Commentary on "A History of Twentieth-Century American Academic Cartography" by Robert McMaster and Susanna McMaster

By Fabrikant, Sara Irina | Cartography and Geographic Information Science, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Commentary on "A History of Twentieth-Century American Academic Cartography" by Robert McMaster and Susanna McMaster


Fabrikant, Sara Irina, Cartography and Geographic Information Science


KEYWORDS: History of cartography; thematic cartography, 20th century cartography, Germany, Austria, Switzerland

In their contribution to the recent special issue of Cartography and Geographic Information Science on "Exploratory Essays: History of Cartography in the Twentieth Century" (Vol. 29, No. 3, pp. 305-321), McMaster and McMaster make the claim that "although the main development of thematic mapping can be traced to nineteenth-century Europe, it is in the twentieth-century United States that thematic cartography evolved as an academic discipline" (p. 306). In this commentary, I will argue and provide evidence for the idea that fundamental contributions to the development of academic thematic cartography were made in Europe, and that these developments occurred earlier than those implied by McMaster and McMaster in the U.S. In other words, I intend to show that the McMasters' conclusion is a serious overstatement, possibly a blatant misstatement. Unfortunately this is not the first time such an inaccurate statement has been made in a U.S. publication; such statements are sometimes regrettably recited as received wisdom by others. (1) Appearing as it does in a special issue on the history of 20th century cartography, the claim by McMaster and McMaster deserves to be elaborated further and supported by evidence, as it is an important yet doubtful assertion.

The statement by the McMasters is comparative in nature, but no factual comparisons are provided to support the claim. The authors acknowledge the existence of academic cartography outside the U.S. (p. 305), but they do not elaborate on that point. Two cartographers on the advisory board for the special issue are from German-speaking nations, yet the McMasters do not include Germany, Austria, or Switzerland in their list of countries with "very rich cartographic activity" (p. 305). By only broadly sketching the recent history of academic" cartography in German-speaking nations (i.e., Germany, Austria, and Switzerland), one can show that the McMasters' statement is factually wrong. Although the authors assert their exclusive focus on the history of academic cartography only in the U.S., it is informative to compare that history to the history in the German-speaking nations, as those nations form a homogeneous unit in terms of cartographic research and teaching activities, due to their shared language and similar academic practices.

Key cartographers in Germany at the turn of the 20th century--the McMasters' "incipient period" (p. 306: a period dominated by few key individuals teaching at academic institutions)--were A. Hettner (Heidelberg, with cartographic publications as early as 1901 and 1910); A. Penck, R. Kiepert, and W. Behrmann (Berlin); M. Eckert and F. Ratzel (Leipzig); and H. Wagner (Gottingen). Max Groll received a lecturer position in cartography at the Berlin University in 1902. He is well known for a two-volume cartography textbook published in paperback format. This textbook, which was updated several times and extended in 1970 by G. Hake, has been a standard text in academic cartography ever since (currently in its 8th edition, Hake et al., 2002). In Austria, K. Peucker (educated in Berlin and Breslau) started his academic career in cartography at the "Wiener Hochschule fur Welthandel" ("Vienna University for World Trade") in 1910. Peucker wrote influential works on theoretic (thematic) cartography and is known for his editorship on many atlases that include thematic maps.

Despite WWI, thematic cartography developed further at many academic institutions in the German-speaking nations. The contributions of Max Eckert's Kartenwissenschaft (1921/25), discussed in Montello's article in the same special issue of CAGIS, is better known to English-speaking cartographers than the contributions of the scholars cited above, as some of his writings have been translated (e.g., Joerg 1977). In Zurich, Eduard Imhof founded in 1925 at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ) what was most probably the world's first academic cartography department. …

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