Dan Connolly

title.none: Edson, Mapping Time and Space (Dan Connolly )

identifier.other: baj9928.0109.006 01.09.06

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Dan Connolly , Western Michigan University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Edson, Evelyn. Mapping Time and Space: How Medieval Mapmakers viewed their World. The British Library Studies in Map History, Vol 1. London: The British Library, 2000. Pp. xii, 210. ISBN: 0-712-34536-1.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.09.06

Edson, Evelyn. Mapping Time and Space: How Medieval Mapmakers viewed their World. The British Library Studies in Map History, Vol 1. London: The British Library, 2000. Pp. xii, 210. ISBN: 0-712-34536-1.

Reviewed by:

Dan Connolly
Western Michigan University

Histories of cartography have traditionally insisted on narratives of development in which the technology of mapping takes on a life of its own, separated from the contexts of its use or the people who created it. In those narratives, the drive towards accuracy, detail and the increasing exactness derived from larger scales are the heroes of the story, and their triumph over confusion and ignorance herald our own sophisticated modernity. Better maps more closely approximate the land they represent; and yet medieval maps do not seem all that concerned for that kind of replication. Thus, most histories of cartography quickly pass over the wealth of materials offered in medieval visual culture. Both these recent publications on the history of maps contribute, in varying degrees, to a re-appraisal of this paradigm not only through the maps they choose to discuss, but also in the kinds of questions they ask about maps themselves. The books are both surveys of sorts, one of some twelve centuries of map production, while the other is a more focused examination of medieval maps and the intellectual contexts of their production. Both are valuable additions to an under-researched and poorly understood body of materials; those interested in the contexts of medieval cartographic production should consult these recent publications.

Catherine Delano-Smith and Roger J. P. Kain present a thoroughly documented, commanding survey of maps produced in and, for the most part, of England. Maps of Scotland, Wales and Ireland occasionally figure in their survey, as well. In the book's preface, the authors state their intentions to examine maps not within the framework of technical developments, but, by "[a]dopting the revisionist perspectives of what might be called the 'new' history of cartography, we aimed to explore the ways in which maps have interacted with society in the past, and to analyze the roles that maps have played and the uses to which they have been put...." To the historian of medieval art, such contextualization is a welcome approach indeed. Shifting attention away from the technical histories of science, the authors instead explore a history of maps according to subject matter--the thing mapped.

Six substantive chapters, framed by an introduction and a brief excursus on map survival at the end, explore in depth the kinds of maps produced in England; each chapter begins with the earliest example of its type and progresses chronologically through the nineteenth and sometimes early twentieth century. Along the way, the particulars of production, audience and purpose are interwoven in the discussion of the materials. A range of materials comprise this study, giving the authors the chance to explore the limits of their definition of a map, from architectural ground-plans and the imagined topography of the Heavenly Jerusalem (ch. 2), to the more mundane mapping of English counties in the sixteenth to the early nineteenth centuries, in chapter 3. Chapter 4 discusses property maps of both private and state ownership and chapter 5 moves on to the much more interesting topic of the intersection of mapping and travel. The mapping of towns, or the presentation of cities in larger maps occupies chapter 6; and finally, chapter 7 explores the modern ubiquity of maps and their now more predictive or diagnostic uses.

Within this wide-ranging discussion, there is some overlap and repetition. We thus encounter again and again the same surveyors and map designers in different chapters without really gaining a greater perspective or comprehension of those producers or the interrelationships of those materials that are set forth in different chapters; the organization rather presupposes reader's familiarity with at least the broader outlines of English cartographic history.

Chapter 2, "A Medieval Flowering", is the one of most concern to readers of TMR (in addition, there is a brief discussion of medieval itineraries, including Matthew Paris's maps, in chapter 5, "Maps and Travel"). The authors' loosely constructed definition of a map allows them to analyze numerous ground plans and diagrams under the rubric of maps and thereby to highlight the medieval predilection to make abstract and esoteric ideas concrete and literal in assigned spatial relationships. And yet, despite their declarations on the fluidity of boundaries and definitions, there runs a deeply embedded current toward classification and typology that continues to drive a fair bit of the book's organization and discussion; accuracy and detail still count for a great deal in the history of maps.

