16 June 2010
The Maps in Context Symposium
A big thank you to everyone who attended the British Library academic symposium 'Maps in Context' on Monday afternoon. The event featured six papers which looked at the display and function of maps within their original settings. These included the Elizabethan Sheldon Tapestry maps (presented with some superb images by Hilary Turner), the political circumstances which motivated Fred Rose's Serio-comic Maps (Rod Barron), the crescent moon in European mapping (Lauren Beck), and the role of military maps of Scotland in the 18th century (Carolyn Anderson).
Another of the papers, by Genevieve Carlton, emphasised many of the problems which greet researchers looking into the display and reception of early maps, in Genevieve's case the 16th-century Venetian home. Inventories and lists of contents of these places are seldom so specific as to state implicitly the author, date, or subject of maps, and there is usually great ambiguity whether that discussed is a map at all. I know that this is something that affected Magnificent Maps, which was organised as far as possible upon documentary evidence for the types of maps selected.
We were treated to a perceptive evaluation of the modern map exhibition by Chris Perkins, who curated Mapping Manchester at the John Rylands Library last year. His compelling case for maps obtaining fresh histories from their modern display was based on visitor feedback, types of marketing and publicity, choice of exhibits, and reference to the present blog. Paranoid? I don't know what you mean!
The contextual approach to maps is very much a theme of the exhibition, and of the study of maps in general since the 1980s, the History of Cartography series, conceived by Brian Harley and David Woodward, advocated a social and cultural history of mapping. One of the aims of the symposium was to suggest that whereas map historians place maps within their contexts, historians in other fields could do worse than develop their contexts with the aid of maps.