History of Cartography

Historic Maps of Africa

4511.1 - Mapping the Suez Canal: Cartographic Heritage of a Nineteenth Century Engineering Behemoth

Tuesday, July 4
1:30 PM - 1:50 PM
Location: Hoover

The Suez Canal widely is regarded as the first modern infrastructural mega-project enabling a globalized economy. Its decade long construction (1859-1869) pushed the limits of engineering at the time and was a trailblazer for similar challenging projects like the Panama Canal (1881-1914) or the increasing canalization of major continental river systems. Although constantly improved and enlarged since its grand opening on November 17, 1869, the most recent addition of a “second canal bed” (2014-15) calls for an appraisal of its cartographic legacy spanning almost two centuries.

The paper sheds light on cartographic expressions oscillating between engineering tools and shrewd propaganda in an often changing political setting. The three main eras covered are the pro-longed conceptualization of the canal project since Napoleon Bonaparte’s Egyptian Campaign (1798-1858), its difficult realization as the spearhead project towards industrialization (1859-69), and an outlook on major aspects of technical improvements and socio-economic effects in the one and a half centuries since. In its course the paper will also debunk some popular myths like that Pharaonic Egypt already attempted the canal or that it was inaugurated with Verdi’s opera Aida, although the Triumphal March surely would have befitted the canal.

Imre J. Demhardt

Garrett Chair in the History of Cartography
University of Texas at Arlington

Since 2008 Imre J Demhardt holds the the Garrett Chair in the History of Cartography. His research interests include post-enlightenment cartography, colonialism and regional studies of Central Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa and North America.


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László Zentai

Head of department
Department of Cartography and Geoinformatics, Eotvos University

László Zentai is a Full Professor and Head of the Department of Cartography and Geoinformatics at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary. He is the Vice-Rector (also between 2007 and 2010) of the university and he was also the Vice-dean of the Faculty of Informatics two times previosuly. Prof. Zentai is the Secretary-General of the International Cartographic Association (2011–2019) and he is also serving as the Chairman of the Hungarian National ICA Group. He is a Council member of the International Orienteering Federation. His papers are dealing with computer cartography, cartographic education, topographic mapping, relief representation, orienteering maps, environmental protection and webcartography.


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4511.1 - Mapping the Suez Canal: Cartographic Heritage of a Nineteenth Century Engineering Behemoth

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