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Map Men

Transnational Lives and Deaths of Geographers in the Making of East Central Europe

Map Men

Transnational Lives and Deaths of Geographers in the Making of East Central Europe

More than just colorful clickbait or pragmatic city grids, maps are often deeply emotional tales: of political projects gone wrong, budding relationships that failed, and countries that vanished. In Map Men, Steven Seegel takes us through some of these historical dramas with a detailed look at the maps that made and unmade the world of East Central Europe through a long continuum of world war and revolution. As a collective biography of five prominent geographers between 1870 and 1950—Albrecht Penck, Eugeniusz Romer, Stepan Rudnyts’kyi, Isaiah Bowman, and Count Pál Teleki—Map Men reexamines the deep emotions, textures of friendship, and multigenerational sagas behind these influential maps.

Taking us deep into cartographical archives, Seegel re-creates the public and private worlds of these five mapmakers, who interacted with and influenced one another even as they played key roles in defining and redefining borders, territories, nations­—and, ultimately, the interconnection of the world through two world wars. Throughout, he examines the transnational nature of these processes and addresses weighty questions about the causes and consequences of the world wars, the rise of Nazism and Stalinism, and the reasons East Central Europe became the fault line of these world-changing developments.

At a time when East Central Europe has surged back into geopolitical consciousness, Map Men offers a timely and important look at the historical origins of how the region was defined—and the key people who helped define it.

320 pages | 8 color plates, 20 halftones | 7 x 10 | © 2018

Geography: Cartography, Cultural and Historical Geography, Social and Political Geography

History: European History


"Through the fine-grained description and analysis of their interconnected education, scholarship, careers, and family lives, Seegel convincingly shows that maps are artifacts of emotions, desires, and folly, not any objective representations of the observed social reality. The use of archival and printed material in German, Hungarian, Polish, and Ukrainian is meticulous and wide ranging, as evidenced by the one hundred pages of references and bibliography." 

American Historical Review

"In his brilliant new book, historian Seegel has shifted his focus from maps to the men who make them. . . . Seegel succeeds in making the reader 'more skeptical of national-heroic and literalist readings of lives and maps'. In this and other regards, Map Men should be of great interest to the Polish or East Central European specialist—or for that reason, anyone interested in geographers or cartographers more generally."


"Seegel’s compelling new book should become compulsory reading for those who are interested in the history of twentieth-century geography, and above all, for those who are scholars of East Central European history and geography. Seegel’s comparative study on the life and work of five geographers is an outstanding scholarly achievement."

Hungarian Geographical Bulletin

"Seegel has extensive language skills that allowed him to delve into their work at archives in both Europe and the U.S. This approach offers a very different look than prior biographies on several of these figures. The book include[s] reprints of maps by each scholar, including several beautiful color plates of key maps."

The Portolan

"A combination of biography and transnational history, Seegel's Map Men offers new and important insight into the inner lives, friendships, and complex emotional landscapes that informed the work of five geographers who were instrumental to the making of modern East Central Europe. . . . Meticulously researched, Map Men is a real achievement as a work of transnational history and collective biography, and it will undoubtedly make important contributions to a number of sub-fields in the history and geography of modern East Central Europe."

Hungarian Cultural Studies

"Map Men makes a much-needed and timely intervention into the history of cartography and geography by placing the map-makers themselves front and center. This multifaceted book will appeal broadly to historians and historical geographers interested in nationalism, history of science and geography in East Central Europe, the role of transnational experts, and US relations with East Central Europe in the early twentieth century. Seegel presents a remarkable synthesis of the events of the early twentieth century anchored in individual lives and serves as a model for how historians might overcome national historiographies and nation-state borders to write more interconnected histories of East Central Europe."

Journal of East Central European Studies

"Seegel does not just give audiences important content about the history of geography and the geography of history, but the very form – his methodologies– bear more scholarly attention. At one point, Seegel writes that ‘Our maps raise more questions about the integrity and rationality of lives and inner worlds than they can answer’ (p. 164). We are fortunate that Map Men has raised such questions, and we would do well to follow Seegel’s lead in contributing to a richer map of transatlantic history."

The Cartographic Journal

"Seegel presents a fascinating telling of the professional lives of five prominent geographers, how their lives interrwined, strengthened, and strained with the ebb and flow of peace and war."


"Seegel demonstrates an admirable passion for his subject, and Map Men can be seen as a bold experiment that touches off many bright sparks."


