Mapping Knowledge: exploiting English studies research in broadcast media and the publishing industry

Submitting Institution

Queen Mary, University of London

Unit of Assessment

English Language and Literature

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies, Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

The history of cartography research group at Queen Mary have exploited their research on the cultural history of maps in the early modern period to enhance public understanding of mapmaking and the knowledge that maps create. They have taken their academic research to a wider audience through authored television and radio programmes, research council-funded books, public lectures and reviews across a range of media. In this way, their research has generated significant economic impact, contributing to the economic prosperity of the creative sector, including trade publishing, print media journalism, television, and literary festivals, and improving the quality of evidence, argument and expression in public discourse on contemporary map-making.

Underpinning research

The Department of English at Queen Mary has a well-developed research specialism in literary and cartographic history in the Medieval and early modern period. This research argues that there is a fruitful conjunction between the skills and knowledge created by English studies and visual studies research in the early modern period, and the history of maps and cartography. In this way, the research of Brotton and Hiatt has repositioned mapmaking to the centre of late Medieval and Renaissance intellectual culture, and has demonstrated how maps and cartography were understood and consumed in and through writing and culture. Brotton has drawn attention to the global dimension of mapping in the early modern period, with specific attention to east-west cartographic exchange. His research reinforces a `critical' history of cartography, showing how social, political and religious contexts underpin map creation, both in the early modern period, and in contemporary digital mapping enterprises. Hiatt has also widened the intellectual horizons of medieval mapping history with his research on the Antipodes, and the medieval reception of classical geographical sources. Hiatt's conceptual refocusing on imagined maps and diagrams of terra incognita has shown that they were not the product of a `horror of the void' but the result of careful engagement with a long history of geographical and cartographical discourse. Both Brotton and Hiatt's historicized and trans-disciplinary cartographic research show how maps have reflected a particular cultural point of view of our world at a given point in time.

Brotton's research has, over the past 16 years, focused on questions of cartography, history and literature, especially in the early modern period. He has written single-authored books on the relations between early-modern mapmaking and commerce (Trading Territories: Mapping the Early Modern World (1997)), as well as scholarly articles on early-modern mapmaking and discourses of globalism. His research has also led him to examine, in a series of published essays, the importance of mapping in the plays of Shakespeare. He has recently published the results of an AHRC-funded research project, the major output of which was a scholarly book, A History of the World in Twelve Maps, published by Allen Lane (Penguin) in 2012. Brotton's research is embedded in further work on literature and cartographic history in QMUL English. Hiatt's publications in this area include monographs (Terra Incognita, 2008) and articles in peer-reviewed journals. Postgraduate research on cartography and literature in the department includes Kath Diamond (a PhD on Richard Hakluyt's geographical writings, completed 2011, supervised Brotton), Daisy Hildyard (research on Moses Pitt's English Atlas Project in the 1680s, PhD completed 2013, supervised Jardine and Ellis), and Nydia Pineda (ongoing research on seventeenth-century lunar mapping, supervised Ellis). The Department has also supported the doctoral and postdoctoral research of Rachel Hewitt (Queen Mary 2004-07, 2009-11) on the early cultural history of the Ordnance Survey, published by Granta in autumn 2010 as Map of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey (awarded the Royal Society of Literature Jerwood Award for Non-Fiction 2010).

Key researchers employment at submitting unit:

(i) Brotton: Doctoral research, QMUL English, 1992-96; Lecturer, subsequently senior lecturer (2002-2007), Professor of Renaissance Studies (2007-).

(ii) Hiatt: Reader, QMUL English 2009-to the present.

(iii) Hewitt: Doctoral research, QMUL English, 2004-07; Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship, QMUL English, 2009-2011 (since Sept 2011 employed at Wolfson College Oxford).

References to the research

1. Brotton, A History of the World in Twelve Maps (London: Allen Lane, 2012), 544pp. ISBN 9781846140990 — monograph, can be supplied by the HEI on request; quality justification: publication peer reviewed, submitted for RAE2014. International translation rights sold by publisher in ten territories, including Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Romania, Netherlands, Brazil, Japan, Korea, China, and Taiwan. Shortlisted for the Hessel-Tiltman Prize for History (March 2013). The book was published in paperback in May 2013 and will also be published in the US by Viking Penguin in September 2013.

2. Brotton, `Printing the Map, Making a Difference: Mapping the Cape of Good Hope, 1488-1652', in David Livingstone and Charles Withers (eds.), Geography and Revolution (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2005), pp. 137-59. ISBN 978-0226487335 — chapter in book, can be supplied by the HEI on request; quality justification: publication peer reviewed, submitted for RAE2008.

