Magazine article The Antioch Review

Cartography 101 with a Twist

Magazine article The Antioch Review

Cartography 101 with a Twist

Article excerpt

"To know someone here and there whom we accord with, who is living on with us, even in silence--that makes our earthly balla peopled garden."

Goethe, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship (1795-96)

Our theme for this issue is cartography with a twist. Our authors have written about particular characters and venues and their essays highlight some cartographic features, but they primarily sketch maps of memory that are peopled with vivid personalities. Our own map of the world (say from a satellite) is decidedly different than the famed Hereford circular drawing--the "Mappa Mundi" (1290)--that placed Jerusalem at the center of the then-known world surrounded by a broad band of water. Jerusalem is still with us and for some still the center of the universe.

One commentator characterized the "Mappa Mundi" as follows: "The countries, seas, rivers, and mountains are comically misshapen--England not the least--and generally hopelessly misplaced and the map is covered with a multitude of graphic pictures and written descriptions of monsters and marvels. Here are wicked giants Gog and Magog, salamanders, phoenixes, lion-bodied gryphons, centaurs, the river Archon spouting up from infernal regions, men using enormous feet as parasols, in fact an intensely interesting world, depicted with great industry."

More than five centuries later the cartographer, surveyor, and inventor John Randel Jr. laid the island of Manhattan out with grid lines. His 1814 survey enhanced the city's capacity for development, emphasized its orderly progression from the Battery northward, and influenced all future advances. Randel, as his fine biographer Marguerite Hollo-way tells it, was religious but a "man of science." Edgar Allan Poe denounced the way that the grid crushed the natural order: "In fact, these magnificent places are doomed. The spirit of Improvement has withered them with its acrid breath. …

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