Rhonda Lemke Sanford. Maps and Memory in Early Modern England: A Sense of Place. New York and Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002. xiv+225pp.+10 illus. ISBN 0 312 29455 7.
Jess Edwards
London Metropolitan University

Edwards, Jess. "Review of Rhonda Lemke Sanford. Maps and Memory in Early Modern England: A Sense of Place." Early Modern Literary Studies 9.1 (May, 2003): 16.1-11 <URL:

  1. "The historian of cartography," writes Christian Jacob,

    can consider maps in isolation, as self-defined artefacts to be classified and analysed. Or an attempt can be made to understand maps within the culture that produced and used them, so long as such a contextual approach does not lose sight of the map itself.
    The cultural context of a map might be compared to a pattern of concentric circles surrounding the map. We can move from the inner circle of map making to the remote circles of economic, social, political, intellectual and artistic context. (193)

    In Maps and Memory Rhonda Lemke Sanford makes a fresh incursion into a field which has been defined over the last decade by the work of Richard Helgerson, John Gillies, Tom Conley, Andrew McRae, Garrett Sullivan, and most recently Bernhard Klein. Where specialist map historians have focussed traditionally on the inner circle referred to by Jacob above, these cultural historians have moved towards the outer circles, placing early modern cartography and its associated practices within a wider, and often principally literary, context.

  2. As I describe elsewhere in this issue, recent contributions to a new cultural history of cartography have placed maps in cultural context through two broadly distinct methodologies. The first approach generalises to some extent from empirical study of the cultural production and use of particular maps; the second works to incorporate particular instances of cartography within a generalised account of an early modern culture of mapping. This second, more accommodating approach is the one which has brought literature and cartography together. It owes much to new historicism, and ultimately to Foucauldian models of episteme and discourse which serve to underwrite the comparison of formally and culturally disparate texts. The relative muteness of the map has tested this new historicist methodology, which conventionally traces its linkages through discourse. The response has often been to turn to verbal texts closely associated with cartography--a favourite being surveying manuals--or to reach for a definition of what maps are and do which will accommodate and permit the comparison of both maps and verbal texts.

  3. Both of these strategies are apparent in Maps and Memory. Although there are ten plates in the book, about eight of which would fit the broadest definition of maps, Sanford establishes a culture of mapping as much through early modern discourse on cartography as through maps themselves. But perhaps still more important to Sanford's approach than this attention to writing on cartography is a definition of "mapping" which allows writing itself to be cartographic. Sanford, like Tom Conley, identifies early modern literary works which seek, like conventional cartography, "to contain and appropriate the world they are producing in discourse and space through conscious labours of verbal navigation" (Conley 5).

  4. After an introductory chapter setting out her particular case and methodology for reading literature with cartography, the chapter framework of Sanford's book accommodates a series of case studies of spatial "appropriation" and "navigation" in literary and cartographic geographies. Chapters two to four bring a cartographic context to three principal literary texts. These are Book 4, Canto 11 of Spenser's Faerie Queene (the marriage of the Thames and the Medway), Shakespeare's Cymbeline and Jonson's "To Penshurst." The concluding chapter explores a wider range of literary, and now urban, geographies, but privileges Isabella Whitney's 1573 poetic "Wyll and Testament" to the city of London.

  5. In her first case study--the case of Spenser's river marriage--Sanford advances a strong argument, supported by an accumulation of more tentative suggestions. The strong argument is that this moment in Spenser's poem represents the translation of a series of actual maps "as might be found in an early modern map room or study" into "ecphrastic" poetry (39), and that this exercise is undertaken with the purpose of warning Elizabeth and England that they are "imprisoned in the 'old' geography" and must look beyond it to the expanding imperial horizons of the new (51). This case is intrinsically hard to prove, and Sanford proceeds instead to reinforce it by suggesting a series of similarities between passages of Spenser's poetry and distinctive map instances and genres with which he is likely to have been familiar. One passage, in its poetics of inside and outside, centre and periphery, "mirrors … the ancient T-O map and the successor medieval mappamundi" (30). The gendered spatial economy of another "may remind us of" the famous Ditchley portrait of Elizabeth, in which her giant figure almost entirely obliterates a map of England, and yet seems penetrable to "military invasion or commercial enterprise" (34). Sanford's third chapter, on Cymbeline, extends this emphasis on the gendering of space and on the frequent co-extensiveness in early modern graphic and verbal representation of the imaginative exploration and description of land and women's bodies. Jachimo's entry into Imogen's chamber and subsequent description of her body is, for Sanford, the enactment both of a cartography and a rape. Meanwhile further passages in Spenser's poem "adumbrate" further maps (42), and strung together, Sanford argues, the series constructs an admonitory cartographic allegory.