3. Brotton, `The Geography of Tragedy', in Richard Dutton and Jean Howard (eds.), A Companion to Shakespeare's Works: Tragedies v. 1, Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture (Blackwell: Oxford, 2003), pp. 219-40; ISBN 978-0631226321 — chapter in book, can be supplied by the HEI on request; quality justification: publication peer reviewed, submitted for RAE2008.

4. Hewitt, Map of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey (London: Granta, 2010), 432pp. ISBN: 978-1847082541 — monograph, can be supplied by the HEI on request; quality justification: publication peer reviewed; winner, Royal Society of Literature Jerwood Award for Non-Fiction 2010.

5. Hiatt, Terra Incognita: Mapping the Antipodes Before 1600 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 232pp. ISBN: 978-0712349314. — monograph, can be supplied by the HEI on request; quality justification: publication peer reviewed, submitted for RAE2014. Reviewed: The American Historical Review, 115: 4 (2010), pp. 1210 -11.

6. Hiatt, `Mutation and Supplement: The 1513 Strasbourg Ptolemy', in Ptolemy's Geography in the Renaissance (Warburg Institute Colloquia), ed. Charles Burnett and Zur Shalev (London: Warburg Institute Publications, 2011), pp. 143-66. ISBN: 978-0854811526 — chapter in book, can be supplied by the HEI on request; quality justification: publication peer reviewed, submitted for RAE2014.

7. Research grants:

Brotton: AHRC Research Leave, 2010 (£32,417).

Hewitt: Leverhulme Early-Career Postdoctoral Fellowship, £64,000 [3 year award, 2 years at QMUL].

Hiatt: Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship 2009-10 (£18,510): research fellowship for `Terra Incognita' project.

Hiatt: `Cartography between Europe and the Islamic World, 1100-1600': International Network Grant, Leverhulme Trust, 2013-14 (£44,567.00). Principal applicant: Hiatt; co-investigators Brotton and Rappaport (QMUL History). Network partners: Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München Bibliothèque Nationale de France and École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris; The Bodleian Library, Oxford; Factum Arte, Madrid; The Warburg Institute, London; Department of Maps, The British Library, London.

Details of the impact

The Department of English at Queen Mary has used its research on cartography and literature in the early modern and medieval period to enhance public understanding of the history of cartography, through broadcast media, print media, and public events, described below in this order. The forms of impact claimed here fall under two distinct categories. The first concerns new ways of thinking that conserve and interpret cultural heritage for audiences external to the academy, and the second contributing to economic prosperity via the creative sector.

Enhancing public understanding and creating cultural capital
In 2010 Brotton wrote and presented a three-part BBC television series on the history of maps, entitled Maps: Power, Plunder and Possession. The series consisted of three one-hour programmes for which Brotton wrote the original outline, collaborated with producers in securing funding and production approval with the BBC, wrote the script, and presented the series (involving 21 days' filming). The series was broadcast on BBC4 (April 25, May 2, May 9, with in-week repeats), and achieved average peak viewing figures of 596,000, notably high for BBC4. Brotton's History of the World in Twelve Maps was published in September 2012. The Guardian review (24-08-2012) described it as `a brilliant survey of cartography in the early modern period, when Europeans began to explore entire continents unsuspected by Ptolemy, and maps bore vivid witness to the geopolitical and commercial upheavals unleashed in their wake'. It was also reviewed in, Sunday Times, The Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, Sunday Mail, Spectator, TLS, Literary Review and Financial Times.

Researchers within the Department have disseminated original research to a wider public audience in the form of talks, presentations and panel discussions. Brotton and Hiatt have collaborated with the British Library to support public engagement with maps exhibitions (May 2010 onwards). Brotton gave a public lecture entitled `World maps and the dawn of globalisation', and was a panellist on a public forum for the `Magnificent Maps' exhibition (June 2010, attended by 200 people). Brotton delivered the Raymond Williams Memorial Lecture at the Hay Festival 2010 (sold out, attended by 500 people), and the Royal Geographical Society Monday Lecture (September 2010, attended by 600 people). In 2012 Brotton presented map research at four literary festivals, including Ilkley, Sheffield, Taunton, and at Stanfords Bookshop London. In 2013 he has spoken at festivals in Bath, LSE, York, Edinburgh, and international conferences and presentations in Abu Dhabi, St Niklaas (Belgium), the Bodleian Library (TOSCA), Oxford English Faculty, and Edinburgh. The Head of Cartographic and Topographic Materials at the Map Library of the British Library commented: `I believe that it is vital that the history of cartography, exemplified in Brotton's books and television programmes, be imbedded in the context of the wider universe of learning and no longer be consigned to its traditional antiquarian and bibliographical cul-de sac'.

