[ISHMap-List] Blank Spots

C Delano-Smith c.delano-smith at qmul.ac.uk
Wed Feb 26 11:06:08 CET 2014

There is a book edited by Isabel Laboulais-Lesage, Combler les blancs de la carte. Modalites et enjeux des savoirs geographiques (xvii-xx siecle) ( Strasbourg, Presses Universitaires de Strasbourg, 2004).  

[apologies for missing accents]  This may have something of interest if you are looking for the history of the filling of empty spaces.

Catherine Delano-Smith

From: Robert Batchelor 
Sent: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 6:05 PM
To: Joost.Depuydt at stad.Antwerpen.be ; ishm at lazarus.elte.hu 
Subject: [ISHMap-List] Blank Spots

Which where the last blank spots to be filled on the world map?
When where they filled?

That seems like a difficult question to answer because it is definitional.  For example, is the ocean a blank space?  Is this merely a question about coastlines?

Conrad has a famous passage about the end of the blank space in Heart of Darkness, which concludes, "True, by this time it was not a blank space any more. It had got filled since my boyhood with rivers and lakes and names. It had ceased to be a blank space of delightful mystery—a white patch for a boy to dream gloriously over. It had become a place of darkness."  The reference is often assumed to be to Winwood Reade's 1873 "Map of African Literature".   (http://libweb5.princeton.edu/visual_materials/maps/websites/africa/explorers.html).

Antartica was almost always partially blank well into the 1950's on most commercial maps, but the fashion shifted towards both filling in space and to not showing parts of Antartica that were uncertain--cf. the National Geographic World Map of 1960 for example which at points almost appears medieval in its annotations.  But I suspect that there were still maps in the 60's and 70's with blank spaces in Antartica and elsewhere.  After 1972, landsat and even before that aerial photography allowed for at least the illusion of comprehensiveness, and the problem then becomes the level of generality.

I suspect with Google Earth, we now have blurred spots rather than blank or dark spots.  Notice, with the Arc-GIS ocean basemap (http://www.arcgis.com/home/webmap/viewer.html?webmap=5ae9e138a17842688b0b79283a4353f6) what happens when you look closely at the eastern half of the Ross or the southern and eastern parts of the Weddell seas.  They aren't blank, but some parts are rather impressionistic compared to others.  White swaths of snow and ice, map projections and frames, can provide cover in the way that sea serpents, crests and really large compass roses once did in the ocean.

Hope that helps,
Bob Batchelor

Robert Batchelor
Associate Professor of History
Georgia Southern University
Forest Drive Building (Office 1211)
PO 8054
Statesboro, GA 30460
Phone: 912-660-6613
FAX: 912-478-0377 

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