographia.pngCosmographia (1542)


Munster EUROPA.colored 1552.pngCosmographia (Basel, 1552)


The addition of an elegant map of anthropomorphic design effectively embodied the conceit of an expansive peninsula unified by the Habsburg dynasty, whose performance of European identity only expanded as its inventive form of some degree of expressive plasticity that complemented   the accommodation of cultural otherness in increasing regions of the inhabited world.  The original map, which Peter Meurer has convincingly idenfied as presented to Charles V during his visit of state to Sicily in the fall of 1535, where the depiction of the continent holding the imperial orb located in Sicily, where Putsch travelled in the imperial retinue of Ferdinand I, based in Bohemia in Prague, effectively linking the Hohensatufen seat of power to the vision of the body politic of empire that reflected his own migration in the imperial court from Prague to Hungary to Spain, creating a cartographic poetics of imperial power later printed in a format of two sheets as a decorative map and statement of power that was able to be hung on a wall.  While the map presented to Charles V in Palermo does not survive in its original form, the questions of the relations between cartographic invention, embodiment, and engraving and how maps process space.

In what was to become an exquisitely inventive image in the burins of other engravers and cartographers who embodied Europe to lend greater coherence to its amalgams of toponyms, the ancient legend of Europa was re-embodied and modernized in new ways to describe the European continent whose head located in Spain, glancing down toward the regions of Greece and the Peloponnese that now lie at the hem of her skirt and across the Mediterranean to Africa, in ways that seemed to register the shifting needs to imagine the place of Europe in a remapped world.  The processing of a broad geographical expanse within a single legible emblematic form gained a distinctly elegant afterlife in generations after its 1537 Paris edition as a colored print of a less openly political, and broader cultural relevance that paralleled the expansion of images of increasing cartographical exactitude but whose choreographic form seems to have become less removed from a courtly discourse on emblematics as it was prepared for a market of cartographical prints, in which Europe’s body was as it were fleshed out in a new symbolic figurative form.

If the relations between the Bucius map to the constitution of the European Union were noted in the blogosphere and on Reddit–mostly in relation to the remove of Britain in our own post-Brexit world–the fraught tensions over the relation of modern Turkey to Europe persist, as if informed by longstanding symbolic separation of Turkey and the imagined autonomy of a European World–Turkey after all remains a candidate, as Hungary and Bulgaria potential candidates–as fears of violation by Turkish presence remains a powerful symbolic among groups that seek to animate much xenophobic resistance to Turkey’s presence in the European Union today.


pict--political-map---european-union-eu-28--candidate-countries-map.png--diagram-flowchart-exampleConceptDraw Solution Park


3.  A fault line with Turkish role was indeed far more prominent in the mental geography of map-readers than the divide between Old and New worlds.   The transformation of Europe to a new form of the imperial house offered a compellingly popular as an emblem that promoted the peace of the Habsburg dynasty, after the 1530 coronation of Charles V as Holy Roman Empire:  the reconstitution of the House of Habsburg of a new sovereign body was praised and promoted through the collection of towns and town views that distinguished what was once referred to as “the continent,” in ways that recall the poetic conceit of the map as a reinvention of space–and a symbolic model to frame and enshrine the distribution of power across space–as much as a transcription of spatial relations.  Re-engraved with qualitative alterations in 1564, 1581, 1582, and 1586, whose clever anthropomorphism appealed as an icon of political integrity.  As it was reprinted in ways that parallel and seem to accommodate the growing literacy in quantitative cartographical tools, the emblem of a unified Europe that engravers continued to qualitatively embellish an image that transposed a poetic conceit fist framed in the years after the rebuff of Ottoman siege of Vienna and the separation of Henry VIII from the house of Aragon.

For the Tryolean humanist and court poet Putsch, who had travelled to the ends of the same Europe in Ferdinand I’s court as royal counselor, effectively rehabilitated the form of Europa to embody the political unity and coherence of Habsburg lands by a female form, as historian of cartography Peter Meurer has so convincingly argued, by symbolizing the integrity of Habsburg Europe’s new boundaries, but created a newly legible map as a body  that granted them newfound poetic legitimacy by its anthropomorphic form.  As much as an abstract conceit, the original 1537 map reflects a search for a poetics of coherence and integrity that took advantage of a map in service to powerful poetic claims.  The plastic form of the map gained a new integrity in prints, rooted in courtly poetry, but expanding the expressive value of the the political and jurisdictional landscape of the new body of Europa, which appears primarily as a cartographical invention, studded with the emblems of houses of rule.  The highly legible surface of the 1537 map, presented a puzzle of or rebus of the ordering of local sovereignty, in which the letters “E,” “U,” “R” knit together symbolic unity across divided terrestrial sovereign expanse, and almost no attention is given to detailing the surrounding waters:  as if Europa is content as a separate continent.



Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum, Innsbruck (detail of upper half of map)


To be sure, the map celebrated newfound imperial coherence of lands set off from the invading Turk and with its principal court and capital removed to Spain, site of the female figure’s crowned head from which she seems to admire her own newly emerged body, as an imagined conceit reborn in the courtly circle of Ferdinand I from the island of Crete–home of Europa–to the extent of a body riddled by political divisions.  Johann Putsch cast the somewhat melancholy image as a counterpart to the Europa lamentans that the new Europa ventriloquized an only half hopeful address to both the newly coronated Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Ferdinand, his brother, King of the Romans.  Europa rhetorically asked readers, “What is going to be my destiny, which fate will put an end to the immense distress, the cruel vicissitudes and forces of providence? Which divine ordinance will finally restore a first glimmer of hope for our fallen planet?”  From a narrative of feared violation, the performance of Europe’s female body suggested new narratives of composure, containment, and triumph over the course of the century, as it seemed to unify confessional divides and defined Europe’s own integrity through her posture and decorum that belies these strains of lamentation in particularly assertive ways.

The image of Europa as triumphant increasingly distanced itself from the Petrarchan topoi of bodily violation–Europa’s rape–or the absence of protections foregrounded in how a personification of Europa addressed herself to the recently coronated Holy Roman Emperor.  The image came to connote a clear divide of cultural autonomy and regal stability, separated from the sense of distress that Putsch accentuated.  The narrative of past loss of integrity in a riven body politic of which Europa complained gained cartographical resolution in the somewhat crude map of the continent, the later transmission of the image strove for a sense of integrity in the new House of Habsburg.  For the poet Putsch invested Europa with a long colorful address, as if in an appeal for help, as much as encomiastic form.  For even as “the fertility of my soil is a handicap which attracts enemies from abroad” and even as “my head sways, oppressed by the cruel English, and the right arm which has suffered exceedingly under the Roman tyrants drops down towards earth, while the veins lose their vigor,” Europa voices hopes for a new future, and a restoration of integrity, while bemoaning the “many attacks and wars I have suffered” and “many bloody fights I did see” from the massacres of the Goths, the devastations of Gauls, and “violent rages of furious Attila,” and Ottonians before the more recent invasions of the Turks, as the Tyrolean court poet seemed particularly practiced in appropriating familiar neo-Petrarchan topoi of bodily violation from Italia mia–“che le plague mortali/che nel bel corps tuo si spesse veggio . . . . che fan qui  tante pellegrine spade?  perche’l verde terreno/del barbarico sangue si depinga?”–as poetic license for cartographically rendering the fears of the violence of Ottoman violation.  The Petrarchan strains seem implicit, but earlier fears of lost green fields recolored red by barbarian blood, by a “diluvio raccolto/ . . . per inondar i nostri dolci campi” was replaced by the vitality of the body of Europe, resistant to any of the “foreign swords” Petrarch saw as a curse to the country beloved by heaven.

As if in a counterpart to the lamentation off in Putsch’s poem that hopes for less distracted rulers, even as “we are threatened by more actions on the battlefield, to be fought with the sword” and many within Europe seem poised to “break the peace,” the map seems to offer a potential resolution of formal integrity for the region’s inhabitants.  Even if Europa lamentans voices ears for launching new wars and a ‘ “rush headlong into a new war,” heralding signs of stability from the Habsburg House, it praises the presence of  “faithful and mighty Germany alone, in the centre of my body, has energetically armed herself,” even though the seat of monarchy has moved to Spain, as the “strongest protector of [my] absolute chastity,” to face threats “by the treacherous Turk, the Arab or even the Tatar.”  The presentation of a Europe who is most protected in Germany, but not bloodied at all by incursions, is suggested to be nourished by its prominent riverine courses, many analogous–as the Danube, subject of a lost poem that Putsch had earlier penned–to the veins of the body, the Danube in striking correspondence to the vena cava and aorta already current in anatomical images of the human body’s hidden internal structures, much as Prague, seat of the court of Ferdinand I, King of the Romans, stands at Europa’s heart.

The hope for inaugurating a new “Golden Age” under the Empire overseen by Charles V provided Putsch with hopes to “curb the infatuation with war and the threat of the arms,” and would have not only symbolized the extent of the Holy Roman Empire, but heralded hopes to “give frightened humanity a lasting peace, and quietude to the inhabitants.”   This stands in contrast to the cartographical remove that the anthropomorphic map later gained as a playful conceit of the integrity of European identity, whose organization suggests the fear of the disruption of the vital lifeline of the Danube or the danger of violation from beneath a composed Europa’s skirts from the East.  The geographical expanse of Europe was an implicit theme of the map that gained new afterlife as a summary of cities and cartographical catalogue.  Putsch had not only travelled to the edges of the same Europe in the retinue of Ferdinand I, where he served as royal councilor in the Hungarian campaign of the Habsburg ruler, but wrote a poetic epic about the Danube, now lost, and the complementary geographic poems that so elegantly embodied Europe, which the map  translated to compellingly embodied cartographical form.


5.  Perhaps the way that the mathematical geographer Ptolemy distinguished local or chorographic maps that showed the organization of place or site as the charge of a painter provided  a brief for painters recognized by humanistically educated audiences.  The colored woodcut of Europe as a woman foregrounded the region’s formal integrity even in the midst of confessional divides.  The bridging of topographic divides as rivers, mountain ranges, or coasts in one bodily costume, set against a stippled sea not only naturalize a precursor of the post-Brexit European Union; the image of a regal woman, a “virgo” with her magnificently coronated head lying in Spain was an encomiastic form, as much orientational tool, comprehending the diversity and unity of Europe in the middle of the sixteenth century:  the figure of Europa embodied the hierarchy of major urban cities–situating  imperial cities of Prague, Magdeburg, Vienna, Buda, Constantinople, Naples in one form.  At a time of a profusion of maps, when the continent had been fully mapped at multiple scales and modes, a new symbolic representation and iconography of its sacro-political unity among a geographically disparate community of towns.

