Another year with maps

August is here and with it comes the anticipation of the start of a new academic year. Therefore, it is perfect moment to reflect on the past year and how I have progressed with my research. I am currently two-thirds into my current project – September will mark the beginning of the final year. The past two years have been shadowed by the pandemic – prohibiting or postponing many of my planned travels abroad. However, as most of the primary sources that I am studying are located in Finland, I have been able to proceed with my research almost as planned. Due to the restricted opening hours and limited seats at the archives, working with some material has been incredibly slow and forced me to find alternative perspectives using digitized materials. This has led to many interesting discoveries, especially regarding how different types of maps were discussed in the press, how they were marketed and what types of maps were available during the different decades of the latter half of the nineteenth and the early twentieth century.

Indeed, newspapers and periodicals are an incredibly rich source to understand the availability of different types of maps and geographical publications, to understand what their relative prices were and who may have purchased them. One example that I have researched during the past year are the maps that were incorporated in specialized periodicals such as those published by the Finnish Missionary Society for children and adults. These maps, the reading instructions, and the geographical information that was distributed with them shed light on the ways that institutions other than schools shaped people’s geographical imaginations and map literacy. Another case study that I have focused on is the ten-volume-book-series called Maapallo, that was published in the 1920s by Otava, a major Finnish publishing house. In this case too, the reviews in the press and the advertising of the volumes that are available digitally provided something to work with while accessing the sources in the archives was difficult.

In addition to this short summary of the past year and the topics I have research, I want to highlight two important events that took place in May-July regarding the history of maps and cartography. The first is the course on the history of maps and mapping that I organized at the Open University at the University of Helsinki. The lecture course featured multiple lecturers and students got an introduction to the historical study of maps and mapping. The course was held in hybrid mode, although after the first lecture most students chose to follow the course via Zoom.  This was the first time that put together a course on this theme and chose to approach the topic from a variety of different perspectives. These included past and current approaches to the study of maps and cartography, medieval maps and world views (taught by Stefan Schröder), Renaissance maps and atlases (taught by Marjo T. Nurminen), different types of early modern maps of the Finnish maps and their revelance to archeological research (taught by Georg Haggrén), Indigenous maps (taught by Joy Slappnig), maps, colonialism and European empires (taught by myself), maps in war (taught by Erkki-Sakari Harju) and maps and imagined communities (taught by myself). A mixed collection of themes that reflected the expertise of the lecturers.

During the course, students were assigned readings and mini studies of maps. I also organized them to visit a map exhibition either live or online. The goal of these smaller assignments was to support the students learning during the course and inspire them to find the topic of the final assignment, which was a research essay on the map or maps or their choice. From the teacher’s perspective, this structure seemed to work well, and some students confirmed this in their feedback. For others, according to their feedback, this seemed to make the course too heavy.

Looking back at the course and how it unfolded during summer weeks from early May to the Midsummer in June, my first impression is the difficulty of how to approach such a wide topic. My own expertise covers only a portion of the theme. Relying on knowledgeable colleagues is therefore crucial. However, based on my experience from this course, the topic would benefit from a more hands-on approach alongside the lectures that give the context and present theoretical perspectives. Perhaps I should next develop a practical course on map history. One student hoped for a course on the maps and mapping of Finland and the Nordic countries – such a theme is a possibility too. Now, I am still eagerly waiting for the final essays from the students. Reading these will show me what the students have learned about the studying the history of maps and mapping.

The other event worthy of noting is of course the 29th International Conference on the History of Cartography, which was held in Bucharest, Romania on the first week of July. The ICHC’s are the only conferences dedicated entirely to the history of maps, mapping and cartography. The theme of this year’s conference was conflict and cartography, a well-suited topic that allowed for the study of maps from various periods and contexts. At the conference, I had the great opportunity to share my research on the Finnish Missionary Society’s world maps, and as always, to learn from other people’s research. Even though the hybrid format had its challenges, it was great to be able to participate remotely. I do, however, look forward to participating the next conference in person!

Participating the ICHC 2022 from the home office had its benefits.