Maps: Finding Our Place in the World

What is a Map?

A collection of unusual maps from
Maps: Finding Our Place in the World

Maps of the Imaginary

The Voyage of the Pequod

Everett Henry, The Voyage of the Pequod
Everett Henry, "The Voyage of the Pequod from the Book, Moby Dick, by Herman Melville" (1956). Library of Congress.
What makes a world “imaginary”? And what makes a representation of such a world a “map”? When our example is the map of Middle Earth, then these questions have answers so obvious they don’t bear repeating; but when we cast our nets more widely, we soon run into problems. As the literary scholar Thomas Pavel reminds us, the fictionality of fictional worlds often lies in the eye of the beholder. Sacred geographies represent the most obvious example. To the believer, maps of the afterlife or of the worlds of the gods are anything but imaginary, while to the nonbeliever, they are anything but real. What about maps of lost continents like Lemuria or Atlantis, which are mere myths for most of us, but have at different times by different people been believed to be real? The worlds of many literary works have been subject to similar changes in perception. There is a whole genre of literary maps dedicated to tracing the real-world settings of fictional events, or the location of events once thought to have been real but now recognized as fiction. Do these maps count?


An Anciente Mappe of Fairyland

An Anciente Mappe of Fairyland
Bernard Sleigh, "An Anciente Mappe of Fairyland" (1920?). Library of Congress.
In Bernard Sleigh’s “Anciente Mappe of Fairyland” everything is depicted pictorially: nothing is reduced to cartographic abstraction. The collection of these disparate characters and scenes into a single space is itself quite charming, but what makes the map truly captivating is the way that space is organized. The map sets the individual elements into their respective landscapes quite carefully, placing some in the foreground, others in the background, and connecting them all with routes that invite the eye to wander from one to the next. It provides commanding heights that the viewer can occupy imaginatively, creating a sense of mastery over the landscape. The Sleigh map puts everything on an enormous island, producing a coherent and well-bounded geography.


Book details:

Edited by James R. Akerman and Robert W. Karrow, Jr.
Maps: Finding Our Place in the World
Foreword by John McCarter
Co-published with the Field Museum
©2007 336 pages, 198 color plates
Cloth $55.00 ISBN: 978-0-226-01075-5 (ISBN-10: 0-226-01075-9)

For information on purchasing the book—from bookstores or here online—please go to the webpage for Maps.

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