Indeed, rather than depict terrestrial continuity, it proclaimed territorial integrity within the relation of ruler to the region the ruler embodied in particularly elegant terms, bridging the Pyrenees that served as the basis for her ruff, and with her heart still beating in Bohemia.   The staid comportment of the crowned queen embodied clear control over local civil constitutions by the 1580s, when it was more widely reprinted, as if in a condensation of the civilizing process that seemed to conclude the religious wars.


Queen of Place.png


The image gained a large audience among the regional maps of cities in Sebastian Münster’s Cosmographia from the 1550s, and is not known to have circulated earlier, as did most of the maps within the volume. More an image of delight than precision, the image was less an “upward displacement” of one’s point of view than a symbolization of the integrity of an imagined landscape.  Situated between “AFRICA” and “ASIA,” the image constituted something of a rehabilitation of the tripartite T-in-O maps centered at Jerusalem, but magnified Europe as a formed body at its center–a relation heightened by describing Europa as the “foremost region of the earth [prima pars Terrae],” gesturing to the inhabited earth’s division in medieval mappaemundi.




In an age of an abundance of world maps, indeed, the feminized figure affirmed the continuity and symbolic integrity of Europe, endowed with its own symbolic continuity and crowned with regality separate from the papacy lending prominence to the imperial cities of central Europe in its body, in ways that might be seen as an iconic polemic against a geographical map of global purview, and a new map of European empire and Christian community of a distinctly imperial pedigree.  Even as it gestured to and rehabilitated the juridical concept of the two bodies of the king’s two bodies, the imperial body of Europe crowned by Spain constituted a powerful if miniaturized political polemic about European identity in emblematic form, wresting claims for political universality from Rome’s pontiff.


crowned woman


The crown positioned in Spain studded with jewels presented an implicit rebuke to the papal tiara, as the coverage of the European landscape reminded viewers that the pontiff had invested imperial authority with a new sacred role, as much as an emblem of worldly leadership, which Philip II had hoped to claim as the premier leader able to unify the continent in an age of religious dissensus that the Roman pope no longer afforded and could no longer provide.  The assertion of the preeminence of the regal figure sought a new level of unity in the figure of the emperor–condensing a conceit of imperial succession and derived from the search for a new emblematics of rulership if not of imperial agency in the imperial court of Ferdinand I:  the tiara-like crown of “Europa in forma virginis [Europe in the Form of a Maiden]” increasingly effectively coopted the tradition of papal emblematics as it won currency in the mid- to late sixteenth century, moreover, as the figure of the Queen Europa assumed an imperial crown that substituted for a papal tiara.

The tiara-wearing figure of Europe, elegantly poised and standing tall, coopted the image of Christian integrity that the Roman pontiff had in recent years increasingly assumed as a reflection of worldly authority and magnificence.


Pius V with tiara.pngPalma il Giovane, Pius V wearing full regalia and papal tiara


dfc5b06b0ae5f56b9f39f9eabd081f55Paul III (reigned 1519-49)


The encomiastic chorography mapped “Europa” as a unity, even in a time of religious dissensus.  The map might be seen as tantamount to an investment in unity, as the Habsburg court sought to place itself as the head of Catholic Europe, even as the Wars of Religion continued in France.  Mapping provided a new mode of displaying and celebrating unity of wha might be considered a region, united by a scare-imperial authority as a space.  By placing the regal head of spaces the seat of the Habsburg throne so prominently, the map ordered the body of landscape of Europe in decisive ways that were not only an amusement or a satyrical map, unless satire is understood as adopting a set of formal conventions in new way and to new ends:  the  powerful symbolic image of terrestrial and imperial unity in a time of changing and expanding geographical horizons, and an identification of the two-court Habsburg lineage as drawing together Europe’s variety in a single body–a body celebrated as a Virgin Queen, whose heart seem to lie in Germany and Bohemia, but the variety of whose contents extended to encompass the European cities that Sebastian Münster had fairly included c. 1550 in the compilation of maps of his best-selling German-language Cosmographia, reflecting its predominant concentration on chorographic images of German-language cities, if taking Italy and Denmark as two arms, respectively holding imperial orb and scepter, as if to affirm its integrity.


Cosmography“Europe” personified as a woman from Münster (1550)


6.  The hand-colored image echoes how the ancient geographer had described the mapping of communities as the work fitting for an artist, not a geographer.  Removed from scale, coordinates, or even the pretense of cartographical precision and accuracy, the gendered map was a grander form of the genre of chorography–described in early modern treatises of geography as a qualitative rather than quantitative the map of a place or community.  The collective choreography earned national boundaries, but invested a powerful figural coherence to a landscape map that echoed choreographic as much as geographic conventions of landscape.

