The Brussels Map Circle

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Mapping and the Global Imaginary, 1500-1900


Stanford, USA
Organisation: Global History and Culture Centre at the University of Warwick and the History Department of Stanford University
Maps have long been used to bring imaginary places to life, from Thomas More's Utopia to JRR Tolkien's Middle Earth. But the role of the imagination in mapping extends well beyond the depiction of fantasy realms. Some cartographers have conjuredplaces that were only rumored to exist but that they hoped could one day be charted. Others have drawn on their creative faculties to map sites that were only hazily known. Not a few cartographers have intentionally imposed illusory elements on their maps, whether in jest or in earnest (to mislead enemies, to foil would-­‐be plagiarists, or to score political or philosophical points). In the broadest sense, all maps are works of the imagination: at the moment of creation, the mapmaker translates a mental image into a visual and textual medium that can be shared. The various contexts that shape this process, the forms chosen for sharing spatial visions, and the nature of the resulting maps’ relationship to perceived reality all form important aspects of the study of cartography.
This conference - co-organized by the Global History and Culture Centre at the University of Warwick and the History Department of Stanford University— is designed to showcase research and facilitate conversation about the role of the imagination in the cartographic enterprise writ large. Rather than attempt to draw a hard line between genres—distinguishing maps of ‘the real’ from those that represent avowedly fictional worlds—we invite presenters to focus on intersections between the two, highlighting the ways in which mapmakers at different moments have drawn on personal or social imaginaries to create alternative, sometimes destabilizing representations of the world. While we are particularly keen to include papers that address theoretical or historiographical issues in the field of world history, inquiries at more local scales are also welcome.
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