  6. The common ground of "writing space" has licensed critics to draw new dividing lines which cut across the conventional boundaries separating map and literary text. Bernhard Klein has argued that both textual forms can be categorised as either static map or mobile itinerary, depending on the relationship they establish between reader and space. Sanford's concluding account of city geographies is constructed around a similar kind of binary: the closed or open view. Closed views of the city are selective, celebratory, ideological; open views are critical. In line with the general current tendency of critics to distance themselves from the pessimism of early new historicism, Sanford accuses past accounts of city geographies--principally Stephen Mullaney's--of over-privileging the closed, in their focus on the ceremonial city of court pageantry, with its careful construction and staging of urban space and performance. Sanford, like Andrew McRae in his 1998 essay for this journal on Jonson's "On the Famous Voyage," balances this pessimism by privileging accounts which open up the city to critical inspection: Isabella Whitney's "Wyll and Testament" and various city comedies. She also compares closed ceremonies and open texts with chorographies which work in both directions. Stow's 1598 survey moralises the space of representation in much the way Jonson's "To Penshurst" is generally held to do, suppressing the products of commerce and modernity, and defining place through the reprisal of antique custom. Braun and Hogenburg's city maps, on the other hand, provide a much more open perspective on the "diurnal activities" of the early modern city (123). These activities, in Sanford's account, are predominantly commercial.

  7. "Open" views of London, in Sanford's final chapter, remove the rather medieval dressing up of courtly pageantry and reveal the naked, commercial reality of early modern everyday life. This aestheticized model of the passage to modernity begs questions for me which are more insistent in Sanford's fourth, penultimate chapter, and so I will conclude with this penultimate chapter.

  8. It was the under-theorisation of the relationship between language and cartography that most frequently bothered me when reading this otherwise valuable book. Sanford states of her own methodology that she has studied maps and texts "alongside" (143) or "in conjunction with" one another (14), and writes of maps and texts occupying a common "cartographic realm" (116). The Achilles heel of this kind of study is its vulnerability to suspicions that the common ground of apparently disparate texts has no more substance than the conjunctions forged by its own speculative analogies. Here, Sanford's common ground owes something to the generalisations of phenomenology and what specialist cartographic historians call the "communications model" of cartography: the model that presumes that the primary function of maps is to translate human perceptions of space. It is made more culturally concrete by a historicised account of the economic and social discourses in which cartography and literary writing were involved. Sanford writes in her final chapter of the divergent ways in which maps and texts mediate the divergent interests of the court and mercantile social groups vying for influence in early modern London, and in her penultimate one of the "shared impulse" of estate surveying and country house poetry. How we define this kind of shared impulse seems to me crucial in interrogating the methodology of any study of cartography and literature. For Sanford, Jonson's "To Penshurst" appropriates space in a manner analogous to a contemporary survey. This notion of "appropriation" might be understood in a more or less generalising sense, and Sanford lays claim to a theoretical approach "both materialist and phenomenological" (15). On the one hand appropriation invokes specific historical practices such as the capitalist uses of mathematical surveying. On the other, appropriation invokes the phenomenological generalisations to which many literary scholars of cartography appeal: we all, in some sense, appropriate space.

  9. And yet phenomenology and materialism do not necessarily "blend" as happily as Sanford suggests they might. Phenomenology tends to universalise spatial constructs which a materialist history of spatial production such as Henri Lefebvre's The Production of Space would identify with a specific epoch and mode of production. In the case of Jonson's "To Penshurst," I think that what Lefebvre characterises as the false confidence of the phenomenologist that she can define the imaginative representation of space in terms separable from specific modes of production and appropriation leads Sanford to a reductive map of the common ground between cartography and literature (Lefebvre 121-122).

  10. Sanford suggests that estate surveying, as a practice contemporary with Jonson's "To Penshurst," "exalts" the landowner at a time when the "property rights" of the aristocracy were "beginning to crumble" (78). She cites both Crystal Bartolovich and Andrew McRae on the work of literary discourses in the economic transformations of this period. Both of these scholars place considerable emphasis on the status of surveying as a practice caught up in and determined by the agon of this period: a period of contested transition between a post-feudal economy of custom, duty and obligation, and a capitalist economy of property and profit. Jonson's poem is usually understood as a conventional satire (conventional in its targets) against the materialism of the latter, just as his city comedies are. Mathematical surveying on the other hand, as opposed to the verbal butting and bounding over which it gradually came to gain an ascendancy, is generally understood by historians, as it was by Jonson's contemporaries, as a tool in the growing commodification and de-socialisation of English land. So whilst survey and poem may share a common communicative function in bringing an estate into discourse, and while we can go further along this road in comparing the ways in which they organise and communicate space, it's hard to see that they share any more historically and culturally specific common ground, and more credible, in fact, that they stand opposed. It's not so much that the aristocracy were losing their "property rights" in the seventeenth century, and that surveying and the country house poem act jointly to shore them up. It's more that the notion of an abstract right to property, overriding custom, is itself a key principle of the social transformations of the period: a principle articulated in the abstractions of mathematical surveying, and resisted in the nostalgic celebration of feudal hospitality.

  11. Overall I found Maps and Memory stimulating and rewarding reading, and will certainly be adding it to reading lists. If it begs questions, they are the same questions begged by much if not all of the scholarship named above, and I welcome its provocation to further debate. It provides a wealth of fresh insights on canonical texts associated with geography, and broadens the range of their cartographic-cultural context, in particular extending the reach of work to date on gender and geography.

Works Cited

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2003-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).