The image of Europe could double as a chorogaphical rendering  by the 1580s, when the image more broadly circulated than after its initial 1537 creation, redesigned as a powerful image of symbolic as much as spatial unity in 1581 by the theological commentator Heinrich Bünting in his  Itinerarium Sacrae Scriptura, and again in the imperial city of Magdeburg in 1585, shown below.  The image of Europe as an embodied image now identified as female was autonomous if legless, curiously separated from northern lands of Norway, England, Scotland, Denmark or Sweden–which floated almost globularly above, clothed by the landscape and cities of the mainland was a solidly embodied regal form, crown supported by the houses of Aragon and Navarre, facing down Africa–no longer a clear continent–and removed from Asia.


Europa . . forma VIrginis Putsch 1585 Magdeburg.pngBritish Library (1585)


The cartographical embodiment of the body politic dispensed with the conventions of geographical mapping, as an embodiment it became a powerful symbolic image of the coherence of the empire, “head” in Spain, seat of the Habsburg empire, where Philip II had transferred the seat of empire to the Escorial palace, and, since 1581 ruled Portugal as well, and confirmed the transferral of power to the Iberian peninsula.  The snapshot of political power revealed the monarch had by 1583 “completed” rule over the continent–its “chest” now in France, early seat of empire and of the imperial regalia, its “body” composed of Germans from whom the Habsburg house hailed and derived, as whose right arm was made of Italy, holding the Imperial orb in Sicily where the empire once lay, but ruled from Spain:  such was the snapshot of European rule, if one that elided or turned a blind eye to the Dutch revolt.

The map affirmed the newfound political unity of the continent, in ways that transcended his person or the Habsburg house, but provided a powerful trope of cartographical embodiment of the body politic or of a body politic dotted with cities, and of which the Danube runs down to her dress’s hem.


Body center.pngBritish Library (detail of 1585 Magdeburg impression)


What sort of unity did viewers see in the imagend the engraver Johannes Putsch, or, as he latinized his name for humanist readers, Johannes Bucius, present to readers?  While not a ‘satyrical’ map of humorous design, it was clearly metageographical in a new sense in Europe, and built on the increased literacy in cartographic symbolic forms as a model for illustrating and demonstrating the power of unifying political rule.  Bucius’ map was itself re-engraved and reproduced in Sebastian Munster’s wildly popular Cosmographia from its 1570 edition, as the first personification of the continent in its new imperial guise to be widely disseminated in Europe, and a regeneration of the social body.   The history of the reception of its cartographic form offered a popular image of European identity, more broadly than the Hapsburg court.

The embodying of Europe was a powerful metaphor to link to a crowned figure for the Spanish Habsburgs, by the time it reappeared in the 1585 Magdeburg engraving, converting the edges of the Iberian peninsula to a regal tiara or crown, as if to symbolically map the imperial network of an empire whose symbolical center had migrated, if the place of Bohemia as a pendant, and Vienna as a principal city, long remained, and Sicily became an orb, and Rome perhaps an extravagant adornment on her wrist.  Indeed, the adornment of the queen-continent seemed an occasion to map Europe’s extreme abundance, and distinguish it as such less in an exact than in an elegant symbolic form.


7.  The repetition of an identical motif of mapping from the first third of the sixteenth century, when it was first engraved as a woodcut, to a more iconic representation of imperial identity constituted an early modern imperial icon of European unity:  “Yurp,” much as Peter Sellars put it in the first days of the EU, emerged as a regal figure, imperial orb in Sicily, head in Spain (Hispania) and Hispanic in character, but heart in Bohemia–and (no doubt to the chagrin of the English), the islands reduced to a flying banner of the scepter that she holds, lending it regal attributes in its dress and crown.  The performance of such an allegorical personification is both a protection against otherness, and an image of the imperial identity of the continent’s identity.  The map suggests not only a medieval tradition of figurative geography or symbolic mapping, but a deeply allegorical reading of how Ptolemaic cartography used the correspondence of place in a uniformly continuous distribution to fashion a “community” in chorographic maps.  Indeed, despite the proliferation of various ‘chorographical’ maps of regions, often nation-states such as France, England, Switzerland, or the Netherlands by the early 16th century, the image of Europe’s imperial identity foregrounded the specific role of each place within that unity–from Iberia at its head to Bohemia at its heart to Italy as the arm holding an imperial orb.  It served as something of a hierarchical relationship of the individual European regions, and something like a memory-emblem to record the relationship within the Holy Roman Empire of varied European states.


As such, it was often re-written–or re-mapped–as a symbol of authority, the primacy alternating between European cities and counties that were centers of imperial residence.  The image is often described as “map-like,” but provides a map, if one less concerned with spatial orientation of its observer or individual reader than the coherence and unity of one specific region in an expanding ecumene.  Johannes Putsch (or Bucius) designed the original map that he entitled “Europa in forma virginis” (in the form of a maiden) have often been argued to represent an embodied leader, such as Charles V’s wife Isabella, whose progeny would unite the region that the Hapsburgs tried to effect the notion of unity with considerable popularity, but dedicated to the brother of Charles V, Ferdinand I, as a sort of allegorical land map of strikingly more schematic nature when compared to later, more life-like images.  This 1537 woodcut of two plates created an early prototype for the mapping of imperial identity, printed in Paris, and includes the elements of crown, scepter and imperial orb, all of which are presented with more detail than the quite schematic linear map, suggesting only a notional image of England or the African continent and coast–if in a far more schematic form of less clear embodiment–even if it may have existed in colored copies.


