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Tracing Changes Through a Thousand Years

  • Date Submitted: 10/24/2010 07:57 AM
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Map 1 A section of the world map drawn by the geographer al-Idrisi in the twelfth century showing the Indian subcontinent.


ake a look at Maps 1 and 2. Map 1 was made in 1154 CE. by the Arab geographer al-Idrisi. The section reproduced here is a detail of the Indian subcontinent from his larger map of the world. Map 2 was made in the 1720s by a French cartographer The cartographer. two maps are quite different even though they are of the same area. In al-Idrisi’s map, south India is where we would expect to find north India and Sri Lanka is the island at the top. Place-names are marked in Arabic,

Cartographer A person who makes maps.


Map 2 The subcontinent, from the early-eighteenth century Atlas Nouveau of Guillaume de l’Isle.

and there are some well-known names like Kanauj in Uttar Pradesh (spelt in the map as Qanauj). Map 2 was made nearly 600 years after the first, during which time information about the subcontinent had changed considerably. This map seems more familiar to us and the coastal areas in particular are surprisingly detailed. This map was used by European sailors and merchants on their voyages (see Chapter 6). But look at the areas inland.

?Are they as detailed as those on the coast? Follow the
course of the River Ganga and see how it is shown. Why do you think there is a difference in the level of detail and accuracy between the coastal and inland areas in this map?

— II


Equally important is the fact that the science of cartography differed in the two periods. When historians read documents, maps and texts from the past they have to be sensitive to the different historical backgrounds – the contexts – in which information about the past was produced.

New and old terminologies
If the context in which information is produced changes with time, what about language and meanings? Historical records exist in a variety of languages...


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