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International Conference on Entangled Cartographies: An interconnected history of mapping in Europe and South Asia, 16th to 20th centuries

About the Conference:
This conference, organized by the Jamia Millia Islamia and the University of Erfurt on Eurasian interconnections of historical cartography, focuses on historical maps, cartographic concepts and its development with regard to historical exchanges between Europe and Asia in different periods of medieval and modern history. Given the fact that this is an emerging area that is very multi-disciplinary, the conference is happy to invite not only historians, but all other scholars working on maps and interested in Indo-European scientific collaboration in this field.

Both Europe and India are part of the Eurasian land mass and although they lie far apart, cultural and commercial relations connected the regions at least since the 15th century on a regular basis that is historically well documented. What do we know of the mutual perception and ‘mapping’ of both areas and the corresponding countries? By analyzing the entangled history of cartography we want to give an answer – at least partly – to this question.
In recent years, the history of the map and of cartography has gained new interest in historical sciences. By the late 1980s the understanding of cartography was challenged by the geographer and map historian Brian Harley who conceived maps as social constructions and means or products of power. More recently, Anglo-American cartographic theory frames maps as inscriptions, actants or as a set of practices rather than representations. Following these approaches, historical maps are no longer considered as representations of historical reality. Rather than depicting reality, maps convey messages and they create new spaces.
Instead of analyzing European maps made by Europeans and Indian maps made by Indians, the project aims to highlight a perspective of entangled relationships in cartography. Entangled history is understood as a concept of transcultural connected history. Connections and relations between areas (here: Europe and India) are at the center of interest. While in general, these relations can be cultural, political, diplomatic or economic, varied rates of development and the consequent scale of borrowings and exchanges form an important part of the process of entangled historical change.
In the perspective of an entangled or connected history one could also ask how both sides are formed through these relationships and encounters. Maps as a means of representation of space (“représentation de l’espace” or “espace conçu” in the terms of Lefebvre) can shape a clear notion and influence the perception of the respective other region.
However, despite all parallel or mutual developments in Europe and India, we start from the hypotheses of a ‘great divergence’: Cartography based on mathematical and astronomical calculations was perfected around 1500 in (southern) Germany with the application of triangulation. Exact maps with scale and coordinate system, seem to be a European invention appearing only in the 18th century in India. The conference will discuss if this is true and – if it is the case – what it meant for the people and their ways of spatial orientation.

Applied to the history of cartography, the entangled history of cartography can include:

  • (mutual) representations of Europe and South-Asia in cosmography, on early world maps or on colonial maps
  • Understanding the uneven pace of development of cartography across time and between Europe and South Asia in the medieval, early modern and modern historical periods
  • The asymmetric interest of Europe in the cartographic comprehension and ordering of South Asia. Or: Is the history of modern “scientific” cartography a European invention?
  • The actual process (including non-Indian and non-European mediations) in the knowledge transfer in cartography or geography (techniques and technologies) from India to Europe or from Europe to India; reception of indigenous knowledge.
  • The political and economic contexts of cartographic development. This aspect includes the history of the “discovery” of the world as well as commercial interests for the development of maps – portolans in the Mediterranean region, new world charts after the discovery of the Americas, overseas expansion but also the history of knowledge and culture – translation of Ptolemaeus’ Geographica, the role of mathematicians, the development of triangulation and projection, advances in navigation, the invention of the printing press, coloration – not to forget fiscal or military interests.