Tom Conley reviews The Birth of Territory in Imago Mundi

12 The Birth of TerritoryTom Conley reviews The Birth of Territory in Imago Mundi (subscription required). It’s a thoughtful, generous and engaged review.

Here’s the first paragraph:

Readers of Imago Mundi will appreciate this book for what it does along the fringes the history of cartography. In his intellectual history of what (on the back cover) he calls ‘emergence of the concept of territory in western political thought’, Stuart Elden discusses, both copiously and elegantly, writings from Homer to Rousseau bearing witness to how place and power can be understood. From the Iliad to the Social Contract, territory, he concludes, is best defined in terms of political technology, the latter a lens through which the term resembles a mosaic of modes of measure and control. Territory acquires currency when, in its formative phases, the nation-state implements technologies of measure. Res extensa becomes, as it were, coextensive with the power that a nation exerts upon what it sets under its jurisdiction…

A few bits from later on:

The stunning virtue of The Birth of Territory is found in its sweep and intellectual panache… The close readings of an astounding number of texts attest to the complexity of a term that Elden shows bearing a dazzling history… Elden has provided an exhaustively comprehensive gloss of what in the wake of his book we can now call the territorial canon.

Aside from the generosity, I really like some of the phrases here – “a mosaic of modes of measure and control” and the “territorial canon”. There are some suggestions for where future work might go, which are good, but perhaps most interesting is the critique in the concluding paragraph, suggesting something that would break with much modern scholarly convention, but harks back to some earlier ways of referencing and linking:

The Birth of Territory might have been better arranged, however, were its material organised cartographically. Rather than a cumbrous mass of 2,750 footnotes covering 146 pages, readers would have found a gazetteer-like list of works consulted more useful, especially if coordinated with references in the text itself. Such a system would allow the reader better to see how the politics of Elden’s view of territory in this rich study is born of its capacious matrix of primary and secondary material.

My thanks to Tom for this engagement with the work.

This entry was posted in Politics, Territory, The Birth of Territory. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Tom Conley reviews The Birth of Territory in Imago Mundi

  1. Pingback: Gerry Kearns reviews The Birth of Territory – and a minor note on ‘land’ | Progressive Geographies

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