Bowdoin Mellon Fellow Muses on Maps as Fiction

April Morris, Bowdoin’s Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Art History

April Morris, Bowdoin’s Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Art History

Reported by Amanda Spiller ’17

“I’m obsessed with maps,” said April Morris, Bowdoin’s Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Art History, at the start of her recent lecture “Maps, Monsters, and What it Means to be Human,” in which she argued that maps are a type of art.

Although “we give documents a great sense of authority,” Morris argued that a map is not an honest depiction of a place, but rather a record of the cartographer’s awareness of his surroundings at a certain point in time.

T and O map

“A map is both a truthful lie and a lying truth,” Morris said, revealing more than just information about geography. Some medieval world maps, for instance, put Jerusalem at the epicenter or depict Jesus Christ gripping the edges of the map, showing the importance of Christianity in the 12th century.

Monstrous Races

Monstrous Races

Morris also pointed out that the boundaries on maps can be telling: “the minute we draw a boundary we are recognizing that there is something beyond it.” This distinction divides the terra cognita, the land that is known, from the terra incognita, the land unknown (which in historical times often included hypothetical monsters).

Attendee Ben Geyman ’16 said he found it thought-provoking to reassess maps. “It’s interesting to think that the things we accept as fact [on a map] are based off of someone’s subjective measure of importance,” he said.

Morris’ lecture took place in Quinby House, one of the College’s social houses, which are often referred to as Bowdoin’s living rooms because they frequently host special lectures and events for the college community.

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