Extending the history of critical cartography

Crampton and Krygiers “Introduction to critical cartography” traces the historical roots of the current fixation on critical cartography. I found it to be a compelling read that does an excellent job of providing a description of the field. I especially liked the described purpose of critical cartography – “A critique is not a project of finding fault, but an examination of the assumptions of a field of knowledge. Its purpose is to understand and suggest alternatives to the categories of knowledge that we use. ”

The paper did however leave out the older roots of the concept of critical cartography. CC is framed as a response to the positivist, inflexible discipline of mapmaking that emerged in the early-to-mid 20th century. However, what preceded this era? Cartographic history goes back thousands of years, and the conception of what a map is often changes. I would argue, and I believe the authors would agree, that mapmaking from the age of exploration through the industrial revolution was hyper-aware of it’s own political and cultural biases. Maps were universally made as projects to further an imperial or other political entities goals, and often did not necessarily reflect the truth on the ground. This was an intentional decision by mapmakers who understood the purpose of maps to be something other than scientific.

The rise of science, in conjunction with the industrial revolution and the second wave of colonialism, fundamentally changed how many around the world perceived “truth.” What from this era directly led to the conceptualizations we see built into the movement towards positivist cartography found the century after? It’s clear than an entire book on the history of critical cartography could be written – and certainly has, given a short review of other available literature.

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