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  • The Imperial Map: Cartography and the Mastery of Empire
  • Lucy Chester
The Imperial Map: Cartography and the Mastery of Empire. Edited by James R. Akerman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009. 384 pp. $60.00 (cloth).

This valuable edited collection of essays originally presented at the University of Chicago's Newberry Library in 2004 examines the relationship between cartography and imperialism in a range of contexts, from military mapping to journalistic cartography and from the South Pacific to the Qing Empire. Three chapters cover the early modern era, while two essays deal with modern cartography; Matthew Edney's opening chapter, "The Irony of Imperial Mapping," ranges over both time periods. The authors have taken care to identify points of intersection between their essays, which cohere well. The book is lavishly illustrated with high-quality images in both color and black and white, as is necessary for a work on cartographic history.

In terms of geographical range, the book covers Africa, China, Eurasia, North and South America, and the South Pacific. However, with the exception of Laura Hostetler's article, "Contending Cartographic Claims? The Qing Empire in Manchu, Chinese, and European Maps," the collection deals primarily with Western imperialism in these regions, which may leave teachers and scholars of world history wishing for a broader scope. [End Page 168]

James Akerman's clear introduction provides useful context, both historical and historiographical. The contributions are all engaging and thought-provoking, with enough background to orient readers new to the material and enough substance and innovation to intrigue experts in the field. Each chapter summarizes its relationship to the existing literature, explaining how it draws from the work of cartographic historians such as Brian Harley, David Woodward, and Thongchai Winichakul, from imperial historiography, and from relevant subfields.

A particular strength of these essays is their willingness to confront nuance and ambiguity. Edney's chapter, for example, deals forthrightly with the problem of defining empire and the "imperial map," arguing that states and empires practice similar kinds of cartography. The difference, he maintains, lies in audiences' emotional reaction to imperial maps, which generate both a sense of community among their readers and a feeling of distance and antagonism between those readers and the territory and its inhabitants. Valerie Kivelson's essay, "'Exalted and Glorified to the Ends of the Earth': Imperial Maps and Christian Spaces in Seventeenth- and Early Eighteenth-Century Russian Siberia," follows nicely upon these observations, for it examines the relationship between imperial map readers and the indigenous peoples of Siberia, arguing that the Russian empire's maps celebrated religious diversity (while, to be sure, subjugating and exploiting these "lesser faiths") rather than seeking to suppress it. As Kivelson notes, this approach stands in marked contrast to the methods of other European empires, such as the Spanish effort to convert the peoples of the New World.

In addition to intriguing substantive content, each chapter engages vigorously with the relevant historiography. Hostetler's essay is particularly stimulating, asserting that Manchu, Chinese, and European maps of the Qing empire all worked, in different ways, to reify Qing territorial claims. Maps based on indigenous methods established the Qing dynasty as patrons of traditional Chinese scholarship, while European maps lent credibility to Qing claims on the international level. The combination worked so powerfully that it continues to affect present-day perceptions of China. Hostetler goes further, challenging conventional divisions between "Western" and "Eastern" mapping and arguing convincingly that scholars must also consider the existence and impact of hybrid cartographic forms drawing on multiple traditions. Similarly, Neil Safier's chapter, "The Confines of the Colony: Boundaries, Ethnographic Landscape, and Imperial Cartography in Iberoamerica," adds valuable nuance to Harley's famous discussion of "cartographic silences." Safier argues that, although Harley presented the absence of Amerindian populations from North American maps as tantamount to [End Page 169] eliminating those communities, the "cartographic evacuation" visible on Portuguese maps was part of a process wherein demographic information was reincorporated into other imperial records, such as population maps (p. 156). In other words, the Portuguese imperial archive reabsorbed those whom it had displaced cartographically, via other media that served its purposes more effectively. Safier concludes that mapping and other emerging...