Mapping and writing are both attempts to describe some truth about the human experience. While maps may seem utilitarian, or at best art objects with aesthetic value, I believe that the maps we create for ourselves also function as maps of ourselves. I am primarily concerned with the places where maps and literature intersect — where literature employs the logic and rhetoric of cartography, and maps have narrative value. Where the two overlap, ideas of national identity and individual identity merge. Formally, there is a distinct difference between the “God’s-eye view” that a map provides and the linear nature of a narrative or itinerary. There is tension between these two perspectives — which Peter Turchi calls “ego-vision” and “omnivision" — that seems impossible to reconcile. The map cannot be made linear, and the linear narrative cannot become a map, but each provides its own unique benefits.
In this paper, I examined a variety of works of literature that utilize cartographic themes, terminology, and conceits, in concert with maps created contemporaneously. In every case, from Hamlet to Ulysses, the identities of various characters are inextricable from their worldview—which is, quite literally, their relationship to and perspective on the world in which they live. Cartography and identity are more bound together than one might expect. Examining literature like a map, and looking at maps for the stories behind them, opens up the door to a plethora of new insights.
Mills, Caroline, "Kings of Infinite Space: Cartography and Identity in Literature, 1599 - 1914" (2013). English Honors Papers. 13.
The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.