The History of Cartography Project receives major funding from the National Science Foundation

History of CartographyThe History of Cartography Project, in the UW–Madison Geography Department, has received a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Beginning September 2014, the funding will facilitate editorial preparation of Cartography in the Nineteenth Century, Volume Five of the award-winning reference book series The History of Cartography. The six-volume History provides a comprehensive account of the development of mapping as a cultural and scientific endeavor across all periods and human cultures. The University of Chicago Press publishes the series in print, e-book, and free online editions.

Each volume is a distinctive and monumental undertaking. The NSF-funded Cartography in the Nineteenth Century explores the social and cultural foundations of the development of modern cartographic science. By the end of the five-year grant, editor Roger Kain (University of London), coeditors Imre Demhardt (University of Texas at Arlington) and Carla Lois (Universidad de Buenos Aires), and about 200 authors will have prepared the manuscript of a massive interpretive encyclopedia with one-million words, 480 entries, and more than 1,000 illustrations.

UW Senior Scientist Dr. Matthew Edney serves as the principal investigator for the NSF award and, as director of the History of Cartography Project, provides intellectual oversight for the series. He explains, “the intellectual merit of this NSF-funded research rests on the distinctive character of mapping activities in the 1800s. This is when the modern concept of cartography as the science of the measurement of the world first originated and when the character of modern spatial rationality was established.”

With its unique approach, Cartography in the Nineteenth Century stands to make significant contributions to the understanding of contemporary cartography and geography, and indeed to science generally. It fosters recognition and further study of topics including the:

  • analysis of international connections and cooperation,
  • adoption of Western mapping practices in non-Western societies,
  • increasing role of civil and military authorities in spatial data collection and use,
  • rise of mass cartographic literacy, and
  • democratization of map use.

The project also explores how innovations in mapmaking impacted scientific measurement, statistics, and expectations for accuracy. New ways of looking at, thinking about, and depicting space revolutionized fields like biology, geology, anthropology, and epidemiology.

This original research and the availability of Cartography in the Nineteenth Century as a publically accessible reference resource will not only help us learn about the development of modern cartography, they will expand how we understand and think about our past. Such broad social implications and the intellectual merit of the volume’s innovative approach led NSF’s external reviewers and program officers to recommend the project for this highly competitive award.

While the NSF grant will go a long way toward advancing work on Volume Five, the History of Cartography Project is also seeking private support. The Project hopes to raise $120,000 from private donors over the next two years. This would not only provide direct support for work on the series, it would also encourage another federal sponsor—the National Endowment for the Humanities—to provide matching funds as part of a pending proposal. You can help by making a gift to the History of Cartography today!


Author: Geography Staff

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