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Aiming Guns, Recording Land, and Stitching Map to Territory: The Invention of Cartographic Grid Systems, 1914–1939

Aiming Guns, Recording Land, and Stitching Map to Territory: The Invention of Cartographic Grid Systems, 1914–1939

Chapter:
(p.119) Chapter Three Aiming Guns, Recording Land, and Stitching Map to Territory: The Invention of Cartographic Grid Systems, 1914–1939
Source:
After the Map
Author(s):
William Rankin
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226339535.003.0003

Artillery in World War I was guided by the new cartographic technology of “map firing,” which required a rectangular mesh of evenly-spaced lines to be drawn on the maps used in the trenches. These systems, known generically as grids, were a powerful alternative to latitude and longitude and came to be useful not just for aiming guns but for a wide variety of civilian tasks as well – everything from recording property titles and laying out highways to stabilizing international boundaries. This chapter traces the long history of grids before World War II – from the work of César-François Cassini de Thury in the eighteenth century through the US State Plane Coordinate System and debates at the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics in the 1930s – and argues that they presented a serious challenge to the traditional experience (and politics) of using a map. Grid systems were not just lines on paper, but a new kind of full-scale coordinate system that was directly installed as a feature of the landscape. Grids can thus be seen as a mathematical realization of the often-humorous idea of a map at a scale of 1:1, but they were also an important new tool of geographic governance.

Keywords:   grids, cartography, map firing, World War I, latitude and longitude, coordinates, trench maps, César-François Cassini de Thury, State Plane Coordinate System, International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics

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