Public engagement was also created through a pro-active media strategy. In relation to the television series Brotton published articles in newspapers (The Independent, April 2010), magazines (BBC History Magazine, May 2010), online (BBC News Magazine, <> [294,000 page views at 27 Sept 2011]), and interviewed for over a dozen local and national radio programmes discussing the BBC4 maps series, including `Breakfast' (BBCRadio1) and `Night Waves' (BBCRadio3). In relation to the book, Brotton was interviewed in The Independent (06-09-2012; on BBC News 24's 'Meet the Author'; in a feature by Marcus Burkemann for The Guardian (28-08-2012); on Today BBC Radio 4; on Monocle radio; in Corriere della Serra (Milan); in an article in New Scientist (January 2013), and the Swedish weekly news magazine Fokus. In addition this research has impact in public and commercial policy of mapmakers. Brotton wrote a blog for the Ordnance Survey, a podcast for The Guardian Books section, and a `Comment' piece for The Guardian online; he also gave the keynote lecture at the Society of Cartographer's annual conference (03-09-2012). His work has been cited in publications of the Initiative for a Competitive Online Marketplace, an industry initiative for businesses involved in internet commerce, and he has been consulted by and other online mapmakers (see white paper `How Google Has Monopolised Online Mapping & Listings Services', 15-11-2012 <>).

Contributing to economic activity within the creative sector
This research has an important economic impact, contributing to the economic prosperity of the creative sector. The budget for Brotton's BBC television series Maps: Power, Plunder and Possession was £123k for each episode (total £369k). Brotton's role as writer and presenter was central to this enterprise. The budget included costs for production staff, archival research staff, transfer costs, two studio shoot days and international filming. Over the course of filming and production, sixteen highly-skilled television professionals were employed by the BBC on contract: one executive producer, one series producer, three directors, three researchers, one film/stills/maps researcher, one production manager, one production co-ordinator, one production assistant and four free interns. One cameraman and one sound recordist were also employed for the period of filming, and the studio shoot employed one art director, one camera assistant and three further assistants. Editing involved employing three offline editors for ten weeks each, and an on-line editor, grader and sound mixer (each for one day). In 2012 Brotton was commissioned by Hardy Pictures, an independent television company, to write and present `Mapping lster' (transmitted 29 April 2013), a one-hour documentary on the history of the Ulster plantation and its mapping in the 17th century (budget £132k; employed one executive producer, one series producer/director (75 days), associate producer (45 days), production manager (75 days), production account (15 weeks); 9 shoot days for 1 x cameraman, 3 x sound mixers and 1 x grip on a daily basis; post-production 24 days' producer/director, 5 days' editor, dubbing editor, and 30 days' graphics).

Engaging with publishers contributed to economic activity and employment in the field of publishing (impact generating wealth for the cultural sector). Brotton's History of the World in Twelve Maps was published by Penguin in September 2012. The book contributed to the economic prosperity of the publishing sector: at the publisher, the book was worked on by an editor, deputy editor, and production staff in PR, marketing, rights, and other functions. Brotton employed independently a picture researcher on a short-term contract for £8K, for sourcing and reproducing pictures. Estimating sales between September 2012 and September 2013 at over 21,000 copies hardback, most sold at c.£20, and 20,000 copies paperback at £7.69-9.99, the book has generated gross turnover to the industry of c.£580,000. Hewitt's Mapping the Nation, conceived, written, completed and published in her time at Queen Mary, had high sales figures (unspecified, commercially sensitive), in hardback and paperback format. Both authors generated economic benefits for the literary agents they retain.

Sources to corroborate the impact


  1. Executive Producer, Specialist Factual, BBC4.
    Corroboration of QM L researcher Brotton's writing and presenting for BBC4 series `Maps: Power, Plunder & Possession', including viewing figures and staff involvement.
  2. Programme Producer, Hardy Pictures, 13 Fitzwilliam St, Belfast BT9 6AW.
    Corroboration of QM L researcher Brotton's writing and presenting for BBCNI programme, `Mapping lster', including viewing figures and staff involvement.
  3. Editor, Penguin Allen and Lane, Strand, London WC2R 0RL.
    Corroboration of QM L researcher Brotton's writing of History of the World in Twelve Maps, including sales figures and staff involvement.
  4. Head of Cartographic and Topographic Materials, Map Library, British Library, London, NW1 2DB.
    Corroboration of impact of QM L researcher Brotton's work on the history of cartography, especially public engagement activities.
  5. Venture capitalist and online map entrepreneur, founder of, Lancaster, PA.
    Corroboration of role of Brotton's cartographic research on digital mapping industry.

Other sources

  1. BBC website Maps: Maps: Power, Plunder and Possession
    Four short clips and full cast and crew list: <> Corroboration of Brotton's writing and presenting for BBC4 series `Maps: Power, Plunder & Possession', including staff involvement.