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Mapping cultural and archaeological meanings: Representing landscapes and pasts in 19th century Ireland

Angele Patricia Smith, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation explores maps as powerful representations of landscapes and pasts. The Ordnance Survey maps of 19th century Ireland are artifacts encoded with messages about social identity, social relations of power and are culturally meaningful within their historical context. Maps are shaped by the contemporary understandings of people, landscapes and the past, and in turn help to influence and reinforce those perceptions. By making maps the subject of problem-directed research, I questioned the role of maps in reflecting and shaping cultural perceptions of space and the past on the landscape, and illustrated that maps are sites of many interactions. The first edition Ordnance Survey maps of a study area in Co. Sligo (northwestern Ireland) were systematically analyzed. Using a phenomenological approach to landscape (which is both theoretical and methodological), I investigated how the maps represented the experiential landscape and past: how they depicted dwelling and belonging in place; movement and action through space; and a sense of both of these as constructed in time, specifically in the past. The process of surveying and mapping, as well as the maps themselves, are a complex mediation of many different perspectives and sometimes conflicting knowledges of place, time and meaning held by different groups including: the Ordnance Survey officials, field surveyors, Victorian antiquarians, the landlord class, the local tenantry. Although the maps depicted colonial images of the landscape, people and past, they also recorded local knowledge, access and intimacy and a sense of belonging. This research adds the voice (or in some cases the conspicuous and intended silence) of the local community to our understanding of the early 19th century in Ireland. More than colonial tools, maps are useful for revealing the experiences of the local people living in the landscape. The maps also encoded an understanding of the Irish past. Mapping places of the past created powerful images that helped to shape and reinforce competing notions of social identity, social relations of power and cultural meaning. This research illustrates how the Ordnance Survey maps of the early 19th century shaped the construction of the past and the tradition of archaeology in Ireland.

Subject Area

Archaeology|European history

Recommended Citation

Smith, Angele Patricia, "Mapping cultural and archaeological meanings: Representing landscapes and pasts in 19th century Ireland" (2001). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3000348.