Europe as a Queen--Bucius


The point was less to map terrestrial borders, continuity, or shorelines with any accuracy than to provide a figuration of European unity that addressed audiences skilled in map-reading, or with reading the distribution of a land-map.  The popularity of its figuration of Europe lead to re-engravings and reproductions, often colored in the form of many manuscript maps–leading to their elaborations within later reproductions, as in this image at the Comenius crypt in Garden, that attests to its particular staying power as a representation of Bohemian identity, as much as European unity.


Europa Regina 2Wikimedia


Europe is shown in the map as a continent, opposed to Asia and Africa, as a new rendering of the T-in-O map, now centered not in Jerusalem, however, but based in the forest around Bohemia, stretching from Spain to Hungary, with Greece, Bulgaria, Scythia and Tartar lands at her skirt.  This image is not only far more ‘fleshed out,’ but reveals a clearer image of a landscape map, suggesting that its engraver emulated the Ortelian integration of landscape engraving and cartographical iconography with text:  prominent textual markers indeed distinguish the continent’s (or queen’s) bodily zones, even as the rectitude of the female figuration of the continent is reflected in her grave aspect and imperial regalia.


crowned woman.png


The essential dynamic of unity within and overcoming sovereign divisions is underscored in this map, which if previously an independent flysheet was re-used within the context of a popular printed book, together with multiple maps of varied provenance that were mostly characterized by their striking pictorial design.  Although broken into colored sectors of national zones, this anthropomorphization of space enobled the image of Europe, staring at Cadiz and the African coast, in ways that eerily prefigure a Europe gazing over an imaginary mountain range.


Eropa Regina


Striking strings of conical mountains are a wonderful visual metaphor in the map that appear transformed to decorative forms, as the colors national divides seem a decorative quilt:  the Pyrenees appear as a regal necklace, rather than a dividing line, decorating the worldly majesty.  After a 1587 reprinting of the image, by Matthias Quad, a cartographer of Köln who would later publish an atlas of Europe, and printed by Jan Bussemaker, now titled simply “Europae descriptio,” leading to the inclusion of another variation of the map in Münster’s best-selling Cosmographia, among a collection of maps of Europe, Africa, Asia and the New World.


The maping of European unity is often linked, as by Wiebke Franken, to the somewhat more mystical anthropomorphic mapping in 1337 of the relations of the continents of Africa and Europe by the monk Opicino de’ Canistris, who represented Africa by the figure of a monk–perhaps a self-portrait?–gazing with supreme confidence at the figure of Europe as a woman, drafted while at the papal palace in Avignon as a hopeful image of future congress or harmony, as Africa a monk-like stoic spectator of an alluring Europe of flowing hair.




Opicino’s remapping of Europe offered a mapping of Christian unity, a pictorial representation of two continental figures barely removed from one another–perhaps echoing the church’s remove from Rome.

The restoration of a united body of the feminized monarch that became invested with royal attributes as Europa Regina was a powerful statement of political unity and customs, and invested with full regalia.  The map of a supremely regal Habsburg Europe occupying center-stage and surrounded by oceanic waters focussed attention on the instruments of imperial power–the orb; the crown; the scepter, in an alternative trinity–by mapping the ascendancy of imperial power even in an age of confessional divides.  By 1590, the supremacy of Europe, of which England, Scotland, and Ireland now stood as a banner fluttering in the imagined breeze as it flew from Europe’s scepter, seemed invested with bravery, comprehending now all of the page, staring down Africa, comprehending Muscovy and Tartar lands, and with Asia reduced to something of a stub.


regfina 1590.png



Filed under Bohemia, cartographic design, Europa Regina, Holy Roman Empire, royal maps

Mapping Friendships? Facebook Maps Social Networks

The recent growth of web-based “social networks” inspire maps no longer rooted in terrestrial relations, but stand to become vertiginously unmoored from them:   maps often help us to grapple with the distance between them, as much as to orient us spatially to their relationships, but the blobs on this series of maps oddly disaggregates the inhabitants from the land, focussing less on their spatial situation than their relative degree of web-presence.   Indeed, in ways that very inventively rewrite the map as a throbbing surface, rather than a static interface, the attachments of folks to the interactive space of Facebook becomes cast as the subject that is being mapped–as well as being the datasource from which the map’s dataset derives.

Thanks to the creative folks at Stamen design, we have a beautiful interactive global map of Facebook users, whose bold colors offer a neatly clickable index of social networking over space.  The map is not an innovative ordering of space, but illustrates the network’s global reach in a twist on the project of mapping the inhabited world, shared by Ptolemy and Abraham Ortelius alike.  But let’s ask what’s at stake in crafting a visualization culled from archived data gathered from users’ profiles–as much as celebrating the virtuosity of the clickable map as a chart of the social network’s reach, as if it were able to map as previously unquantifiable (and indeed ultimately almost ephemeral) value as ‘friendship’ might be.

