Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Mapping the Ocean: Georeferencing Maritime History

Maps play a crucial role in our view of the past, yet few historians are sufficiently skilled in cartography to genuinely integrate maps into their research. This project breaks down the long-standing barriers between history and cartography by inviting emerging scholars (ResMA) to reflect on maps as an intricate part of historical research, and shape the future of two interrelated fields of scholarship.

2016 - 2017
Michiel van Groesen

The focus will be on maritime maps of the Indian Ocean world and Atlantic world made in the early modern Low Countries (1550-1800), as it is precisely this intersection of research that still suffers from a combination of traditional national agendas eulogizing the cartographic achievements of the VOC and WIC, and an exclusive, somewhat technical methodology inaccessible for the non-cartographically trained. This project's main objective is to trace the extent of foreign and indigenous influences on 'Dutch' cartographic knowledge in Asia and the Americas. This will be achieved by using georeferencing to analyse the accuracy of maritime maps. Georeferencing is a digital humanities-methodology, which allows for a scientific comparison of different maps of the same geographical area. Only recently it has been applied to historical maps, with good results.

Being able to assess and compare the accuracy of different maps helps to make the accomplishments of 21st-century cartographic scholarship more meaningful to a broader audience of historians. Research trainees will be required to compare maps in the archives of the VOC and WIC (Nationaal Archief, The Hague & digital databases incl. Atlas of Mutual Heritage) to maps from other European and indigenous cartographic traditions in the collections of the University Library and, if necessary, elsewhere. The aim of this methodology is to deconstruct the (still) generally accepted discourse of 'national' schools of cartography in the early modern world, as well as in maritime and cartographic scholarship.

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