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Artful maps: exploring the visual culture of cartography

September 26, 2023

The Oxford Seminars in Cartography Conference: 26 September 2023

Cartography has long been recognised as art and science. This conference explores how art affects cartography’s process, products, and personnel. Ranging over all types of map, all areas of the world, and all time periods, the conference considers the relationship between art and cartography.

Themes may include but need not be confined to:

Maps in art: maps and globes have long featured in portraits, genre scenes, and other works of art. Sometimes their meaning is clear but at other times it is ambiguous or downright enigmatic. What exactly is the artist saying by depicting maps, and to whom? Are the painted maps and globes stock props or do they have particular messages about maps and mapping? Has the inclusion of maps and globes in works of art affected the process of cartography?

Maps as decorative art: since the early modern period people have used maps as decorative as well as use objects. Is this phenomenon confined to western societies or is it more widely shared? How has maps’ decorative role affected their content, appearance, reception, and meaning; and how maps were made and traded, used and displayed? Do the decorative and geographical elements of maps convey a unified message or pull in opposite directions? Is the repertoire of images on maps distinctive to mapping or just a reflection of contemporary artistic trends? How have map collectors and dealers affected the production of maps and scholarship about maps?

Artful maps: since Brian Harley’s work on cartography as a partisan process and Mark Monmonier’s lighter-hearted view of cartographic deceits, map makers have often been accused of being artful – that is, being economical with the truth that they claim for their products. How have deceptive arts been used in cartography to give a partisan view of the world, to obfuscate, to distract, or to mis-sell? Why and how are maps persuasive in their deceit? How have cartographic frauds been perpetrated on the public, in the law courts, and on cartographic scholars and collections?

The art of mapping: related to discussion of maps as decorative objects, we consider how aesthetic considerations affect the look of maps and the use made of them. Why are some maps not visually engaging? How can aesthetic demands help or hinder the map as a means of communication? How do the characters of particular audiences, such as children, women, the visually impaired, affect the look of maps made for them?

Mapmakers as artists and artisans: how have artisans and artists been involved in mapmaking? Why and with what success have some cartographers insisted that they are not artisans or artists but scientists? How has map making intersected with cognate trades, and how has the status of artists and artisans affected the production of maps?

Artificial maps: what makes a map authentic, and why are some others rejected as artificial in the sense of inauthentic or disconnected from the people whose lives, homes, and experiences the map claims to portray. How does participatory cartography shed new, authentic, light on the world, and should we be concerned if official cartography seems remote and artificial?

My brief presentation is titled “The Panther and the Bulldog Move on the New Haven Green.”


September 26, 2023


Bodleian Library, University of Oxford