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The familiar and the strange: western travelers' maps of Europe and Asia, ca. 1600-1800

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Early Modern European travelers sought to gather and disseminate knowledge through narratives written for avid publishers and public. Yet not all travelers used the same tools to inform their readers. Despite a shared interest in conveying new knowledge based on eyewitness authority, Grand Tour accounts differed in an important respect from travelogues about Asia: they were less likely to include maps until the late eighteenth century. This paper examines why, using travel accounts published between 1600 and 1800 about Italy and France (Europe) and India and Japan (Asia). It argues that maps of different types--coastlines, city plans, country topographies--appeared more frequently in accounts of Asian trips in part because of Europeans' more limited geographical knowledge about Asian destinations. More important, however, was the purpose of travel, the type of information gathered, and the intended audience of accounts. Seventeenth-century authors of Grand Tour experiences focused on single topics, ignored what seemed to be the familiar countryside they passed through, and showed little interest in geography. Their counterparts visiting Asia took an opposite tack, covering a wide range of subjects, including space, and cartographic representation was an important element within the account. Only in the eighteenth century, when the strange locale had become familiar and the familiar European destination became strange with new types of travel through it, were maps an important part of narrative.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: August 1, 2004

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