The mammoth History of Cartography is a multi-volume reference collection that explores the history of maps and map-making across the world. Since 1981, the project has revolutionized the study of maps and created new understandings of how they have shaped our world. Funding from the NEH has supported the project throughout its existence and a recent grant will allow the project to complete the publication of its sixth and final volume.
The project began in 1981, when David Woodward and J. B. Harley, professors at the University of Wisconsin, decided to compile a series of reference volumes for a world history of cartography, from prehistory through the twentieth century. Though it had not been their intent, Woodward and Harley quickly realized that their work was creating new knowledge about how historical maps had been used and interpreted. Their work proved hugely consequential: the collection’s first volume, Cartography in Prehistoric, Ancient, and Medieval Europe and the Mediterranean, transformed the scholarship around premodern maps. For example, an essay about Roman imperial maps led scholars of Classics and ancient history to reconsider how Romans conceptualized space within their empire. This had far-reaching implications, transforming maps from being straightforward representations of the physical world to being objects that had social and cultural consequences. The project currently consists of five volumes; the sixth, Cartography in the Nineteenth Century, is slated to be completed soon.
NEH funding has supported the project throughout its existence, providing the financial resources to support dedicated administrative staff and cover the costs of imaging–with a ratio of one image per 1,000 words and with multiple volumes surpassing 1,000,000 words, imaging costs are high. NEH support has also helped ensure that the project will eventually be available online free of charge, thus greatly increasing its accessibility.