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  • Cartophilia: Maps and the Search for Identity in the French-German Borderland by Catherine Tatiana Dunlop
  • Alex Zukas
Cartophilia: Maps and the Search for Identity in the French-German Borderland, by Catherine Tatiana Dunlop. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 2015. vii, 257 pages. $45.00 US (cloth or e-book).

Cartophilia is a well-written and well-conceived book that breaks fresh ground in a couple of areas. Supporting a new trend in the historiography of nationalism and nation-building, using Alsace-Lorraine as a case study, it examines how national and regional identities were created in nineteenth-and twentieth-century France and Germany, and argues that the actions of middle-class citizens in civil society were as important as the actions of governments. Building on this trend is Catherine Dunlop's novel argument that historians of cartography have been too focused on official maps and the mapping of territories by states and their surveyors to the neglect of studying citizen-mapmakers who grounded notions of nation and nationalism in local maps that they made. She finds that these mapmakers were the ones who grounded nationalism in local soil and nurtured its growth by means of maps and other visual media. Her arguments are cogent and well supported by historical and cartographic evidence, and her prose is direct and lively.

Focusing on the period from c. 1740 to c. 1940, with occasional dives into the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Dunlop divides her book into two main parts. The first part deals with mapping borders in various ways (as boundaries of states, nations, or languages), and the second concerns maps that Alsatian, French, and German peoples created to navigate everyday regional life under and despite different political regimes. Each section has three chapters that explore specific topics and themes in detail. Except for the first chapter, which focuses on state-inspired and -controlled maps of territories and borders, and serves as a foil to the remaining chapters whose gaze is mostly beyond the state, Dunlop's argument unfolds in a dialectical encounter of maps from above (the state) and from-below (bourgeois civil society), maps of tangible and imagined spaces, and maps of contested cultural and national borders. Such a rhetorical strategy [End Page 347] allows her to show effectively how the state and civil society formed the context for each other's actions, and how the French and German states and their middle-class citizens responded when opposed. Overall, the structure of the book supports the logic of her argument and the section, chapter, and sub-chapter titles encapsulate her interpretations elegantly.

In addition to her main arguments about the role of maps in fomenting and cementing nationalism and shifting national identities in Alsace-Lorraine, Dunlop makes other arguments that highlight the diverse and innovative approaches to mapping and map-making in the eras covered by the book, and the importance of counter-mapping as an insurgent response by residents and outsiders to the dominant maps of the day. Along with the scientifically-grounded maps produced by state officers, she celebrates the creative, imaginative, if amateurish, mapping efforts of middle-class professionals. It is this latter group's activism and agency in seeking to define the nation and expressing their identities in relation to it that form the heart of the book. Their task was complicated by the fact that Alsace and Lorraine had strong regional identities and that the region was part of France from 1648 to 1871, Germany from 1871 to 1919, and France again after 1919. Part of the charm of Dunlop's book is her ability to do justice to this complicated story in a narrative style that is orderly and clear.

If there is a critique to be made of the book, it is that the author downplays class as an important factor in the creation of citizen maps while playing up national identity. She mentions the class background of many of the mapmakers but then their class-based views of nation and identity get suppressed or erased by her more general reference to their views as "French," "German," or "Alsatian." That is a shame, since the people who created unofficial...


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pp. 347-349
Launched on MUSE
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