Maps, History and Power: The Spaces and Cultures of the Past

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Paul Stock SAR 2.15


This course is available on the MSc in Empires, Colonialism and Globalisation, MSc in History of International Relations, MSc in International Affairs (LSE and Peking University), MSc in International and Asian History, MSc in International and World History (LSE & Columbia) and MSc in Theory and History of International Relations. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

How did past societies and cultures understand the world around them? How did those societies use maps to represent physical, social and imaginative spaces? Do maps merely reflect particular mentalities and social practices, or do they actively shape the experience and perception of the world? Maps, History and Power addresses these and other questions by exploring mapping practices and spatial thought in several European and non-European contexts from the medieval to the modern periods. The course explores how past societies have used maps to serve a number of practical and ideological purposes: to express religious belief, to aid navigation and commerce, to assert cultural superiority, and to enable state formation or imperial control. Alongside readings in history and cartography, the course will make extensive and innovative use of the latest digital resources, allowing students to view and discuss historical maps from the world's great research libraries and collections.


Learning engagement may include recorded content, live sessions, small group meetings, asynchronous Moodle posts, and short presentations. The course operates reading weeks in the MT and LT. 

Formative coursework

Students will be required to submit two 3,000 word formative essays (one per term). They will also have the opportunity to sit a mock exam.

Indicative reading

Jeremy Black, Maps and History: Constructing Images of the Past (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997)

Jerry Brotton, A History of the World in Twelve Maps (London:  Allen Lane 2012)

David Buisseret, The Mapmakers’ Quest: Depicting New Worlds in Renaissance Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)

Denis Cosgrove (ed.), Mappings (London: Reaktion, 1999)

J.B. Harley, The New Nature of Maps: Essays in the History of Cartography (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001)

Christian Jacobs, The Sovereign Map: Theoretical Approaches in Cartography throughout History, trans. Tom Conley, ed. Edward H. Dahl (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2006)

Mark Monmonier, How to Lie with Maps (Chicago: Chicago University Press, second ed. 1996)

David Turnbull, Maps are Territories, Science is an Atlas (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1993)

Denis Wood, The Power of Maps (London: Routledge, 1993)


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours) in the summer exam period.

Unseen examination paper; in person or online as circumstances permit.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2019/20: 15

Average class size 2019/20: 15

Controlled access 2019/20: Yes

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills