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That the Science of Cartography Is Limited

That the Science of Cartography Is Limited


by Eavan Boland

Title Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

  • This is one of those fancy shmancy poems in which the title is really the first line of the thing. So, what's up with the title, "That the Science of Cartography is Limited"? There's a lot going on in these few words, so we'll start our analysis here.
  • The title is a sort of proposition, or hypothesis, made by the speaker of the poem. It argues that the science of cartography (aka, map-making) has its limitations.
  • Of course, we know this hypothesis is true, instinctually. A paper map can't accurately represent every single bit of a landscape. (Though our pals over at Google sure are trying.) A map will always miss something or other, because a map is always a representation of something else. Not the thing itself. Ya hear? Any time there's representing afoot, misrepresentation is inescapable.
  • Now comes a really tough question: can cartography—or map-making—really be a science if it involves creating representations of the physical world? Isn't representation more the purview of the arts? The speaker of this poem seems to be questioning the science or validity behind cartography in general. What do you think? Is cartography an art or a science? Let's keep this question in mind as we read on.
  • Also, just a reminder: Boland wrote this poem back in 1994, in the time of paper maps. There was no GPS back then, kiddos. So the cartography this poem talks about is the really real, material map-makin' kind.

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