Course Convenor: Dr Katherine Parker

Course description and objectives:

Maps are simultaneously ubiquitous in everyday life yet also strangely absent from much scholarly work outside the niche field of the history of cartography. How to catalogue, study, and discuss maps as historical sources for research is a subject that draws insight from critical bibliography, the history of the book, historical geography, and other subjects, making it an interdisciplinary and dynamic field. Since the 1980s, scholars have placed maps under critical review, questioning precisely what a map is and probing the social and cultural roles maps, and their makers and consumers, play. However, this re-envisioning of map scholarship has not reached general or popular literature.

Each student will also present a 5-minute talk on the map they chose at the beginning of the week. The talk will cover the map’s maker, design and technology, production, intended audience, and an examination of the meanings of the map with regard to its specific historical context and the larger history of maps and mapping.

This course will challenge students to:

  • destabilize and broaden the traditional definition of ‘map’.
  • recognize maps as socially constructed objects that are indicative of the values and biases of their makers and the cultures that created them.
  • be able to analyse and catalogue maps for a variety of research purposes.
  • discuss changes in map technology and style without recourse to a progressive narrative of scientific improvement.  

Course convenor

Course Outline

  Course Outline
1 Maps and Mapping: biases and meanings
2 The Map as Object I: Medieval to 1550
3 The Map as Object II: 1550 to 1900
4 British Map and Atlas Trade, 17th-19th Centuries
5 20th-Century Maps
6 Cataloguing Maps
7 Globes and Conservation
8 Workshop: Indigenous Maps (Royal Geographical Society)
9 Sea Charts and Navigation
10 Workshop: Sea charts and maritime mapping (National Maritime Museum, Greenwich) GROUP 1
11 Workshop: Sea charts and maritime mapping (National Maritime Museum, Greenwich) GROUP 2
12 The Digital Map
13 Modes of Map History: Final Discussion and Presentations


The final session of the course will be a round-table discussion about the use and analysis of maps with the introduction to Matthew Edney’s The Ideal of Cartography as a starting point.

Student Comments

A fantastic course with materials and teaching that was very accessible even to those with zero previous knowledge of the subject.

Katie is a fantastic teacher with an obvious enthusiasm for the subject...She made difficult materials very clear for us.

Ashworth, Mick. Why North is Up: Map Conventions and Where They Came From. Oxford: Bodleian Library Publishing, 2019.

Brotton, Jerry and Nick Millea. Talking Maps. Oxford: Bodleian Library Publishing, 2019.