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Map Worlds - A History of Women in Cartography

Map Worlds

A History of Women in Cartography

By Will C. van den Hoonaard
Subjects Gender Studies, Geography, Women's Studies
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Paperback : 9781771121262, 394 pages, May 2014
Hardcover : 9781554589326, 394 pages, August 2013
Ebook (EPUB) : 9781554589340, September 2013
Hardcover Unavailable


Excerpt from the Introduction to Map Worlds: A History of Women in Cartography by Will C. van den Hoonaard

Behind some eight thousand contemporary women from around the world stand not only more than five hundred years of history, but also one of the most popular cultural productions in the world: maps. The world of mapmakers is somewhat known to us, but we have only a microscopic knowledge about the involvement of women in map-making. Map Worlds has set itself the task of recovering these women from history. No less significantly, it also recounts the experiences of women with contemporary cartography. Oftentimes, the world of women cartographers seems to be hidden, much like the so-called dark side of the moon, but as every thinking person knows, the invisible side of the moon bathes in the sunlight just as much as the one that faces us does.

Few fields have changed as dramatically as cartography. In the thirty-six years between my making my last etch as a cartographic editor at Falk-Plan (a European map company) in 1966 and my re-entry into the world of cartographers— this time as a social scientist—the field has become unrecognizable. This awakening was a compelling one, for it demonstrated the earthquake-like technological shifts within cartography beyond anyone’s imagination. As a social scientist, I began wondering about the social organization of cartographers—their world, their culture, and their habits. Had these changed drastically as well? As a modern individual, I wanted to apply the contemporary pincer of analysis: What role does gender play in all of this? I had originally envisioned Atlas Shrugged as a title for this book, but had Atlas truly shrugged? Was it a momentous shrug, signifying a radical departure of the old ways? Or was it a shrug of the kind that said,”So what?” This is one of the themes of this book: Have the technological changes that captivated cartography over the past thirty-six years also been reverberating through the organization and lives of women who are drawn to this field?

It is only through the recent passage of time that map librarians, cartographers, map collectors, and historical cartographers have begun to consider more explicitly the role of women in map-making. Part of the awakening process involves fresh research on women who have made important or interesting contributions to cartography (see, for example, Steward, 2001). 1

I have identified three strands of research interests. One strand explores pockets of cartography where women have been particularly active and have contributed significantly to the field in the historical sense. This strand represents a recuperative history of women in cartography.

The second strand concerns itself with contemporary women pioneers in cartography starting around 1880 and up to the present. This strand offers vignettes (brief biographical sketches) of twenty-eight women who were (or are) pioneers or major advancers of cartography. The vignettes describe their parentage, education, careers, contributions to cartography, and anything else that would explain the circumstances of their place and time in cartography.

The third strand deals primarily with the experiences, problems, and obstacles contemporary women face in cartography. This strand also looks behind the social organization of cartography as the backdrop of those experiences.

Table of contents

Table of Contents for
Map Worlds: A History of Women in Cartography by Will C. van den Hoonaard

List of Figures, Tables, and Charts



1 Introduction: The Strands through Map Worlds

2 Who Is a Cartographer?

3 The Thirteenth to Seventeenth Centuries

4 The Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries (1666 to 1850)

5 Cartography from the Margins: From the Early Twentieth Century to World War II

6 Mid- to Late-Twentieth-Century Pioneers and Advancers in North America

7 Late-Twentieth-Century Pioneers and Advancers in Europe, Asia, and Latin America

8 "Getting There without Aiming at It": Women's Experiences in Becoming Cartographers

9 "We Are Good Ghosts!": Orientations and Expectations of Women Cartographers

10 Educational Opportunities and Obstacles

11 The Gendered Social Organization

12 Female Pathways through the Present-Day Map World

13 Gender Shifts


A Methodology

B Topics Covered in an In-Depth Interview

C Overview of Twenty-Eight Women Pioneers in Cartography



Copyright Acknowledgements



Map Worlds plots a journey of discovery through the world of women map-makers from the golden age of cartography in the sixteenth-century Low Countries to tactile maps in contemporary Brazil. Author Will C. van den Hoonaard examines the history of women in the profession, sets out the situation of women in technical fields and cartography-related organizations, and outlines the challenges they face in their careers. Map Worlds explores women as colourists in early times, describes the major houses of cartographic production, and delves into the economic function of intermarriages among cartographic houses and families. It relates how in later centuries, working from the margins, women produced maps to record painful tribal memories or sought to remedy social injustices. Much later, one woman so changed the way we think about continents that the shift has been likened to the Copernican revolution. Other women created order and wonder about the lunar landscape, and still others turned the art and science of making maps inside out, exposing the hidden, unconscious, and subliminal “text” of maps. Shared by all these map-makers are themes of social justice and making maps work for the betterment of humanity.


``The vignettes draw together perhaps the only source for personal biographies of female pioneers in heavily male-dominated professions.''

- Julie Sweetkind-Singer, The Portolan, Spring 2014

``This book offers a ‘rehabilitative history’ and is an important contribution to the field of gender studies.... Well-researched and written, and recommended for academic library collections.''

- Susan McKee, Western Association of Map Libraries Information Bulletin, Volume 45 Number 1, November 2013

``An inspiring book that is fascinating and highly-researched.''

- Jennifer Carter, The Globe: Journal of The Australian and New Zealand Map Society Inc., Number 74, 2014

``Map Worlds provides a social and cultural analysis of the intersections between gender and cartographic practice. By focussing on maps themselves, Map Worlds fits within the new materialist turn within the social sciences, rejecting binaries between matter and discourse and attributing agency to things. There is also a focus on the epistemic uniqueness of women-made maps which is a real point of interest for readers (like myself) broadly concerned with gender and technology. The major strength of the book is built on interviews with 25 women occupied in cartography.... Attention to the structural and normative environment of cartography is a proper area of focus for a sociologist but one that has until now remained understudied.... The author is particularly interested in how the contours of this map world have circumscribed the lives of female cartographers.... Map Worlds seeks some redress for the exclusion and exploitation of female cartographers, both by providing detailed visibilty on the role of women in the production of cartographic knowledge from the 13th C on (29–168) and by telling the in-depth stories of particular women map-makers (169–204).... Van den Hoonaard makes the claim that theoretical shifts within cartography away from realist approaches has made some wiggle room for the simultaneous recognition of women cartographers because women make maps differently, more subjectively. This is a tricky argument to make without sliding toward essentialism. There is of course a wealth of good research demonstrating that female scientists set different sorts of research questions and may even bring a unique epistemological perspective on the same sets of questions or data (eg. Fox-Keller 1985). Map Worlds engages with such empirical research—specifically that coming out of feminist geography and cartography (269–284)—which helps to provide nuance to the claim about gendered cartographic practice.''

- Kelly Bronson, Canadian Journal of Sociology, 39 (3), 2014