- Mapping the Middle East by Zayde Antrim, and: Medieval Islamic Maps: An Exploration by Karen C. Pinto, and: Lost Maps of the Caliphs: Drawing the World in Eleventh-Century Cairo by Yossef Rapoport and Emilie Savage-Smith
In popular and scholarly works covering the Middle East, North Africa, and Islam, mapping metaphors abound. Routinely, authors utilize such expressions when describing the region, its histories, its nationstates and populations, and its cultures and belief systems. Moreover, their efforts to chart paths that afford legibility and understanding also routinely align with missions to critique or even invalidate (i.e., remap) others' regional representations and agendas. While a plentitude of such figurative cartographies accumulated over the past several decades, they should not obscure the vigorous work devoted to actual efforts at mapping the region through time and scholarship committed to its analysis. The three books I review in this essay speak to these efforts and constitute excellent examples of the rich potential that exists for approaching the region from the vantages of history, geography, and historical cartography. Of the three books, the one I cover first and in greatest detail is the one I view as most appropriate for not just researchers but also for broader audiences and instructional purposes. All of the books, however, reflect their authors' depths of knowledge and commitment to regional understanding and research, and they constitute significant yet unique contributions. [End Page 218]
Fittingly titled Mapping the Middle East, historian Zayde Antrim's 2018 book provides an accomplished starting point for approaching the region, its contested histories, and its cartographic representations through time. Antrim begins by noting in her introduction "On the 'Middle East' and Mapping" that, like many narratives about the region itself, most histories of cartography are also profoundly Eurocentric. Accordingly, they often begin with Europe's fifteenth- and sixteenthcentury entry into its Age of Discovery/Exploration. She continues with a brief survey of the fraught histories of the term "Middle East" and its associations with colonialism, the Cold War, the war on terror, and other events that representationally marginalize the region. As a consequence of such portrayals, it has often figured as little more than a frontier in Great Power rivalries, the world's otherwise barren source of oil and natural gas, or simply the hearth of 9/11–linked political Islam. Connecting her inquiry to critical studies and particularly critical cartography's contributions, recalling J. B. Harley (1932–1991) and David Woodward (1942–2004), she addresses the culturally and historically contingent and highly subjective aspects of maps and mapmaking. For historical geographers and most historians of the Middle East, these are common grounds, but Antrim covers them in a concise and lucid manner that provides her book with its requisite conceptual and scholarly foundation, on the one hand, and a readable introduction for beginning students and a wider general audience, on the other. Presenting her study as a contrast to Eurocentric and ostensibly objective representational traditions, Antrim then begins her study with eleventh-century maps. Along the way, bringing the book up to our present day, only one of her five central chapters focus on the roles of Europeans in the Middle East and their maps.
Devoting her first chapter to traditions of mapping the "Realm of Islam," Antrim accounts for her selected chronological point of departure: a focus on those "maps circulating in Arabic and Persian written works from the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries" (17). This expansive temporal and spatial scope, she argues, allows her to present the "superregional" breadth of an established Islamic world while also accounting for the...