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Soc Stud Sci. 2017 Jun;47(3):353-375. doi: 10.1177/0306312716658138. Epub 2016 Aug 19.

Zombie projects, negative networks, and multigenerational science: The temporality of the International Map of the World.

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Program in the History of Science and Medicine, Department of History, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA.


The International Map of the World was a hugely ambitious scheme to create standardized maps of the entire world. It was first proposed in 1891 and remained a going concern until 1986. Over the course of the project's official life, nearly every country in the world took part, and map sheets were published showing all but a few areas of the planet. But the project ended quite unceremoniously, repudiated by cartographers and mapping institutions alike, and it is now remembered as a 'sad story' of network failure. How can we evaluate this kind of sprawling, multigenerational project? In order to move beyond practitioners' (and historians') habit of summarizing the entire endeavor using the blunt categories of success and failure, I propose a more temporally aware reading, one that both disaggregates the (persistent) project from the (always changing) network and sees project and network as invertible, with the possibility of zombie projects and negative networks that can remain robust even when disconnected from their original goals. I therefore see the abandonment of the International Map of the World as resulting from vigorous collaboration and new norms in cartography, not from lack of cooperation or other resources. New categories are required for analyzing science over the long durée.


International Map of the World; cartography; infrastructure; mapping; multigenerational science; networks; zombies

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