- Cartography: The Ideal and Its History by Matthew H. Edney
Since Edney—the co-editor, with Mary Pedley, of The History of Cartography.IV. Cartography in the European Enlightenment (Chicago, 2019)—is one of the leading names in the field, readers might be misled into thinking that the book under review is a history of cartography. However, unlike Norman Thrower's Maps and Civilization: Cartography in Culture and Society (Chicago, 1972), this book is not a history of cartography but a history of the ideal of cartography. Edney shifts the view because cartography—as an autonomous field of study—does not exist in his view. Indeed, the epigraph for Chapter 1 says, "There is no such thing as cartography and this is a book about it" (1).
Cartography: The Ideal and Its History is a provocative analysis of the history of cartography's epistemology and specifically a call for the abandonment of the term cartography and the conception of maps as an undifferentiated group of objects all of which can be studied in the same manner. Edney rejects the idea of the normative map—which in the mid-twentieth century was defined as a graphic representation of all or a part of the earth drawn to scale upon a plane—and he criticizes normative and sociocultural approaches to the study of the history of mapping. Instead, he advances a processual approach that focuses on the ways in which people produce, circulate, and consume maps. He believes that the process that gave rise to maps is more the proper subject of analysis than the maps themselves.
The book's six chapters lay out his arguments in detail: Chapter 1 introduces the ideal; Chapter 2 explains the processual approach; Chapter 3, the most provocative, lists and examines the preconceptions of the cartographic ideal before rejecting them all; Chapter 4 looks at the development of the ideal; Chapter 5 examines map scale and the misconceptions that it begets; and Chapter 6 promotes the death of the ideal of cartography.
Edney's philosophical salvo across the bow of cartography is not a one-shot warning; he intends to follow it with two other books that will examine the processual approach and the way in which map histories have been written to further the ideal of cartography. The book is not a fast read, but is one that will undoubtedly generate lively discussion in the community of map historians. [End Page 587]