- The Geographic Revolution in Early America: Maps, Literacy, and National Identity
An impressive work on geographic consciousness and literacy, Brückner's thoughtful book argues that geographical literacy served a symbolic, cognitive, and pedagogic role in the representation of early Anglo-American literacy. As such, his work offers a counterpoint to advances in other subjects, not least of these advances is Mary Pedley's study of the Anglo-French map world, The Commerce of Cartography, which shows that the mapping of North America was an important cartographic commodity. Also instructive is the growing interest in geopolitics, [End Page 149] seen, for example, in Stephen Hornsby's British Atlantic, American Frontier, for Brückner's study provides some suggestion as to what this interest may have meant to contemporaries. Given the extent to which geopolitics was a key dimension of international relations and strategy, this study is especially valuable.
Yet, I must confess to doubt on one point. Brückner is nothing if not modish, which leads to a habit of pushing his material hard. To note that this point is true of a trend in cartographic work is a fair one, but what is the reader to make of comments such as the following?
For the nation to become the perfectly regular alphabetic environment, the word maps had to reconcile a strain that lies at the heart of all cartographic representation: their formal arrangement had to negotiate the reader's imaginary freedom of movement offered by the hybrid textuality of the map. By reading the map as a quasi-blank and verbally elastic text, the apprentice map reader was able to create a space of his or her own. . . . It is telling that at the historical moment of 1784, when language threatened to upend the new nation, the alphabet and alphabetic maps seemed to be insufficient tools for stabilizing the new American nation(115–6).
And so on. The disappointment is that there is simply too much that is tendentious and lacking in qualification. We are offered argument by assertion, with insufficient caveats. That, of course, is part of the culture, but I am disappointed, as Brückner is clearly highly intelligent and his book is important. In my Maps and Politics, I took aim at an earlier generation of works that were steeped in greater cartographic theory than scholarly rigor. Brückner's is an improvement because his study is more grounded, but I would encourage him to be more cautious in his readings from maps, his commitment to theory, and his analytical exuberance. [End Page 150]