Cartographic Knowledge and Imperial Power in the 18th-century Mediterranean

Pınar Emiralioğlu - Associate Professor, Department of History, Sam Houston State University



This paper aims to examine the dissemination of cartographic knowledge in the 18th-century Mediterranean. It will investigate the close relationship between new mapmaking technologies and the articulation of imperial power in this period. After Ptolemy’s Geography was translated into Latin in the early 15th century, humanist scholars in Europe were exposed to a set of new techniques. Ptolemy introduced a geometric approach to the depiction of space that was defined by the celestial grid of longitude and latitude. In the 16th century, innovations in printing and the expansion of a commercial market increased circulation. Commercial map-printing houses in Italy and the Netherlands contributed to the standardisation of maps used and distributed across Europe and set in motion a similar standardisation in how Europeans depicted and understood their realms and the world.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, imperial power was reconceptualised in exclusively spatial terms. Cartographic linear boundaries defined claims to territorial rule. The shift was the result of the increasing use of maps by political actors, as a tool of negotiation and treaty-making. Although this new development impacted the Ottoman world as much as Europe, the Ottoman Empire has not yet been integrated into these discussions. This paper argues that Ottoman ruling elites and cartographers did indeed participate in the intellectual and political networks of the 18th century. Through an historical analysis of select 18th-century cartographical works, including the anonymous Ottoman portolan chart of the Mediterranean (ca 17th-18th century) in the Sylvia Ioannou Foundation collection, this paper will examine the intellectual and professional networks in which Ottoman cartographers operated. Re-evaluation of the intellectual exchanges in the Mediterranean will demonstrate how participation in those global networks changed the ways in which the Ottoman cartographers and ruling elites understood and articulated imperial power in the 18th century.



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