William Rankin

Assistant Professor of History of Science


Physical and earth sciences since the mid-nineteenth century; military, industrial, and governmental science; history of cartography; science and architecture; visual studies; environmental history


William Rankin's interests cover a wide range within the history of the physical and earth sciences since the mid-nineteenth century. He is particularly interested in military, industrial, and governmental science, the history of cartography, science and architecture, urban planning, environmental history, and methodological problems of spatial, visual, and geographic analysis. His research focuses specifically on the relationship between science and space, from the territorial scale of states and globalization down to the scale of individual buildings. Ongoing projects include the history and politics of scientific drawing (especially maps and engineering drawings), the history of infrastructure, and the architecture of laboratories, green design, and other scientific spaces. In addition to his writing, Rankin is also an active cartographer, and his maps have appeared in numerous books, magazines, and exhibitions.

His current book project, tentatively titled After the Map: Cartography, Navigation, and the Transformation of Territory in the Twentieth Century, focuses on the mapping sciences, sovereignty, and U.S. military globalism in the decades surrounding World War II.

Courses Taught

Cartography, Territory, and Identity

Catastrophe and the Earth Sciences since 1850

Problems in the History of Science

Geography and History



Selected Publications:

"The Geography of Radionavigation and the Politics of Intangible Artifacts," Technology and Culture 55 (July 2014), pp. 622-674

Maps: "Actual European Discoveries," "The Midwest," and "French Kisses," in The best American Infographics 2014, Gareth Cook, ed., introduction by Nate Silver (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)

"The 'Person Skilled in the Art' is Really Quite Conventional: U.S. Patent Drawings and the Persona of the Inventor, 1870-2005." In Making and Unmaking Intellectual Property: Creative Production in Legal and Cultural Perspective, edited by  Mario Biagioli, Peter Jaszi, and Martha Woodmansee, pp. 55-75. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011

"Visualizing Disciplines, Transforming Boundaries." Review of Atlas of Science, by Katy Borner. American Scientist 99 (May 2011), pp. 254-256

"Global Positioning System," in Cartography in the Twentieth Century, edited by Mark Monmonier. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, forthcoming

"The Epistemology of the Suburbs: Knowledge, Production, and Corporate Laboratory Design," Critical Inquiry (summer 2010) pp. 771-806

"Cartography and the Reality of Boundaries," Perspecta 42 (Spring 2010), pp. 42-45

"Urban Legends," Boston Review 35 (Nov/Dec 2010), pp. 5-6.

Maps of U.S. agriculture, demographics, suicide, and subways. In Mapping America: Exploring the Continent, edited by Fritz Kessler and Frank Jacobs. London: Black Dog, 2010.

"Landscapes of Specialization," in Ecological Urbanism, edited by Mohsen Mostafavi and Gareth Doherty, pp. 502-503. Baden: Lars Muller, 2010 

"Infrastructure and the International Governance of Economic Development, 1950-1965," in Internationalization of Infrastructures, edited by Jean-François Auger, Jan Jaap Bouma, and Rolf Künneke, pp. 61-75. Delft University of Technology, 2009.

 Maps for "Arctic Land Grab," National Geographic Vol. 215, No. 5 (May 2009), pp. 108-124.

Maps: "My Cities," "We The People?" and "The Cargo Chain," in Experimental Geography: Radical Approaches to Landscape, Cartography, and Urbanism, edited by Nato Thompson, pp. 124-129. Brooklyn: Melville House, 2008.

"The Reification of Sound: Recording Technology and the Changing Ontology of Music," Open Space 8/9 (Fall 2006-Spring 2007)

"Seismic Isolation Enhancements for Initial and Advanced LIGO" (coauthor), Classical and Quantum Gravity 21 (Special Issue, March 7, 2004), pp. s915-s921 (Erdos number: 6)

More cartographic work is available on Bill's website, www.radicalcartography.net, maintained since 2003




Harvard University, dual Ph.D. in History of Science and Architecture

Harvard University, A.M. in History of Science

Rice University, Bachelor of Architecture

Rice University, B.A. in Architecture and Civil Engineering, summa cum laude

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