Consider a map of the University of Manchester campus: it includes the main campus on Oxford Road, the collection of buildings and residences that make up North Campus and often halls of residence in Rusholme and Fallowfield. There are, however, large portions of the city missing, which can be explained by the navigational purposes of the map, all one requires from it is to know where certain buildings in the University are located. But it could also suggest that the University wishes to be perceived in a certain way. If we now take ourselves back to the Middle Ages in Europe, we come to a time when maps were largely produced as representations of religious and political powers and navigation was a secondary or absent purpose. A map of this type is referred to as a Mappa Mundi.
Elizabeth Gerschkill argues that Mappae Mundi were not designed as navigational aids but rather as representations of God’s creations and the systematic order in which he created the world. Arguably the most famous of these maps, the Hereford Map, housed in Hereford Cathedral perhaps best exemplifies this as it effectively tells the story of the history of the world from a religious viewpoint. Religion was a key element of many of Mappae Mundi, in the form of mythical figures or as canonical text. The theme of religion is present in earlier Mappae Mundi as well, with the Erbstorf Map providing biblical and pagan commentary on the history of the world. The use of perfect circles to signify continents or climactic zones connote the importance of God to the construction of these maps. Political statements, though perhaps less common than religious, can also be seen in Mappae Mundi, such as the Albi Map, which enlarges the size of Europe which the Frankish Empire occupied and reduces Asia to a mere fragment.
There are, however, a significant number of exemptions to Gerschkill’s position, if one assumes she is limiting herself to Christianity. Many maps produced from the Majorcan Cartographic School which was run by Jews, were free of Christian rhetoric. The Fra Mauro map, though arguably produced in the earliest decades of the Renaissance, was strongly influenced by Islamic mapping techniques from the Arabs. The one clear anomaly among Mappae Mundi, however, is the Gough Map, which is considered the oldest surviving route map of Great Britain and was made seemingly under entirely navigational purposes. Therefore, although Mappae Mundi provides a fascinating insight into religious and political struggles during the European Middle Ages, it would be incorrect to deem cartography at this time to be completely free of navigational purposes.