Maps and Map-making in India

Curated by Lisa Lorenzo and Corinne Vieracker, Reference Assistants at the Stephen S. Clark Library & Grace Rother


The University of Michigan Library is honored and delighted to be a part of the “India in the World” College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA) Theme Semester. This exhibit highlights the Clark and Hatcher Libraries’ extensive collections of materials from and about India, and communicates the rich history and cultures of South Asia. Because no examples of historical indigenous maps survived, the majority of historical maps selected are of European origins. We have tried to include as much of a variety of maps and time periods as possible. The earliest map shown is a section of Al-Idrisi's map of 1154 and we continue with early modern manuscript world maps and portolans. Following that, we present examples of maps and text that illustrate the development of colonial control and life along with scientific mapping. As a counterpoint, we present examples of the "bodyscapes" examined in Dr. Sumathi Rumaswamy's work.

From the ‘East Indies’ to ‘India’

European maps portrayed the Indian subcontinent in at least three ways. From the early 16th century it was shown as the East Indies including all of South and Southeast Asia. Later in that century the focus was on the southern half of the peninsula, where the Europeans had their main involvement, and then early in the 17th century the focus shifted to the Mughal empire of the northern and western areas of the subcontinent.

By the early 18th century “these framings began to merge… this was a manifestation of the Enlightenment’s encyclopedic mentality, which produced massive tomes intended to present all available knowledge to their bourgeois readership…” (Edney, p. 5). By the mid to late 18th century the British had gained control of the Mughal and southern regions creating the geographic idea of the subcontinent, and our modern idea of India as a unified geographic entity was solidified by Rennell’s depiction of it on his maps. It was within this milieu, and with the desire for military and economic control of India, that Rennell’s survey of the region began and was continued by the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India and the modern Survey of India.