"Entrance into the map men’s worlds is facilitated by Seegel’s crisp, eloquent, and above all accessible writing. . . . [he] charts the difficult personalities, complicated lives, and tumultuous worlds of these men who, as he writes, 'loved geography and maps a bit too much'."

German Studies Review

"Libraries that focus on collecting materials related to international relations and diplomatic studies should add this book to their shelves. It is a fascinating, original biographical analysis of the transnational lives of five 'map men'."

Western Association of Map Libraries

"Seegel demonstrates an impressive command of primary sources in several languages including German, Polish, Ukrainian, and Hungarian ... He consistently sustains the entangled narrative of the lives of five geographers throughout the book, thus succeeding in telling a 'transnational love story.'"

Ab Imperio

"Everybody interested in the region will benefit from reading this well composed, original, and inspiring book about the power and potentially destructive force of ... mapping." 

Slavic Review

"In his remarkable Map Men, Steven Seegel opens a new chapter of our comprehension of the production of maps, showing the social and psychological tensions and the personal intentions that preceded cartographic drawings."

Austrian History Yearbook

“Seegel has written a fascinating study of the cosmopolitan wanderings of a group of provincialists. We watch as the biographies of these ‘map men’—smart, frustrated, illiberal, self-important, and adventurous—converge to create a ‘Non-Republic of Letters’ that sought to give national causes an international profile via the politics of cartography. Well researched and with a spritely narrative voice, this book is an original, non-national journey across a deeply nationalist cartographic landscape.”

Holly Case, Brown University

“Creatively researched and beautifully written, Seegel uses biography to refashion the historical map of Central Europe.”

Kate Brown, The University of Maryland, Baltimore County

“Seegel has written a remarkable work—one that is erudite, far-reaching, insightful, and focused on matters of enduring importance for the study of modern Europe. Maps are cold. By comparison, lives are much warmer. The great gift of this book is that it stirs up the placid world of maps so that we feel the lived, often momentous and deeply personal geographies that lay behind them. The life stories that intertwine here perfectly illustrate Seegel’s overarching theme of how late nineteenth-century Central Europe’s German-dominated Wissenschaft culture was undone in the heat of twentieth-century war and revolution.” 

Willard Sunderland, University of Cincinnati

"The author [wishes] to shift the focus to no longer be interested in maps and diplomatic issues, already known, but in the relationships that these geographers maintained and their transnational dimension. We can only welcome this move..."

Revue d’histoire des sciences humaines

"We may hope that Seegel’s Map Men, along with being a wonderful addition to the field of east central European history, will be an impetus for a shift in historical cartography and geography, forcing historians of Europe to move beyond the map itself to the people behind the maps. As Seegel writes, 'the disciplines of geography and cartography are not canonical, inherently democratic, or outside history itself.' It is necessary, then, to look not just at the maps, but at the people who created them and at the motivations these people had for creating their maps. Maps are fallible, just like the people behind them."

Canadian Slavonic Papers

"Seegel accomplishes an innovative and clearly-argued study on the geographers who were ultimately not spared from the upheavals of the 20th century."

Historische Zeitung (translated from German)

Table of Contents

Author’s Note
Argument: A Transnational Love Story
A Five-Headed Cast: Defining Map Men
Epistolary Geography
Chapter 1: Professor Penck’s Pupils
Saxony, 1858
West Galicia, 1871
East Galicia, 1877
Ontario-Michigan, 1878
Budapest-Transylvania, 1879
Chapter 2: Objectivity
WWI Collisions
Pan-American Careerist
Out of Eurasia
Fantasy Easts
Paprika Geography
Chapter 3: Courtiers
In Search of Patrons
Among the Defeated
Rump State
Victors in Arms
New Worlds, New Men
Strings to Pull
Scenes from a Breakup
Chapter 4: Beruf
Bodily Work
Of Glaciers and Men
An American in Mosul
1925: Volks- und Kulturboden
A Sort of Heimat-coming
Revision Institutionalized
Chapter 5: A League of Their Own
Wissenschaft Wars
Third Reich
Knocking on Europe’s Door
Lives of a Salesman
Boys to Men
Children of Solovki
Chapter 6: Ex-Homes
Old Worlds
Calling Dr. Love
You Can’t Go Heimat Again
Chapter 7: Twilight
A Drive to the East
“Before Death Plucks My Ear”
Repatriation, in Place
A Multigenerational Affair
Freunde und Feinde

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