Jacob, Christian 1955-

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Jacob, Christian 1955-


Born 1955.


Office—Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Centre Louis Gernet, 10 rue Monsieur le Prince, 75006 Paris, France. E-mail—[email protected].


Researcher, writer, and editor. Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris, France, director.


Arts et Légendes d'Espaces: Figures du Voyage et Rhétoriques du Monde: Communications, Presses de l'Ecole normale supérieure (Paris, France), 1981.

Géographie et Ethnographie En Grece Ancienne, A. Colin (Paris, France), 1991.

L'Empire Des Cartes: Approche Théorique de la Cartographie à Travers l'Histoire, A. Michel (Paris, France), 1992, translation by Tom Conley published as The Sovereign Map: Theoretical Approaches in Cartography throughout History, edited by Edward H. Dahl, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 2006.

(Editor, with Marc Baratin) Le Pouvoir des Bibliothèques: La Mémoire des Livres en Occident, A. Michel (Paris, France), 1996.

(Editor, with Luce Giard) Des Alexandries, Volume 1: Du Livre au texte Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Paris, France), 2001.

(Editor, with Jean-Marc Chatelain) Henri-Jean Martin, Les Métamorphoses du Livre, A. Michel (Paris, France), 2004.


Christian Jacob is a researcher and director of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris, France. He is also author of The Sovereign Map: Theoretical Approaches in Cartography throughout History. In his book, which is a history of cartography, the author presents his case that maps are as much about thinking as they are about seeing and about the art of persuasion as much as they are about the science of geography. Examining maps from Greek antiquity to the twentieth century, the author provides a theoretical approach to investigating the power of maps to inform, persuade, and inspire the imagination. In the process, the author examines not only typical maps as thought of by the general public, but also puzzle maps such as the Rubik's cube and a cartographic snakes-and-ladders-type of map game first devised in 1654. "The sovereign map is a very substantial work, its scope includes the entire temporal history of cartography, although, as its author readily admits, with a spatial bias for maps drawn north of the Mediterranean," wrote Robert Mayhew in a review on the Identity Unknown Web site.

In his introduction to the book, Jacob writes: "Seeing the world from above is a timeless fantasy that geographical maps make actual by way of metaphor. The dream pervades literature and science, from the utopia of Gulliver's Travels to the frenetic scenes of contemporary science fiction, from the eye of Icarus to the lenses of satellites that send a reflection of the earth back to us. Maps convey this vision by means of a trope or detour so slight that it is scarcely noticed. The effect is produced by a symbolic and miniaturized representation together with an analogical doubling of reality."

The author begins his book with a historical overview of maps and how they were created, from maps traced in dirt during primitive times to ornate maps on palace walls in Italy. He examines the visual components of cartography, such as their decorative periphery, geometric grid, topographical lines, and details of iconic figures. He also writes about the text on maps—from titles and toponyms (the names by which geographical places are known) to legends and keys—and argues that text can both enhance and interfere with a map's visual presentation. In addition, the author explores the role of those who view maps in decoding a map's meaning. He ends his book with an analysis of the role of society in defining the power of maps as authoritative depictions of space. For example, the author notes an ancient Chinese map dating back 2,500 years that depicts the Imperial palace as the center of the world. The book includes numerous illustrations and plates.

"This is a wonderful book," wrote Mayhew in his review on the Identity Unknown Web site. "I think it shows through a careful historical reading how cartography has not been a mad project to achieve the unachievable; rather it has always been both the product and the driver of the thinking in particular places and times where each map was made." Other reviewers also had high praise for the book. Noting that the book is difficult to read at times, Geographical contributor Jonathan Wright added: "It's a work of challenging, sophisticated theory and you're likely to endure several head-scratching moments. But I implore you to persevere." Charles W.J. Withers, writing in the Canadian Journal of History, likewise noted that the book's complexity may relegate it to being read primarily by specialists in the fields of geography and cartography. He went on to call The Sovereign Map "a significant book that is likely, if not easily, to have a major impact within the scholarly worlds it has both studied and extended."



Jacob, Christian, The Sovereign Map: Theoretical Approaches in Cartography throughout History, edited by Edward H. Dahl, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 2006.


Canadian Geographer, winter, 1994, Anne Godlewska, "Géographie et Ethnographie En Grece Ancienne," p. 378; winter, 1994, Anne Godlewska, review of L'Empire Des Cartes: Approche Théorique de la Cartographie à Travers l'Histoire, p. 378.

Canadian Journal of History, spring-summer, 2007, Charles W.J. Withers, review of The Sovereign Map, p. 172.

Choice, October, 2007, L. Yacher, review of The Sovereign Map, p. 334.

Geographical, March, 2007, Jonathan Wright, "A Whole New Way of Looking at a Map," review of The Sovereign Map, p. 90.

Isis, September, 2007, Susan Schulten, review of The Sovereign Map, p. 615.

Journal of Hellenic Studies, annual, 2003, Jason Konig, "Alexandria, Third Century BC: The Knowledge of the World in a Single City," p. 234.


BiblioVault,http://www.bibliovault.org/BV.index.epl/ (March 25, 2008), brief profile of author.

Identity Unknown,http://ryanlanham.wordpress.com/ (March 25, 2008), Robert Mayhew, review of The Sovereign Map.

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