When we open Google Maps on our computers and mobile devices, we see ourselves at the centre of the world. Google’s blue dot centres the world on our own views and experiences, and if our explorations of the map take us somewhere we did not mean to go, the ‘centre map’ button refocuses the map on ourselves.
A world map is never an objective, neutral, or impersonal representation of physical reality. The map’s orientation, cartographic projection, and what it places at its centre (and on its edges) tell us much about what was important to its maker. In the seventeenth-century, Danish cartographers centred their maps on a zero meridian that ran through Rundetårn, while their British counterparts centred theirs on St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
But what of the Middle Ages? What did their world maps show, what did they place at their centres, and where did their viewers see themselves on their surfaces? This lecture explores the idea of a self-centred world map from the Middle Ages to the present day. It will demonstrate that maps construct an ethnocentric or even egocentric image of the world, and can therefore provide vital insights into how past societies understood their environments, and their place within them.