Essay about Deconstructing the Map: The JB Harley Theory

Essay about Deconstructing the Map: The JB Harley Theory

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Historical geographer JB Harley wrote an essay on Map Deconstruction in 1989, in which Harley argues that a map is more than just a geographical representation of an area, his theory is that we need to look at a map not just as a geographical image but in its entire context. Harley points out that by an examination of the social structures that have influenced map making, that we may gain more knowledge about the world. The maps social construction is made from debate about what it should show. Harley broke away from the traditional argument about maps and examined the biases that govern the map and the map makers, by looking at what the maps included or excluded. Harley’s “basic argument within this essay is that we should encourage an epistemological shift in the way we interpret the nature of cartography.” Therefore Harley’s aim within his essay on ‘Deconstructing the Map’ was to break down the assumed ideas of a map being a purely scientific creation.
In ‘Deconstructing the Map’ Harley looks at the writings of two well-known philosophers’ Michael Foucault and Jacques Derrida, looking at their argument’s around maps. Foucault, a renounced philosopher in cultural theory, examines the external power and the omnipresence of internal power in the cartographic representation of place. Derrida applied conceptions of literary understanding to the maps construction. Derrida’s argument was that like a literary text a map could also be read, and using theory Harley was able to deconstruct the map. Another name that is just mentioned in this essay is Panofsky; Erwin Panofsky was an art historian, “most frequently associated with the concept of iconography, matching the subject-matter of works of art to a symbolic syntax of m...


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...luencing map making, and Derrida’s deconstruction argument, which stated a map could be read like a literary text, Harley was able to argue that a map is more than just a simple geographic representation of an area, by using Harley’s theory of deconstruction the embedded symbolic value within the map can be discovered. By studying maps we can learn more about the world we live in, and the society from which the map derived.



Works Cited

1. J B Harley, 1989, Deconstructing The Map, Ann Arbor, Michigan: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library.
2. Erwin Panofsky, 1939, Studies in Iconology, 1939 rpt. New York: Harper and Row, 1972, pages 3-31.
3. Class notes for The History of Cartography.
4. J.B. Harley, "Maps, Knowledge, and Power," in The Iconography of Landscape, ed. Denis Cosgrove and Stephen Daniels, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988: 289-90.

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