Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

AFTER THE MAP by William Rankin

  • Written by  Mick Herron
  • Published in Books
AFTER THE MAP by William Rankin
14 Nov
2016
Until recently, physical maps were indispensable tools of government, especially at times of war – the US and UK produced over a billion of them in the 1940s; almost 50 for every soldier

But by the time of the first Gulf War, their role had been usurped by the ubiquitous GPS, which allows the user to be constantly at the centre of the mapped landscape. The focus has thus changed to one of ‘pointillist space’, allowing vast areas to be reduced to sets of coordinates; there is no longer any need to represent areas which are of no ‘use’, and this, argues Rankin, has altered our very conception of what territory means. His examination of this change is wide-ranging and ambitious, covering the technical aspects of GPS coverage – both civilian and governmental – and the political implications, particularly as regards national sovereignty, that its continuing development holds.

It makes for fascinating reading. With GPS, he argues, the traditional infrastructure of mapping, with all the cumbersome equipment and national agencies this involved, could be bypassed, usurping the state’s role as the guarantor of reliable knowledge. To a degree, then, it’s a devolution of power, even if, in practical terms, one of the first and most devastating illustrations of the system’s effectiveness was the troop deployment during Desert Storm known as the ‘Left Hook’, whereby American troops navigated a desert in southeastern Iraq. This manoeuvre, which effectively ended the war, was made possible by the replacement of non-existent physical landmarks with electronic coordinates. But such military application aside, territory, Rankin reminds us, is a way of inhabiting space, and the very manner in which we do this is undergoing radical transformation.     

This review was published in the November 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.

Click here to purchase After the Map by William Rankin

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in REVIEWS...

Films

Monbiot demonstrates the shocking facts and presents a vision for…

Books

by Andrew Blum • The Bodley Head • £16.99 (hardback)

Books

by Sue and Patrick Cunningham • Papadakis • £40 (hardback)

Books

by Sanmao (translated by Mike Fu) • Bloomsbury • £16.99…

Books

by Matthew Woodward • Lanna Hall Publishing • £8.95 (paperback)

Books

by John Hemming • Hurst • £20 (hardback)

Books

by Jean Lopez, Vincent Bernard, Nicolas Aubin and Nicholas Guillerat…

Books

by Zoran Nikolic • Collins • £14.99 (softback)

Books

by John Haywood • Thames & Hudson • £19.95 (hardback)

Books

by Ed Stafford • White Lion Publishing • £30 (hardback/eBook)

Books

In need of inspiration? Check out Geographical’s best books of…

Books

by Rory MacLean • Bloomsbury • £20 (hardback)

Books

by David Runciman • Profile Books • £14.99 (hardback)

Books

Give the gift of adventure this year with these superb…

Books

by David Sim • Island Press • £26 (paperback)

Books

by Tamin Ansary • Public Affairs • £21.99 (hardback)

Books

DK • £30 (hardback)

Books

by Philip Marsden • Granta • £20 (hardback)

Books

by James Lovelock • Allen Lane • £14.99 (hardback)