ⓘ Chorography is the art of describing or mapping a region or district, and by extension such a description or map. This term derives from the writings of the anc ..


ⓘ Chorography

Chorography is the art of describing or mapping a region or district, and by extension such a description or map. This term derives from the writings of the ancient geographer Pomponius Mela and Ptolemy, where it meant the geographical description of regions. However, its resonances of meaning have varied at different times. Richard Helgerson states that "chorography defines itself by opposition to chronicle. It is the genre devoted to place, and chronicle is the genre devoted to time". Darrell Rohl prefers a broad definition of "the representation of space or place".


1. Ptolemys definition

In his text of the Geographia 2nd century CE, Ptolemy defined geography as the study of the entire world, but chorography as the study of its smaller parts - provinces, regions, cities, or ports. Its goal was "an impression of a part, as when one makes an image of just an ear or an eye"; and it dealt with "the qualities rather than the quantities of the things that it sets down". Ptolemy implied that it was a graphic technique, comprising the making of views not simply maps, since he claimed that it required the skills of a draftsman or landscape artist, rather than the more technical skills of recording "proportional placements". Ptolemys most recent English translators, however, render the term as "regional cartography".


2. Renaissance revival

Ptolemys text was rediscovered in the west at the beginning of the fifteenth century, and the term "chorography" was revived by humanist scholars. An early instance is a small-scale map of Britain in an early fifteenth-century manuscript, which is labelled a tabula chorographica. John Dee in 1570 regarded the practice as "an underling, and a twig of Geographie ", by which the "plat" of history.

However, the term also continued to be used for maps and map-making, particularly of sub-national or county areas. William Camden praised the county mapmakers Christopher Saxton and John Norden as "most skilfull sic Chorographers"; and Robert Plot in 1677 and Christopher Packe in 1743 both referred to their county maps as chorographies.

By the beginning of the eighteenth century the term had largely fallen out of use in all these contexts, being superseded for most purposes by either "topography" or "cartography". Samuel Johnson in his Dictionary 1755 made a distinction between geography, chorography and topography, arguing that geography dealt with large areas, topography with small areas, but chorography with intermediary areas, being "less in its object than geography, and greater than topography". In practice, however, the term is only rarely found in English by this date.


3. Modern usages

In more technical geographical literature, the term had been abandoned as city views and city maps became more and more sophisticated and demanded a set of skills that required not only skilled draftsmanship but also some knowledge of scientific surveying. However, its use was revived for a second time in the late nineteenth century by the geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen. He regarded chorography as a specialization within geography, comprising the description through field observation of the particular traits of a given area.

The term is also now widely used by historians and literary scholars to refer to the early modern genre of topographical and antiquarian literature.


4. Bibliography

  • Shanks, Michael; Witmore, Christopher 2010. "Echoes across the Past: chorography and topography in antiquarian engagements with place". Performance Research. 15 4: 97–106.
  • Currie, C. R. J.; Lewis, C. P., eds. 1994. English County Histories: a guide. Stroud: Alan Sutton. ISBN 0-7509-0289-2.
  • Brayshay, Mark, ed. 1996. Topographical Writers in South-West England. Exeter: University of Exeter Press. ISBN 0-85989-424-X.
  • Broadway, Jan 2006. "No Historie So Meete": gentry culture and the development of local history in Elizabethan and early Stuart England. Manchester: Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-0-7190-7294-9.
  • Witmore, Christopher 2020. Old Lands: A Chorography of the Eastern Peloponnese. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-815-36344-6.
  • Rohl, Darrell J. 2011. "The Chorographic Tradition and Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Scottish Antiquaries" PDF. Journal of Art Historiography. 5.
  • Helgerson, Richard 1992. Forms of Nationhood: the Elizabethan Writing of England. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-32633-0.
  • Mendyk, S. A. E. 1989. "Speculum Britanniae": regional study, antiquarianism and science in Britain to 1700. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-5744-6.