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  • Map Men: Transnational Lives and Deaths of Geographers in the Making of East Central Europe by Steven Seegel
  • Anna Varfolomeeva (bio)
Steven Seegel, Map Men: Transnational Lives and Deaths of Geographers in the Making of East Central Europe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018). 320 pp., ills. Bibliography. Index. ISBN: 978-0-226-43849-8.

Back in 2000, Tim Ingold distinguished between mapping as an embodied perception of the world and mapmaking as the production of knowledge. The making of maps, Ingold argued, at some point became distracted from the perceptions of being in the world: "The cartographer has no need to travel, indeed he may have no experience whatever of the territory he so painstakingly seeks to represent."1 The five protagonists of Steven Seegel's Map Men, however, encompass both perspectives. Though viewing mapmaking as a production of knowledge, they are at the same time deeply connected with the territory that they attempt to depict.

This is Seegel's third book, after Mapping Europe's Borderlands: Russian Cartography in the Age of Empire (2012) and Ukraine under Western Eyes (2013).2 In Map Men, he focuses on the intertwined lives, works, and transnational collaborations of five geographers: Albrecht Penck (1858–1945), Eugeniusz Romer (1871–1954), Stepan Rudnyts'kyi (1877–1937), Isaiah Bowman (1878–1950), and Count Pál Teleki (1879–1941). Coming from different countries, with the exception of Bowman, an American, all of them represented Central and Eastern Europe. In the introduction, Seegel briefly presents the biographies of all five of his protagonists. As he explains, the aim of the book is not to present five individual life stories but to construct a collective biography (P. 3), or, as Seegel defines it for "dramatic effect," a "transnational love story" (P. 2). The underlying hypothesis of the book suggests that "interest in maps was often pathological, a sign of frustration and unfulfilled personal ambition, along with a host of other emotions … that nestled inside provincial, contradictory, and closed professional worlds of privilege, learning, and authority" (P. 3). The life circumstances of five geographers – their careers and studies, marriages and children, travels, conflicts, and even deaths – serve as a mere background for the central story, which is the reflection of their ideals, struggles, and beliefs in the maps they produced. Through [End Page 209] maps, Seegel aims to show who his protagonists were, how they lived, where they traveled, and how their lives ended.

The life trajectories of the five map men crossed under various circumstances. Both Rudnyts'kyi and Romer were students of Albrecht Penck in Vienna. Penck met Bowman, an undergraduate student at that time, when visiting Harvard in 1904, and became the young aspiring geographer's hero. The Polish geographer Eugeniusz Romer was also a hero for Bowman, and they communicated throughout their lives. Penck, Romer and Count Teleki participated in the transcontinental excursion of the American Geographical Society (AGS) in 1912, a two-month trip to study environmental landscapes. In all, forty-three European and seventy U.S. geographers took part in the trip, for which Bowman served as one of the lead marshals. After World War I, the Congresses of the International Geographic Union facilitated long-distance exchange of maps and personal correspondence, so in 1919, Teleki presented his Short Notes on the Economic and Political Geography of Hungary to Bowman and the AGS library (P. 83).

For primary sources, Seegel relies strongly on letters, memoirs, archival documents, and reviews appearing in geographical journals in English, French, German, Hungarian, Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian languages. He defines his method as "epistolary geography … a spatial strategy for charting out the biorhythms of mobile professionals' lives, a place-sensitive, transnationally source-based method of historical study" (P. 7). Letters reveal the insecurities and inner fears of the map men, concealed by the affirmative language of science or identification with power networks. Through letters, the map men are shown as highly mobile, constantly changing places. Their maps are not only reflections of their identities but also reflections of their entanglements with others and the places they visited.

As Seegel points out, "it's a truism nowadays to say that maps are socially constructed" (P. 8). In...


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