World's "Friendships" on Facebook

Many maps employ self-reported data.  In a sense, the map of Facebook use–or the self-identified “Friendship Map”–charts global inter-relations, like the global maps of national distribution of GDP, provenance of coffee beans or even pathways of the migrating whales, both discussed in earlier posts.  But whereas  maps objectively mediate terrestrial inter-relations–and inter-connectivity–the notion of connectivity has been re-appropriated in the images of “Friendship” that Facebook commissioned, as has the meaning of the word “Friendship” itself.  On the one hand, this map is a celebration and triumphal illustration of Facebook’s near-ubiquity.  But it is also with clear limits, even if they are unacknowledged.  Anyone not on Facebook is absent from the map, since connectivity is generated from profiles that are registered online.

Facebook connections allowed the folks at Stamen to generate instantaneous images of web-use, making this sequence of clickable maps a truly interactive treat, as well as a visual feast.  But the effect is also to present the data generated from Facebook use as endowed with the allegedly objective criteria of maps, and to normalize Facebook’s criteria of “friendship” in apparently objective terms.  Although the very notion of geographic connectivity is fundamental to map making, the maps that are used as the templates to indicate the “connections” of friending in the Facebook platform invest a sense of objectivity and meaning in trends of friending that elevates the medium as the basis to generate further information to a degree that boosts Facebook’s criteria of meaning, as much as provides analytic tools:  if “the medium is the message,” the medium is not cartography, although the multiple images echo the authority of cartographical forms, but Facebook itself.

This is particularly pernicious, and bears some examination.  The maps on this site visualize aggregate friendships on Facebook as quivering blobs of connections that pulsate as with life of their own.  Although claiming objective authority of a map, the aggregates map “friendship” as Facebook has defined it, and embody and reify the data FB use itself creates and generates:  this is a map of FB use, in other words (rather than of web use in general), and a vision of the interconnectivity Facebook promises and the very “Friendships” that it creates.

Take a look once again at the snapshot of the connectedness of the Marshall Islanders who use Facebook:

World's Friendships on Facebook


Such a map is decidedly not a territory–nor could it be confused with one.  But if “all maps are arguments,” in Harley’s words, and conceal interests, as much as show meaning, the interests concealed in these “Maps of the World’s Friendship” demand considerable unpacking.  For to me, the multiple maps that Stamen design unveiled last September 12 are something like post-modern versions of earlier corporate emblems.

The aggregate views of information born of Facebook use essentially trumpet the inter-connected world that Facebook promises as a matrix achieved by corporate interconnectedness, in other words, in ways that update the familiar stream-lined modernist logo of global unity Pan Am once used to promote itself as the “world’s most experienced airline,” able to provided air service to all regions of the world by airline jets.  The Pan Am emblem emptied the familiar format of projection from toponyms or places, as if to illustrate the lack of obstacles to air travel and the global surface that its flights promised to link.  The logo owned by Pan American World Airways erased places in favor of the latitudes that link the world bridged by flight paths and no longer in need of land maps, no doubt intentionally offering the new map the airline corporation promised to provide to its users.



The interactive map of Facebook connectivity are constantly evolving and generated at a given moment, and, unlike the static emblem, as if living independently from the viewer, but embodying actual FB use.

The contrast is interesting on iconographic grounds as well as stylistic ones.  The generation between these visions of global interconnectedness has led to a map of greater sophistication and persuasiveness of interactive form, and one that seems, like Facebook, user-friendly and value-free:  but the map of Facebook users is particularly insidious, as ‘friending’ and connections are rendered by the web-based platform itself.  In comparison to the Pan Am logo, rather than merely provide an illusory image of the promise of global unity, the map is a triumphant image of the actual interaction that the web-based platform promised: “friending” provides the metric of global interconnectedness and the sole standard of national interconnectivity.  Although the map can be re-centered at a click in order to map the connectedness from a different point of view, the “point of view” does not really change. In the text above the map, “friendship” doesn’t appear in scare quotes:  it in fact normalizes Facebook use as the sole index of contentedness and inter-connection.

Let’s examine specific cases to ask what is revealed or viewable in these multiple maps, which represent a proliferation of different data visualizations as much as providing a basis for geographical or spatial orientation. To do so, return to the “map” of Facebook connectivity in the Marshall Islands, which maps Islanders’s global connectedness via Facebook friendships:

World's Friendships on Facebook



The notion of mapping an emotion or state of mind–friendship–suggests the sort of positivism of early twentieth-century phrenology, or the comic maps of lands of contentment, like the early modern “Carte du Tendre“–an imagined geography described as a “topographic and allegoric representation” by Mme. de Scudéry in seventeenth-century France–as a geography of Love, complete with a river of Tenderness that runs through towns named after different stages of tender affection.

There’s a wonderful paradox of mapping the intangible as concrete, or mapping the ineffable–how often do we invest deep significance in the word “friend” after fourth grade?–in graphic terms, as if to make manifest the good-will that exists as if it were a physical topography.  (The notion of such mythic lands is re-inforced by dividing the map into color-coded continents, as if an emotional Olympic games between different parties.)  But it is more the hubristic belief of Facebook in their own metrics, doubtful in any event, than a positivistic belief in the ability to locate sites of well-being in the body or on the planet.

