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Mapping Latin America: A Cartographic Reader ed. by Jordana Dym, Karl Offen (review)

From: Journal of Latin American Geography
Volume 12, Number 2, 2013
pp. 259-261 | 10.1353/lag.2013.0030

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

This is one of the most important books to have appeared on a Latin American topic in the last quarter century and beyond. Its significance rests in its success in revealing what for many will be new perspectives on the recording and portrayal of the past and the present in a variety of cartographic forms. Whereas hundreds of books and thousands of pages of alphabetic writing appear each year in a wide range of languages, most would find difficulty in citing the publication in similar fashion of maps, that alternative mode of representing reality, ideas, opinions, analyses and accomplishments. Of course hundreds of maps are published annually but they usually serve as illustrations, buried in books and articles, flashed on TV or computer screens -- worthy of an initial glance, and them mostly forgotten. Can any “Best of the Year Map” compete with the dozens of text prizes?

The editors chose to divide this cartographic mosaic’s 57 selected maps into three temporal periods—colonial, nineteenth-century, and twentieth century, within which 14 themes are identified, explaining that the main purpose of the volume is to demonstrate the variety of forms, authorship (from individuals to institutions, communities and governments) and methods of representing spatial data related to Latin America. Each of the three sections is prefaced by a very useful editorial introduction. Each author is afforded one map and space for a brief essay on its origins, content, principal attributions and significance. From the very first map sample one may note the key problems with maps—they come in odd shapes and sizes, and to reproduce them accurately is very difficult. At least in this volume its extra size (text area 6.5 × 9 ins.) permits most of the maps to be legible, though some will still wonder why more detailed insets were not used. However, give the benefit of the superb full-color rendering of the majority of the maps on coated paper, one can hardly complain, unless one is willing to pay at least double the price for what would have become an annotated atlas.

An introductory chapter briefly comments on the resurgence of cartographic interest among geographers in the wake of studies by Brian Harley and Dennis Cosgrove and others, especially the multidisciplinary interest in placing maps in their cultural context: who made the maps, their databases, their methods of representation, their intended audience(s), their limitations—these and other questions have significantly re-focused cartographic analysis over the last three decades.

Given the necessary brevity of this review it is only possible to give a sample of the many types of maps represented in the Reader. The colonial section allows one to appreciate the fact that most pre-Hispanic cultures enjoyed a spatial perspective represented via both murals and built environments, the latter’s spatial order reflecting social order and power. Some may wonder why Figure 6.2 was included since it is a painting with distinctive modes of representation from what is commonly defined as a map, but then nowadays “mapping” is metaphorically used in many forms, not necessarily related to the uniquely cartographic. The key elements in the colonial section reflect the charting of the new shores, the ever-inland explorations, the making and disposition of the new landscape elements, and the multiple attempts to identify boundaries, between almost everything.

In the nineteenth-century section the evolving nation states dominate the sample maps—be they their boundaries, ports, cities, mines, new crops, mountains, ethnic colonies, territorial disputes. The professionalization of travel, field surveying and map representation was now rapidly developing, as was potential market demand.

The florescence of cartographic production in the twentieth century defies any brief description. Increasingly there was more and more to map, and new ways to map. To the official maps, normally under the controlling hand of the national military geographical institutes, were now added data required by the developing educational systems both within and without Latin America. Developing commercial activities stimulated the new medium of advertising; increasing spatial shifts of migrants, tourists and products produced new data and audiences for knowledge. Urban development meant more maps of distinctive transport systems connecting work and home, the rich and the poor, and...

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