Mapping the Past

August 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

Class Summary

Maps tend to be accepted uncritically by historians, especially historic maps. Geographic and spatial issues are given little importance due to the myth that maps are unbiased. Historically, maps grew as a tool to teach history, containing iconographic aspects of political and cultural authority.

There are many problems when mapping historic data, these include dealing with gaps in evidence, ways of representing and overcoming unceretainty (and imprecision), which leads to variant interpretations. Uncertainity of certain features such as boundaries can warrant further archaeological survey.

[ Nine Views of the Limits of the Mughal Empire in 1605 – From the Historical Atlas of Asia by Joseph Schwartzberg 1978 ]

A significant contribution to mapping came from William Stukeley, whoms approach to surveying was extremely accurate, useful (as seen in his observation; “Abury, A Temple of the British Druids”, 1743). This method was almost immediately taken up by the UK.

[ Comparison of Stukeley’s Abury survey to Google Earth’s view ]

Karl Weber (1750) was also a significant pioneer away from classical archaeology, with the philosophy that archaeological objects should not only be categorically witnessed by the interested, privelaged and wealth, but within the context of their discovery (and use). Instead of tunnelling underground to maximize the output of found artifacts, Weber excavated whole buildings and streets (of Pompeii) to better understand them.

Modern approaches to mapping archaeological sites have allowed for different representations of locations, and hence completely different hypothesis’. One such example is ‘Poverty Point’, which was only mapped in 1954 (by aerial photographs) due to it’s expansive size. This is despite the fact that it was discovered in 1873, producing many different theories, such as ‘America’s first chiefdom’, which has since been discredited.

Class Activity

As an activity, we used Google Earth to create a KML file of containing various structures in Rome. I opted to base my file on famous structures for an imaginary tourist to visit going from the Coliseum to the Stadium of Domitian.

[ Screenshot of the KML File in Google Earth ]

[ The KML File ]


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