The Cadastral Map in the Service of the State: A History of Property Mapping.

Author:Conzen, Michael P.

By Roger J. P. Kain and Elizabeth Baigent. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1992. Pp. xix, 423. $49.95.

Ever since the rise of sedentary civilizations, the control of territory has been fundamental to political power. For millennia, however, understanding the location and extent of lands under particular control was a vastly imprecise art. Local potentates could grasp the detailed configuration of their domains through personal inspection, but growing empires and shifting alliances within far-flung hierarchies of subjugation and fealty rendered the understanding of exactly who controlled what slippery and an unreliable basis for exercising authority. Although systematic surveys of land, people, and resources were conducted intermittently from ancient times onward, it was not until modern times that geographical inventories became a governmental fixture. Central to these modern surveys was the rise of the cadastral map -- a large-scale cartographic record of property ownership that preserves not only the dimensions and shape of an owned land parcel on the earth's surface but also the spatial relationship of all such individual parcels to each other.(1) The rise of this form of mapping and its social and legal value in modern society should be attributed, argue Roger J.P. Kain(2) and Elizabeth Baigent,(3) to its unique role as a tool for exerting and maintaining land-based regional and national power.(4) The beginnings of the connection between mapping and power are to be found in northwest Europe in the sixteenth century.

This book represents the first major attempt to examine official rural cadastral mapping as a broad societal force in conceptual and comparative terms. Kain and Baigent focus on its permanent emergence in Europe and its spread to regions of European colonization in selected parts of the New World and the Orient.(5) In dealing with the nature of the raw material, the writers faced a stiff challenge. There are hundreds of thousands of surviving cadastral maps to be found in the numerous archives of Europe and elsewhere, portraying measured land areas and owners at a wide variety of scales, in a bewildering assortment of cartographic styles, and incorporating highly variable types of accessory information. Furthermore, the purposes for which they were created, the multiplicity of their potential uses, and the array of formal agencies behind their preparation defy simplistic discussion of their provenance and impact.

The Cadastral Map is organized in chapters devoted to whole regions that developed and sustained distinctive traditions of cadastral mapping, with the chapters arranged in the roughly chronological order of their emergence. After a passing nod at cadastral mapping in antiquity,(6) the authors begin with a discussion of the Netherlands, where this type of mapping emerged in the early sixteenth century in connection with diking for land drainage and the creation of new lands -- polders -- on the estuarine and coastal margins of the country (pp. 9-46). The resulting maps directly aided land assignment and taxation. Once cadasters -- accurate map records of land ownership -- existed in the region, later efforts from time to time extended, reworked, and updated that knowledge for continued and improved control. The authors follow these developments in the Netherlands into the nineteenth century to provide a historically complete picture of how the Dutch mapping tradition evolved.

Then Kain and Baigent turn to the Nordic countries, because Sweden witnessed a particularly early campaign to establish a national cadaster, begun in 1628 (pp. 47-119). However, cadastral mapping in Scandinavia was variable, and Norway, for example, is notable more for opportunities forgone than exploited, compared with its neighboring countries. Chapters follow on Germany and the Austrian Hapsburg lands, which saw major cadastral mapping activity in the eighteenth century (pp. 120-204), and on France and England, which undertook large projects in the nineteenth century (pp. 205-64). Finally, a long chapter focuses on selected colonial regions around the world during the period of modern empires (pp. 265-330).

Each chapter lays out the social, economic, and political context within which cadastral mapping emerged and developed. Discussion centers on the conditions that gave rise to mapping, the mechanisms by which special efforts were undertaken, and the direct and indirect effects that mapping produced. The authors discuss important initiatives in some detail but always focus on the flow of the mapping story as a general phenomenon rather than on the peculiarities of individual maps and mapmakers. Fine black-and-white reproductions of cadastral maps, together with specially drafted thematic maps, occupy about a quarter of the space in the book and serve as essential illustrations of points made in the text. Although fanciers of old maps will find much to enjoy in these illustrations, the authors intend to survey regional mapping traditions with an eye toward conceptual trends and social context, rather than the uniqueness of individual maps. A closing chapter sums up the significance of cadastral mapping in the varied and evolving exercise of statecraft (pp. 331-44).

The regional idiosyncracies that jump out of the record of cadastral mapping in the modern world result, not surprisingly, from the complex and...

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