Friday, March 14, 2014

Jordan Branch's "The Cartographic State"

Jordan Branch is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Brown University. He received his PhD in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley and in 2011–12 he was the Hayward R. Alker Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for International Studies at the University of Southern California. His articles have appeared in the European Journal of International Relations and in International Organization.

Branch applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Cartographic State: Maps, Territory, and the Origins of Sovereignty, and reported the following:
Although page 99 of The Cartographic State does not summarize the book’s argument or evidence, it succeeds at the “Page 99 Test” in a different way, by serving as a “hinge” for the book as a whole. Page 99 is the last in Chapter 4, which presents the book’s main argument: mapping in early modern Europe was a key element in the origins and consolidation of the sovereign state as we know it today.

This argument is preceded by chapters laying a theoretical and historical foundation. I first discuss international relations theory and explain why we need to identify the historical origins of states in order to understand international politics today. We lack an account for why states have the particularly territorial character they do -- defined by boundaries and threatened by the slightest territorial violation. In other historical periods, politics was rarely -- if ever -- defined in such starkly spatial terms. Second, I outline the history of cartography, particularly in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Through this history we see that many of the characteristics of maps that we take for granted as “normal” actually begin to appear in the fifteenth century. These characteristics -- such as the latitude-longitude grid, or the use of the printing press to mass-produce cartographic images -- were essential to the shift to territorial statehood that followed.

Starting with page 100, the remaining chapters expand the analysis of European mapping and provide additional evidence. First, I point out how the imposition of linear boundaries between political claims followed a process of “colonial reflection” -- certain practices imposed first in colonial competition in the Americas were only later employed within Europe. Then I present evidence of the shift to boundary-defined territorial statehood from the texts of early modern peace treaties. If we look at treaty wording rather than the specific details being negotiated, it becomes clear that there is a change in what rulers and officials were arguing over. I also examine the case of France, which was an early and influential example of maps and their effects. However, French history is often misread as having consolidated a “modern” form of territorial statehood long before the Revolution and its aftermath actually did so.

Finally, the book’s conclusion considers the implications of this historical case for the broader relationship between technological and political change, particularly in the context of today’s digital revolution in mapping. Maps are changing dramatically in production, distribution, and use, in ways that are moving cartography out of the hands of governments and into those of corporations like Google -- and even everyday users. While early modern mapmakers created the conditions needed for the assertion of strong state authority over delineated territory -- in other words, for the state as we know it -- the changes taking place today in mapping may end up undermining the very states that maps made possible.
Learn more about The Cartographic State at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue