A map is a symbolized image of geographical reality. The area between the known world and the unknown worlds beyond was fuzzy: maps often showed fierce monsters or mythical beings guarding the edge of the known world. The Journey of Maps and Images on the Silk Road has two great merits: it takes us away from the traditional debate on objectivity and subjectivity in the sciences, and it introduces us to entirely different ways of depicting geographically referenced features. Its authors disclose how geographic and cartographic knowledge progressed along the Silk Road. In our global village, the theme of the Silk Road is gathering greater interest than before for several reasons. It encompasses many concepts that cultural studies have made fashionables, such as communication, representation, and syncretism. The geographical area that separates the capital cities of ancient China from the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean harbors is, of course, large.
Map production and design, which of course varied significantly, reflected the techniques and supports then available as well as the specific ways in which each civilization perceived, selected, and displayed geographical information. This new volume proves that spatial and visual information circulated well across premodern Eurasia. Being so mobile, the cartographic body of knowledge of Asia and the Middle East influenced modern mapping to a greater extent than we generally assume. The Journey of Maps and Images on the Silk Road is an important contribution to a better understanding of the rich interaction we see between the early Eastern and Western schools of cartography. The present volume approaches the subject from a new angle, by looking at the journey of maps and images along the Silk Road to see how old ideas traveled and adapted themselves to new surroundings.
We had the impression that maps and other images were an especially promising point of entry to study the iconic vocabulary of the Greek, Indian, and Chinese scientific traditions, as well as that of Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian ritual artifacts. This topic allowed us to explore the Silk Road’s uniquely long communication network and investigate the diffusion of concepts and objects related to visual knowledge.