What’s the metric here?  Hopes of visualizing interconnectedness among Facebook’s users is more of an advertisement for their web-based platform than a visualization of disinterested data, and it’s not at all certain that this converts to a metric of well-being:  the huge number of connections boasted by residents of the Marshall Islands, Guam, Fiji, and the Philippines may derive from a sense of disconnectedness among the American populations in these regions, and a reliance on FB as a platform to remain in contact with their relatives in a different time-zones.  Although the Marshall Islands were only occupied by the United States until just less than thirty years ago–American forces left in 1986–the 10% of the population of American origin maintain extremely close ties to the US, and, more tellingly, the top destination for Marshallese ex-pats is the US.  “Technology bridges distance and borders,” Mia Newman boasts from Stanford on the FB website itself, as, due to the grace of this platform, “Individuals today can keep in touch with their friends and family in completely new ways — regardless of where they live.”  In a world characterized by dislocation and isolation, Facebook provides social ties.

The appeal of the map is of course to advertise how Facebook trumps geography, and one might do well to return to the interested nature of this map as a corporate logo:  “Immigration is one of the strongest links that seems to bind these Facebook neighbors,” the website informs us, if this was a discovery that the platform allowed; having (and maintaining) a lot of FB connections isn’t that surprising given the dislocations caused by such out-migration over recent years.  Flipping to the site itself,


watch with awe as color-coded aggregate bubbles quiver with connectivity,  as folks update social profiles, making new connections, adding “Friends”, or, as I happened to do last night, de-Friending others.  Clicking on the variable of ‘language’ on the site, we can see or imagine close ties between the Marshallese and the Philippines, and note with some surprise that the dominance of red (English) on the map, the improbability that non-English speakers in the islands nonetheless register the greatest number of connections.  This omits the different uses of “Friending” or “FB Friendship” among each region, of course, we failed to add, as it assumes that use of Facebook conventions is as universal as Facebook’s global reach.

The deepest attraction of the site is its interactive feature by which the map at a click newly configures itself from the perspective of dfferent FB users.  The movable centering of the map doesn’t change the geographic distribution of place, but rather  reveals how connectivity is centered in the globe from different national aggregates, which can also be segregated by language.

Experiment at the link here, to explore the fluidity of this new mode of mapping the world’s population, and abstracting one’s web-presence from the world.


In this case Haiti, the “map” correlates the number of Facebook connections in the country and numbers between countries in ranked order that are a bit surprising, given the prominence of Canada, until one imagines the number there of Haitian refugees:

Learn Which Countries Share

The links among active FB users, cast here in terms of language groups, ostensibly responds to the question of who “shares the closest friendship connections,” although the reasons for those connections are not able to be clarified–although the illumination of linguistic ties clearly helps.  The huge prominence of Haitian ties to the Dominican Republic and Canada is not a big surprise; if the slightly lesser ties Haiti enjoys to the United States may be, it is not surprising that the proportional ties to France rank a close fourth.  This is a map, however, of dislocation, and attempts to bridge physical divides, as much as it is of friendship ties–or even a measure of friendship per se–so much as the type of “friendship™”  that Facebook seeks to market and be able to offer:  friendship that is less in, as it were, meatspace than cyberspace.

In contrast, the close ties of Russia to the Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus might be better explained by their recent division from a formerly united regional territory, albeit one that was ethnically diverse:

Russia's %22Friends%22

These maps display salient ties of economic and linguistic relations, to be sure, yet filtered through the economy of Facebook use.  The dramatically interactive map measures different perspectives of the world through the sum totals of FB users in one region or nation–a self-selected group–based on the criteria that that group imposed on the map.  Unlike other maps, where the data is cherry-picked and chosen and balanced by the mapmaker to conceal or pinpoint interests in an objective manner, Facebook has culled the data for this map–created and devised by Stamen Design–based on data that is not only essentially self-reported, but represents not only a portrait, but Facebook’s ability to mine the data archived by user-preferences and to assemble its own data of the aggregate of regional Facebook communities.

The result is a fantastic vision of totality through the eyes of the Facebook network, in which we can “click” on any country to view its population’s “connections” to other areas of the world.  What else does the map tell us?  Little more than the economic ability to dedicate large amounts of time to FB, or the state of emotional dependence on expanding one’s connections–or, more accurately, the acculturation of FB as a way of maintaining ties.  “Economic links, through trade or investment, also seem to be strong predictors of country connectedness,” Mia Newman informs us as she seeks to interpret the map for readers who have stumbled upon it and seek to understand this new configuration of the globe online.

Since we’re championing interconnectedness, let’s look at the potentially more isolated country of Pakistan:

Pakistan 1

The ever helpful text panel–as the legend that must always be read with care in any map–calls special attention to Pakistanis’ ties to Bangladeshis, an effect of their unity in colonial times, but is less than illuminating about what are the classes of Facebook users in the former South Asian colonies, or what are the groups using the platform:  perhaps the emphasis on the fourth largest aggregate site of connections distracts from the comparable ties to users in Afghanistan, or the surprising permeability of the Indian-Pakistani border.

