Cover Graphic

The Power of Maps

Denis Wood

Paperback
Paperback
October 16, 1992
ISBN 9780898624939
Price: $30.00 $25.50
248 Pages
Size: 6" x 9"
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This volume ventures into terrain where even the most sophisticated map fails to lead—through the mapmaker's bias. Denis Wood shows how maps are not impartial reference objects, but rather instruments of communication, persuasion, and power. Like paintings, they express a point of view. By connecting us to a reality that could not exist in the absence of maps—a world of property lines and voting rights, taxation districts and enterprise zones—they embody and project the interests of their creators. Sampling the scope of maps available today, illustrations include Peter Gould's AIDS map, Tom Van Sant's map of the earth, U.S. Geological Survey maps, and a child's drawing of the world. THE POWER OF MAPS was published in conjunction with an exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt Museum, the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Design.

“Denis Wood's book The Power of Maps sheds a brilliant new light on our customary experience of maps....You will never look at any map the same way again.”

The Christian Science Monitor


“....The last word on maps.”

The Trenton Times


“He has some important, indeed compelling, things to say about maps...Wood not only incorporates a great store of historical detail into his essays, he sees maps as peculiar historical texts, as repositories of layers of knowledge and labor that can be revealed if we know how to read" them....I highly recommend this unconventional book to historians of science of any period.”

Isis


“If compelled to cite only a single book on cartography to stock a desert-island shelf or to assign to the eager novice, this is the automatic choice....Although I have been drawing and poring over maps, as well as reading about them, since childhood, I received more revelations about their essential nature and larger meanings from this one powerful, disturbing, totally convincing essay than from all the other books, articles, and lectures on the subject I have ever encountered.”

—Wilbur Zelinsky, The Pennsylvania State University


“Combining both topical issues relevant to lay readers and serious scholarship, Denis Wood's The Power of Maps will provoke, amuse, tweak, and inform anyone who has had occasion to use, or merely peruse, a map—which is to say, everyone. It is a relentless entertainment—relentlessly challenging to traditional assumptions about cartography, relentlessly witty as it deconstructs (read: demolishes) the pretense of neutral, `scientific' map-making, and relentlessly contrary in reminding us that maps reflect social choices and serve particular political interests.”

—Stephen S. Hall, author of Mapping the Next Millennium


“Perhaps the simplest thing to say is that there is nothing quite like it! There are, of course, countless conventional accounts of cartography — usually a combination of the history of cartography and a catalogue of its technical achievements— but these are usually Whiggish tales which celebrate the progressive advance of cartography towards 'Truth.' Apart from a short discussion of so-called 'propaganda maps' (which is there simply to mark a departure from the norm, so to speak, an anomaly) these books rarely offer any sustained discussion of what one might call the cultural and political implications of maps and mapping. With the current explosion of interest in cultural politics and social theory, both inside and outside human geography, there is an obvious need for a discussion which resists those conventions. I can think of only Mark Monmonier's HOW TO LIE WITH MAPS — which from all accounts has done extremely well, but is narrower in scope than Wood's text — and the late Brian Harley's marvelous essays on deconstruction and mapping — which may well be too abstract for many readers. In any event, I have no doubt that Denis Wood's book will be a major contribution to this emerging discussion of the power and politics of maps and mapping: it is written in a clear and accessible style but none the less deals with some of the most complex issues in contemporary debates over power, knowledge and spatiality. It is immensely engaging: the examples and illustrations are to the point and by no means obvious, and the issues that are raised extend far beyond the confines of any purely academic discipline. This is one of those rare books that will prompt its readers to re-think some of their most taken-for-granted assumptions and the ways in which those conventions bear on their everyday lives.”

— Derek Gregory, The University of British Columbia

About the Author

Denis Wood, PhD, is an independent scholar living in Raleigh, North Carolina. He lectures widely and is the author of a dozen books and over 150 papers. From 1974 to 1996, he taught in the School of Design at North Carolina State University. In 1992, he curated the Power of Maps exhibition for the Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design (remounted at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, in 1994), for which he wrote the book The Power of Maps. His other books include Rethinking the Power of Maps; Making Maps, Third Edition (coauthored with John Krygier); and Weaponizing Maps (coauthored with Joe Bryan).

Audience

Historians of science of any period.

Course Use

This book can be used not only to teach about cartography, but also to instruct students in the art of thinking critically about everyday objects we take for granted.