Module 1 – Who’s on Top of the World?: Maps as Ideological Constructs

In his introductory essay to the Outremer Map, Prof. Paul asserts: “all maps are rhetorical or ideological constructs.” Because we are used to seeing maps that are in many ways quite similar to the Outremer Map (north orientation, prioritization of large population centers, etc.), we tend to think of this method of depicting terrestrial space as essential.

But why, for example, must north be “up?” Why is a particular city’s worth determined by the size of its population or its role in national governance or commerce?

We tend to take the answers to these questions for granted when we produce and consume modern maps. But these questions were answered differently in previous eras, and these different answers affect the way we view the world (and, in turn, how we map it).

The following lessons will ask you to consider the ideologies that are implicit in the maps you are used to seeing and then to compare these ideologies to those evident in maps from the Middle Ages.