Without being quite explicit enough or thorough in explaining their characterizations, the authors offer two kinds or types of maps in English cartographic history--those concerned with practical matters (presumably maps aiding in land administration, travel, taxation, military matters, etc.) and those of a more philosophical, or, in the case of medieval maps, of exegetical or didactic concerns, all of which is summed up in the dichotomy of "doers vs. thinkers". Medieval maps are in the main, made by and for "thinkers". Exceptions include those maps that appear alongside or in computus manuscripts; these are "practical" maps, though it is not made clear just how the map was used in the computus itself. At the end of the period, the explosion in the number of surviving, "practical" maps records a conceptual shift, and, one gathers, presages the drive toward increased accuracy, detail and scale that mark our more modern maps.

While the authors do state that all maps are in a way thematic, their imposition of the broad dichotomy of "doers vs. thinkers" can cloud our understanding of medieval maps. At the very end of the book, the authors praise the medical or thematic map of Dr. John Snow (1855). His distributional analysis of cases of cholera in London in 1855 revealed a particular water well to be the source of the epidemic. But I would argue that revelations are similarly available in exegetical maps of the medieval period--they too presented ideas or information in both graphic and locational relationships and thereby heightened appreciation or understanding. Jerusalem's centrality in the world, most popular in the period of the Crusades, is perhaps the most obvious example.

As a survey of maps, this chapter, and the book as a whole, must necessarily present broad outlines--the Hereford Mappaemundi is discussed in one brief paragraph. But at the same time, English Maps also manages to present little known, obscure maps--stage plans for medieval theatre, or the plan showing the relative locations of clergy during the Easter Vigil litany in the Old Sarum rite--making these materials available to a wide audience for the first time. In the end, the value of this book lies in the wealth of resources it presents and its synthesis of these wide ranging materials.

Evelyn Edson presents an altogether different kind of study, one whose title, at least, promises an exploration into medieval temporal and spatial habits of thought or practice. As she states in her preface, "The thesis of this work is that a study of the context of medieval maps in books reveals that many were designed to encompass concepts of time as well as space." (viii) And yet despite the more limited focus of her study--she treats only medieval maps of the world--in many ways her book also functions as an introductory survey of the materials, parceled out under the rubrics of time and space; thus the broadly conceived thesis.

In eight chapters, Edson investigates four different contexts of medieval mappaemundi. A general introduction proposes her own classification system, one based on the amount of detail present in the map and less on the form itself; but the meaning of that detail or its heuristic value is not explored. And although she allows some malleability in her definition of a medieval map, the map is invariably limited to being merely a product or illustration of texts. Chapters 2 and 3 treat maps as direct illustrations of first classical (Sallust, Virgil) and then Christian authors (Jerome and Orosius, later Isidore and Bede). These chapters answer why particular places show up on maps--because the author of the accompanying texts gave a certain emphasis to them--without asking what a map might add to the text or how it might actively aid in the reception of that text. In the discussion of Isidore's De natura rerum, the emphasis on texts and accompanying diagrams overwhelms the brief discussion of his map. That map belongs to a chapter (xlviii) that was later added to Isidore's work, and it is unclear what specific relations the diagrams in the various manuscripts might have with the manuscripts that contain the map. And this is a problem that haunts Edson's book, for while she does seek out the contexts in which maps occur, that context is too often free-floating, a broadly defined intellectual context of an author's work and it is frequently not clear which manuscript she is discussing and whether it contains a map. (The problem is exacerbated by a lack of specific references to the figures' numbers.)

