In 1994 the BBC broadcast TALES FROM THE MAP ROOM, a six-part series which, together with the accompanying book edited by Peter Barber, told how map-drawing was not an objective exercise, but reflected the social, political and ideological preoccupations of the societies that constructed them. This was true of the earliest maps - now carved in stone in northern Italy - as in more recent times: what the Nazis or the British did in drawing the maps of the empire was no different from the strategies employed by their ancestors.
Sixteen years later, the same material forms the basis for MAPS: POWER, PLUNDER AND POSSESSION. The only difference between the two series lies in the way they are constructed; in the earlier series the images assumed a more prominent role, with an off-screen narrator linking them together. In the latter series - as is common to most BBC historical documentaries in recent years - an academic becomes our guide, mentor and self-appointed expert. This time it is Professor Jerry Brotton of Queen Mary College, University of London, who claims - as do most of the academics presenting these programs - that what viewers will discover here is "original", the outcome of years of research. "Originality" is a relative term here; for viewers with long memories, it seems rather as if Brotton is making a bid for stardom, to become a latter-day Howard Kirk (THE HISTORY MAN) of the airwaves.
In fairness to Brotton, he certainly knows his stuff, and can put it across in a clear, accessible manner. But the problem is that we've heard it all before. It would have been nice if perhaps he had cited the earlier series as an inspiration; as it stands, it looks like a case of academic imitation.
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