After the MapCartography, Navigation, and the Transformation of Territory in the Twentieth Century

After the MapCartography, Navigation, and the Transformation of Territory in the Twentieth Century

William Rankin

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780226339368

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

Over the last several decades, paper maps have been gradually displaced by new electronic navigation systems like GPS. For many geographic tasks, the map’s familiar god’s-eye view from nowhere has thus been exchanged for the much more embedded experience of electronic coordinates, with a new focus on geographic points rather than large areas. This book argues that this shift in geographic knowledge should be seen quite broadly as a change in both the macro-politics of territory and the everyday micro-politics of geographic space. It presents the history of the mapping sciences in the twentieth century through three of its most important global projects – the International Map of the World, the Universal Transverse Mercator grid, and the Global Positioning System – and traces a widespread retreat from the authority of representational maps in favor of the pragmatism of GPS and its many predecessors. It also questions the usual understanding of globalization as a battle between national territory and global networks. The advent of GPS does not mean that territory is losing its relevance, but rather that there are now new forms of territory – pointillist, non-exclusive, and provisional – that may or may not align with the sovereign space of states. Conceived narrowly, this book is a deep history of GPS and its relationship to earlier forms of mapping. But more expansively, it is also a cultural and political history of geographic space itself.