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Territoriality without Borders: Global Grids and the Universal Transverse Mercator, 1940–1965

Territoriality without Borders: Global Grids and the Universal Transverse Mercator, 1940–1965

Chapter:
(p.163) Chapter Four Territoriality without Borders: Global Grids and the Universal Transverse Mercator, 1940–1965
Source:
After the Map
Author(s):
William Rankin
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226339535.003.0004

Just after World War II, the US Army created a single global grid system that was meant to overlay the patchwork of local and national grids discussed in the previous chapter. This system – the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) – gave every point on earth an easy-to-use coordinate, measured in meters, that could replace latitude and longitude for nearly all tasks. It was quickly adopted for US and NATO military operations, and then its creators – specialists in geodesy at the US Army Map Service – pushed it aggressively as an international solution. By the end of the Cold War, UTM was in use in most non-Communist countries, while the Soviet bloc was unified by its own, very similar, counterpart. This chapter argues that UTM succeeded in creating a transnational space that was practical and consequential in ways that representational mapping projects like the International Map could never be. It was a cartographic technology, but the subjectivity it created was an embedded one, and its larger politics were more about on-the-ground coordination and intervention than the collection of knowledge at a central mapping archive.

Keywords:   cartography, grids, coordinates, geodesy, World War II, Universal Transverse Mercator, UTM, Army Map Service

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