Even though this particular reading may not have seemed to be about the most interesting topic, the first chapter of this reading was actually very riveting. I find maps to be pretty neat, and even had a map of Europe (in the German language) on the wall of my dorm room last year. Despite my mild interest in maps, I was not aware of the complexity of them within the historical field! I also was not aware that they were among the most neglected types of sources among historians, but that fact does make sense because I don’t ever recall seeing maps cited in historical writings very often.
This chapter points that out that most historians tend to only use maps if they want a specific question answered, and it is usually dealing with location (Harley, 34). However, maps can be used in so many more ways. To quote the chapter, “Maps re-describe the world. . .in terms of relations of power and of cultural practices, preferences, and priorities” (Harley, 35). I agree with this statement fully. To me, maps can provide insight into the general mindset of a region, based on how the map is formatted. If certain territories are ignored or labeled differently than other maps from the same time period, a future reader of that map could wonder if the people who created that map were either not aware of those territories, or that there were conflicts between governments regarding those areas at that time. However, just as this chapter states, it can be difficult to understand a map maker’s intention, because they typically were a group effort or done with a patron (Harley, 39). So just like written historical documents, maps must be read carefully in order to try and understand meaning behind it.
Sarah E Jones