Book Review: Time in Maps: From the Age of Discovery to Our Digital Era


by Kären Wigen and Caroline Winterer, editors

Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Nage. Pp. viii, 272. Illus., maps, inded.. $45.00. ISBN: 022671859X

Mapping Time

What about the past, and the present, should and could be mapped, and how, let alone best, to do so, are vexed issues in cartographic studies, not least because they emphasize the extent to which there is no perfect map nor unimpeachable desiderata. This includes topics such as perspective, projection, scale, title, nomenclature, key, captions, and so forth.

Time in Maps is a first-rate collection based on a 2017 Stanford conference that considers attempts to insert a sense of time into the spatial medium of maps. This is a formidable undertaking as for most of history there has not been any clear-cut distinction between time and space, or, necessarily, any view of time as linear and the past as separate. The authority of the past moreover rested in the present, as in legal process.

Given what could have been covered, the selection offered is necessarily notable for omission as much as commission, but the latter is impressive. There is coverage of aspects of Japan, China, Korea and the Aztec Empire, as well as more familiar geographies. The latter, however, are treated in an original fashion. Focusing on the Atlantic world, William Rankin deploys an impressive range of maps to consider mapping over the last century. Very differently, Caroline Winterer considers the first American maps of “Deep Time,” Susan Shulten looks at the origins of “Time Mapping” in the United States, for example the extinction of bison, and James Akerman assesses the mapping of historical landscapes of (some) warfare on behalf of travelers in America.

The volume, as the Foreword notes, “gives voice to the ineluctable lure of the undiscovered and uncharted.” It provides an important work for cartographic scholars, and, more generally, offers those interested in historiography much to consider. If the latter subject also has much to offer those interested in maps then possibly it can be incorporated into any second volume on this most interesting topic. The volume is a pleasure to read, with many well-selected maps and a high standard of reproduction.

Time in Maps is one of several individually important recent atlases (e.g., The Atlas of Boston History, The Eternal City: A History of Rome in Maps) that also speak to the extent to which cartographic studies have long focused on, and developed high expertise in, many issues that have only recently become more generally fashionable. Other such studies are published frequently with rather indifferent quality, namely issues of meaning and relevance.


Originally published in The Critic, January 15, 2021, this review appears by the kind permission of Prof. Black and The Critic.


Our Reviewer: Jeremy Black, longtime Professor of History at the University of Exeter, is also a Senior Fellow of the Center for the Study of America and the West at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He is the author of an impressive number of works in history and international affairs, frequently demonstrating unique interactions and trends among events, including The Great War and the Making of the Modern World, Combined Operations: A Global History of Amphibious and Airborne Warfare, and The War of 1812 in the Age of Napoleon. He has previously reviewed The Return of Marco Polo's World: War, Strategy, and American Interests in the Twenty-first Century, Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939, War: How Conflict Shaped Us, King of the World, Stalin’s War, Underground Asia, The Eternal City: A History of Rome in Maps, The Atlas of Boston History, and .




Note: Time in Maps is also available in e-editions.

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: Jeremy Black   

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