Mapping Our Way Forward

Having read the “Biography of a Map” papers, I now see where the project worked, where it approached my goals set out in the first post, “Biography of a Map—Further Experiments in Pedagogy,” and where it didn’t quite reach those goals. Some of the work has been really good—previously I pointed to student efforts to understand William Penn’s maps as marketing propaganda, “Marketing a Colony.” Other students produced interesting analyses. One student examined William Dugdale’s 17th-century maps of Warwickshire:

Dugdale’s Knightlow Hundred, a map of part of Warwickshire County (Source: Quaker and Special Collections, Haverford College)

In his account of the history of Warwickshire county, The Antiquities of Warwickshire, Sir William Dugdale included a series of maps, one of which depicts the region of Knightlow Hundred. The purpose of this particular map is to define the geographical setting of a significant area within the historical county of Warwickshire. The book, The Antiquities of Warwickshire, works to preserve the medieval history of this county for the gentry. In fulfilling this purpose, it effectively establishes the status of the landed gentlemen. The county of Warwickshire, as well as the boundaries of hundreds, are divisions that date back to Roman times, so by stressing this area as a defined geographical community of gentry, Dugdale gives them a heightened sense of superiority. The establishment of the boundaries and layout of the community allows him to unite the gentry through an account of a shared past. The audience and commissioners of the book, and thus the map, were the gentry themselves who had a private interest [in] elevating and securing their status. All of these factors interplay to create a map that stresses the relations of the gentry and their history amongst the geographical region of Knightlow Hundred, Warwickshire.

Another student argued that Nicolas Sanson’s map, made for King Louis XIV, functioned as a diplomatic tool:

Sanson’s map conveyed an important diplomatic message when the French king gave it to the English king (Source: Quaker and Special Collections, Haverford College)

Louis XIV of France presented this map to Charles II of England in 1669, immediately following the War of Devolution (1667-1668). The war was a French attempt to gain more territory in Europe; however, this goal was blocked by the Triple Alliance of the British, Dutch, and the Swedish. Frustrated by Britain’s role in halting French advances, Louis XIV meant the map to send the diplomatic message that Britain should cease to be involved in the affairs of continental Europe. The map pictures Britain as an island, isolated from mainland Europe. In this way, Louis warns the British that they have no jurisdiction in Europe and should no interfere in French affairs.

The famous French cartographer Nicolas Sanson was the map’s original creator. It was then illustrated and translated into English by the English cartographer and bookseller Richard Blome, or “Ric: Blome,” as he appears in the map’s description. The map on file at Haverford is a period copy of the map that Charles II received, as is evident by the thin paint and imperfect brushstrokes. In the lower left corner, the name “Francis Lamb, Sculp” appears. The word “sculp” is Latin for “printmaker,” meaning that Lamb reprinted the original map presented to Charles II in order to circulate it more widely among the British.

These represent some of the interesting ways students approached the project. Not only did they struggle to learn something about the context that called the map into existence, they grappled with the challenge of condensing their work into 200 word descriptions—the final part of the assignment asked students to write 200-word captions that could be used in the exhibit. The short blurbs here and in the previous post—“Marketing a Colony” are their attempts to write such captions. Some of their captions will be used in the exhibit.

At this point the students have made some excellent progress toward some of the goals set for the assignment, but their progress has not been consistent across the goals or between students. One of the more surprising aspects of their work is their focus on context over content or form. Typically, when students are analyzing written or visual sources, they fixate on the content as it can be divorced from the context. Historical context is relegated to window dressing. This time, however, they seemed more comfortable dwelling on the contextual details at the expense of content. They offered fine-grained descriptions of the mapmaker’s religious or political convictions but said little about the map itself, either its content or how it portrayed that content. This prevented them from being able to make convincing arguments about how the maps functioned and what they were intended to accomplish. Further, on the whole they made little effort to recover the audience for whom the map was made.

Their projects are off to a great start, but now I want to push them to do really interesting work. And I want them to be more invested in that work. I am going to try a few things in an effort to accomplish these goals. First, students will have to explain how well their current papers address the original questions:

  • What does the map represent, e.g., a geographic location, demographic information, land or space usage, political boundaries?
  • How does it convey that information?
  • Who was the mapmaker and what were his goals?
  • For whom was the map made? Who commissioned it?
  • For what purposes was the map drawn?
  • How was the map intended to be viewed, e.g., stand alone map, globe, part of a book, piece of political propaganda, illustrating a letter or official document?
  • Who was the audience?

Where their papers fail to answer these questions, they will have to think about how they would go about answering them. What research would they have to conduct to answer those questions? Different students made more or less progress toward addressing these and related issues. I am going to share, anonymously, all the papers so that students can see how their colleagues approached their maps and how they tackled these questions. I am eager for students to collaborate on their projects to see if they can help or prod or shame each other into working more diligently and thinking more deeply about their work. And maybe, if we are really energetic, the students will curate an on-line exhibit that showcases their research and accompanies Special Collection’s exhibit.

This experiment in pedagogy might be a dismal failure, but you never know until you try. If you have any words of advice, suggestions, or warnings, please don’t hesitate to share.

[Originally posted at the PACHS blog.]