Saturday, October 25, 2014

Post-modern Cartography!

Not that Google Earth isn't great
(but a photograph is not the same thing as a map)
This was meant to be a footnote to the Post of July 29.  Here it is, better late than never.



So long as I was teaching undergraduate courses, as one means of keeping abreast of what the freshmen were getting from my colleagues, I browsed every semester among the textbooks ordered for history, geography, anthropology, et al.  It was quite by accident that I came across one called Human Antiquity, in its 2nd edition (1990 by Feder and Park.  I do not believe that the authors had ever checked the maps (and some of the dates such as that for Friederick Engels on p. 398, where "(1942)" must be that of some other textbook, Engels having died in 1884, indeed, according to the Wikipedia article, in 1892).
The map, reproduced above, is possibly the worst every provided for college students.  Its most egregious faults, the Black Sea, Pontos Euxinos, shown the color of land, and all of Mesopotamia (though left unclosed at the top!) colored blue.  But, someone surely will protest, the Young will not try to read the map; it is really just an obligatory ornament—though, as a "location of sites", its placing Halaf in the water is shocking.  The more you look, the worse it is: even with the omission of the Danube's mouth, 'GREECE' ought not to be printed where it is.
This textbook is not from a great publisher, but as a 2nd Edition…!  When I was in Middle School in the 1940s, the maps in our books (issued on loan by California to all the students, and after a long war grubby and inky from long use) never had such inadequacies as this one has.

I remembered this awful map when the Islamic State took Mosul, and the Kurds helped the refugees come down from the Sinjar mountains.  I had to go back to the EB of 1910, s.v. Syria, to find my way through the news reports.  The historical atlases I had on hand either omitted too many modern names or too many ancient ones (I knew that the Mitanni had been up there east of Aleppo or Damascus and west of Mosul, but not exactly where, relative to any of the groups of modern Kurds).  And where had the ancestors of the Kurds been (well, soon I did learn that they are Indo-Iranian, so that hadn't been earlier than Media—and how placed relative to Scythians?).  And what about all those other names concerning which I know little more than how to spell them?

Before computer graphics routinely could make maps better, they made them really bad: not very good even when not cheap, not excellent any cheaper than the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World, which is to say in atlases as such, not as illustrations in books with illustrations.  In the Art of the World series, published by Crown in the USA and, in German, originally, by the Holle Verlag, in the early 1960s, the maps are reproduced from line drawings, photographically, and visibly in plain pen and ink, usually by someone handy with a crow-quill or a Rapidograph (yes, it's in the Wikipedia).  Some of them were neatly done but with a dismal ignorance and insensitivity to geography.  In that series of archaeological books their quality varies.

Map provided for Edith Porada's Ancient Iran.  
In the same series, map for The Middle East  by Sir Leonard Woolley.
Woolley, the excavator of the Royal Cemetery of Ur, was a full generation older than Professor Porada, but by the end of his career he knew, as Henri Frankfort for his Peguin History of Art volume a decade earlier, what sort of map was required and, doubtless, where to acquire it.  He does not let everything north and west of the Euphrates just fall off at the left in this odd partial tracing of a pre-existing map; having known her, though not very well, I know that Porada cannot have approved of that skewed and discontinuous map of Ancient Iran.  In 1962 a good archaeological map of Greater Iran may not have been available (I didn't find a good 19th-century one offhand, and I suspect that 19th-century Biblical interest in Leonard Woolley's world is partly responsible.

Yet all three of these maps lack indicators of latitude and longitude.  About 38° North is close enough as a starting reference for Mosul and Aleppo, but how far north do modern Kurds live?  Well, south of Hasanlu and Marlik, I think.  Not north of Lake Van and Urartu.  Bit by bit I spread out the larger atlases and began to learn enough geography.  It's getting better, and Wikipedia offers some tourist pictures of the principal cities.  But I got the lay of the land from Robert Baer.  
I am forced to admit that I never did know where the Mitanni lived.  This is still the zone that is Iranian (at least since the end of the 2nd millennium BCE), south of Slavic and north of Semitic.  And please, everyone, don't call all the major groups of Semitic-speaking  peoples "anti-Semitic".

There are beautiful new maps of this whole world in the Metropolitan Museum's new catalogue of art from Assyria to Iberia: at the Dawn of the Classical Age.  Map reproductions of the mature computer age!  I wish I might scan some.  I just got the book.

But no other one that I have seen is as culpable and horrid as the one I put at the head of this Post.