Thursday, January 9, 2014

Questioning Accuracy: An Exploration of Historical Maps

Anne Bransford, History Department

What makes a map “accurate”? This presentation seeks to contrast concepts of spatial accuracy with cultural perspectives in regards to the best way to represent the world. Ms. Brandsford has assembled for comparison a diverse collection of six maps that range in time and in space. They include a 6th century BCE Babylonian Imago Mundi (the oldest known map), a 12th century map of Eurasia made by an Arabian at a Sicilian court, a 13th century T-O map made as part of a psalter, a 15th century Korean map of Asia, and a 16th century German clover map, as well as a modern map of the world. Using GIS technology, she calculated the mathematical precision of each map according to modern calculation in order to show how “accurate” they are from a technically correct point of view. However, this presentation is to discuss a second culturally relative point of view to take when viewing these maps. Each document is a visual representation of the way in which people of that time and place perceived the geographical world around them; as such, each is unique and immeasurably valuable for the historical perspective they provide.

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