This emphasis on an intellectual, as opposed to a physical, context overwhelms her project in chapters 4 and 5, which are devoted to the computus. Although presented with admirable clarity, we read far more about the history of the computus, the debates surrounding dating methods and various calendar tables than we do about how or why maps fit in with this material. Maps often do accompany computus materials, but we are left with the vaguest of explanations: "There is no specifically geographical material here, nor any explanation of the map's presence. In short, it is a 'computus map' merely by association, but an association that we will see again, particularly in computus manuscripts illustrated with other diagrams." (62) Indeed, the reader never really learns what a 'computus map' is, except one by mere association. Do they look different than other maps, have different content or formal qualities? Speculation on the possible relationships between time, space, diagrams and maps would have been welcome here (and earlier), but are not forthcoming until the reader is well into the book, and then only briefly on p. 92 in a discussion of Byrhtferth's diagram in Oxford, St. John's College, Ms. 17.

Edson's section on maps and histories (chs. 6 and 7) coheres better around the commonplace that the medieval map is an illustration of some (usually accompanying) text, and after a nicely conceived section on history writing, Edson explores the more profitable connections between geography and history, which include: the rich literary descriptions of the tomb of Darius (the Persian king defeated by Alexander the Great) by Gautier de Chatillon in his The Alexandreis; the Liber Floridus of Lambert of St.-Omer, the Imago Mundi of Honorius Augustudensis, the Liber Historiarum of Guido of Pisa, the various maps of Matthew Paris, and the Polychronicon of Ranulf Higden. There are far more and interesting maps associated with medieval histories, which give Edson the chance to explore through detailed descriptions of the maps and their accompanying texts how history was deposited on the globe, and how it was then fitted into the Divine Plan. 'Maps without history', that is, maps that are not associated with specific texts but were independent products (e.g. the lost Ebstorf Mappamundi, the Psalter Map, the Hereford Mappamundi) have deposited within them historical references that make reading the map also a reading of history. Here Edson seems to posit the more performative possibilities of the map's reception--they decorated churches, were the backdrop for sermons, had masses composed about them, or were illustrative material for now-lost lectures.

The final section on 'Spiritual Maps' (Ch. 8) suffers for a lack of definition. 'Spiritual maps' were made by mystical mapmakers, who, one gathers, understood their work to be less dependant on physical reality and more 'visionary' in content and design. Here, the paradigm of accuracy and resemblance to reality (i.e. how our modern maps look) insinuates itself. This sort of designation might work for the diagrammatic maps of Cosmas Indicopleustes and for contemporary scholars' reconstructions of maps of Hugh of St. Victor (although it is by no means clear that maps ever accompanied the works of Hugh, a controversy that Edson avoids). But for the Beatus maps, which make up the bulk of this chapter, the reader does not learn why they are 'visionary' or 'spiritual maps'. Beatus maps follow many of the medieval conventions that Edson has already discussed, particularly zonal maps. They do, however, accompany the commentary on the Apocalypse and were apparently meant to identify the different parts of the world to which the Apostles were sent. Edson locates in them a depiction of time that is "finely tuned to the ideas presented in the commentary". Adam and Eve are shown in paradise at the moment of sin, introducing time itself, which then flows through biblical narratives and the course of empire to reach Christ and His mission to the Apostles. The completion of that mission, when all souls of the world are converted, will itself auger the end of time. This is one of the very few times that Edson allows herself to interpret how a medieval map could create meanings on its own terms, as a visual device that supplements, rather than just illustrates, a text.

Edson presents a lot of interesting material, both textual and visual, and does a fine job of incorporating the intellectual contexts that surrounded the production of medieval maps. She presents generally clear and thorough descriptions of the maps and their contents--always a useful resource, since the maps are rarely reproduced at a legible size. And to those unfamiliar with medieval maps, it will make a highly readable supplement to larger projects like the fine discussions of ancient and medieval maps in the first volume of The History of Cartography, eds. D. Woodward and J. B. Harley (Chicago: 1987).