The multiple FB connections of inhabitants of Greece, however, and the generous radii of countries in Eastern and Central Europe, belies the notion that interconnectedness is a metric of economic vitality.


There’s a lot of FB activity in Micronesia–but are Bulgaria and Serbia hotspots of economic vitality or cooperation?  Are Chile and Argentina sites of stability, or is Mexico?  Is Argentina really a center of stable labor relations and a model of free markets that we are instructed to read the map as providing evidence of?

Argentina's Friendship and Labor Market

The arrangement of a configuration of bubbles of different colors are beautiful, and the pulsation of colored blobs dramatic, but the group of users are particularly difficult to identify, as are the habits by which they might “friend” their “friends”–or the networks they create.

Does–to chose a limit case–an absence of FB interconnectedness in China really reveal that the country is moribund economically?  In the manner that North Korea drops off Google Maps, although we all know that North Korea is not known for its open-access, there is no point of reference on which to click or metric to view for the largest of the world’s economies.

The limits of mapping FB use as a form of “friendship” rests on a combination of economic benefits, security, and desires for companionship that jointly contribute to online “friending” and the archiving of “friends.”  Not only is there a uniform level of “friending”–so that the necessity of economic “friendship” is equated with the ties of countries of origin among immigrant communities–but the homogenization of these different gradations of “friendship” obscure the potential benefits of legibility in this dramatically interactive map of Swedish FB users’ ties to geographically proximate and distant members of the FB community.

As the test notes, it shows the close ties of the Swedish market to Norway-not surprisingly–Denmark, and Finland, but also the ties of refugees who have arrived in Sweden, a preferred site, from both to Serbia and Iraq.  These recent settlers in the region, unlike the Scandinavian nexus, document a “friendship” to parents, schoolmates, or extended family– the database FB has culled suggests a deep desire to continue an imaginary with these faceless “connections,” and the lack of ability to make easy contact with these ties among immigrant communities, rather than the depth of their connections.

sweden's friendships

In the end, these are wonderful maps of our own making, whose indices are a better reflection (or projection) of what connectedness means to us–connectedness now being a relation that Facebook has now both defined and designed.  Whereas the old Pan Am logo surely maps geographical interconnectedness, as do all maps, the series of user-generated maps of Facebook connectedness map the extent of networked interconnectivity:   they are less truly maps, in some sense, than data visualization schema, that render in pictorially iconic form the data that Facebook is able to collect.  All maps reflect their makers to be sure; the maps of Facebook connectivity, more than perhaps anything else, illustrate the range of data Facebook is able to mine.  Perhaps this is the real function of the maps, which parade the range of information and “closer looks” that Facebook has access to.

For what goes unsaid–and remains unsaid–in this endless sequence of maps is the variations among the penetration of Facebook within each country–it is assumed to be complete, and to rester anyone that one is interested in taking measure of, as if it were the metric of Who Really Counts.  Yet the wide disparities within the extent of Facebook’s currency (or, if you will, adoption) in different countries not only widely varies but might be itself mapped, as something like a corrective to the data streams that the above maps claim to oh-so-conveniently organize.

The distribution of the differential sin Facebook’s adoption in the population at large might be usefully remembered in this far yet brilliantly colored but useful bubble map, which chats the intensity of Facebook’s penetration in the population, based on site-registered active users around 2012 from a variety of sources, from a project of Elvin Wyly and Larissa Zip, which attempts to map the more socially-networked world that Facebook boasts it can offer access to.  Although the ranking of urbanization of countries is problematic–given the local variation in a largely rural nation as India that possesses large cities–the huge size of connectedness that was privileged in the urbanized areas of brazil, the United States, UK, Uruguay, Chile, France, Columbia, Turkey, Argentina, Malaysia and the Philippines, as well as highly urbanized Singapore and Hong Kong–irrespective of actual geography or population size.  (India is the outlier of a largely unorganized country with high FB users, but the undoubted majority of its users are concentrated in cities or urban areas–Facebook does not release or record precise geophysical location; the relatively small user numbers for Iraq, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Uganda, or China seems to show regional poverty.



The outsized boast of mapping “The World’s Friendships” conceals the very absence of the non-networked, the new disenfranchised who the ideology of Facebook erases from the map–and who are poised to become the unnamed hordes of the inhabited world, whose lives are less visible in a globalized world, although we absent India, Kenya, China, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Nepal and Uganda at considerable risk.

Unurbanized Low-FB presence

The “Maps of [Facebook] Friendship” are fundamentally ways to advertise the very sort of datasets that Facebook is able to sell to companies that want its records of page-views, if by orienting folks to the very metrics that Facebook has at its fingertips.

What we get is a sense of the reliability and credibility that the data Facebook possesses to orient us to the webspace that Facebook has created, using the trademark of being a “friend”–that crucial desideratum in an economy when credibility seems hopelessly confused with web presence and social connectedness intertwined with virtual contexts and contacts mediated over Facebook and LinkedIn–is able to be mapped with apparent accuracy, of an almost positivistic tenor, albeit allowing for the fluidity that is itself so characteristic of the web as a medium and of Facebook as a virtual interface.

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Filed under bubble maps, data visualization, Facebook, Facebook Friendship Map, Facebook Urban Penetration, FB users, Interactive Maps, social media, social networking