Mapping and the Making of Empire

  • Lobo-Guerrero, Luis (PI)
  • Strandsbjerg, Jeppe (Member)
  • Lo Presti, Laura (Member)
  • dos Reis, Filipe (Member)
  • Goettlich, Kerry (Member)
  • Sánchez Martínez, Antonio (Member)

    Project Details


    What role do maps, mapcrafting, and map usage play in the making of Empire?

    Although maps are frequently used in IR to better understand world politics and depict the globe, they are rarely treated as specific expressions of epistemological practice.

    This project challenges such a conventional imaginary of maps and cartography. It treats maps not only as observations of, for example, certain spatial imaginaries, but most importantly, as operations of spatial imaginaries (Jacobs, 2006, Bargues-Pedreny, eds. 2019). In other words, maps are important epistemological devices in the creation of spatial imaginaries and global political projects. Within IR, maps and cartography have only recently been studied in such a way. In this context, for example, Jordan Branch noted, if controversially, that mapping ‘shapes the conditions of possibility of how actors conceive space, territory, and political authority’ (Branch 2014, 41). As such, ‘maps, like theories, shape our understanding of the world by highlighting – and obscuring – particular spatial and social features’ (Branch 2014, 36). Such an approach, however, focuses mainly on the governance effects of cartography. For example, it reconstructs how transformations in European cartography between the fifteenth and seventeenth century created new imaginaries of space – and the idea of territory itself. It was only this transformation, which made modern statecraft – based on the idea that the globe is compartmentalised of states with exclusive territory – possible (Strandsbjerg 2010; see also Elden 2013). Yet, here, this project aims to go one step further. It adds to the effects of maps also their processes of production and translation and the epistemologies involved. Maps, in this respect, are better conceived as, put by Bruno Latour, ‘immutable mobiles’ (Latour 1990). By researching maps and cartography in such a way, we are able to highlight the complex negotiations and contestations of imaginaries of the world.

    The project explores specific imaginaries of the world, namely those in the cartography of Western modern empires. By doing so, it links to the burgeoning literature on the history of international relations and empire (see Bader 2015; Barkawi and Laffey 2002; Bayly 2016; Go 2011; Long and Schmidt 2005; see also for international law: Koskenniemi, Rech, and Jiménez Fonseca 2017).The emphasis on empires serves here as an important corrigendum for IR’s state centrism and Eurocentrism and contributes to demolishing the myth of Westphalia. As valuable as these contributions are, they lack, a comparative lens on empires which would provide them with a perspective to demystify nationalist and culturalist agendas –typical example within IR is that of the British Empire (Edney 2005).

    The project aims to broaden this perspective by comparing different cartographic projects and their underlying epistemologies, which were crucial in the making of different European empires. In particular, this workshop employs a connectivity and global histories perspective on empire and the epistemologies of cartography.
    Short titleCartographies of Empire
    Effective start/end date03/09/201820/11/2021


    • cartography
    • empire
    • global connectivity
    • international relations
    • mapping


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