Ordnance Survey is a historic amalgam of two key terms in the history of ideas and the governance of knowledge. Used since the eighteenth century in combination with the term survey it remains the name for the three official map-making bodies of Britain and Ireland. The first term ordnance or ordinance is derived from the French ordenance and the Latin ordināre meaning to order, ordain, arrange, regulate or rule. From the fourteenth century it referred to militaristic warlike provisions or the decrees of a sovereign. Ordnance came to refer specifically to the artillery corps of the army and the British military remained in the survey¿s Dublin headquarters until independence in 1922.
Survey means to oversee, the French surveoir combines the stem sur or over and veoir to see, the Latin vidēre or vĭdĕo. From the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it had the sense of a view from a commanding position, an inspection or an examination. A survey was also a comprehensive mental view, a written description or the measurement of a tract of ground. It is a coordination of hand, eye and mind. The contemporary sense refers to any systematic collection or analysis of data, attitudes or opinions. In the first half of the nineteenth century the British Ordnance Survey of Ireland combined all of these senses from ordering to authoring, from inspection to measurement and from voyaging to voyeurism. Not unlike a nineteenth-century Guinness Book of Records it records that Peggy Frizell was a public character and an idiot or that a woman in Aghagallon had twenty-four children. It notes that Fanny Marlin of the village of Curran was a great fighter and a hermaphrodite. At present the Ordnance Survey of Ireland continues to map and pursue raw information, in Cork under the aegis of the Central Statistics Office, unaware of their long lost cousins the folklorists and ethnologists. One of the aims of this work is to retrace this genealogy.
This works takes an overview of the ethnographic or folkloristic aspects of the work of the nineteenth-century surveyors in Ireland. It is the first time that this has been done from within the perspective of the discipline of folklore and ethnology, itself an offspring of the earlier nineteenth-century ethnological and folkloristic ideas that informed the survey. It was perhaps Translations the play written by Brian Friel that attracted attention to the bilingual and cross-cultural aspects of the survey. In the play he depicts the renowned Irish scholar John O¿Donovan anglicizing the Irish language names. These names were enshrined legally in the imperial, and later the national, government. Although driven by patriotic sentiment places like Port Laoise and Dún Laoghaire opted to have names in Irish by plebiscite no Irish language place-name had legal status in Ireland until 2004.
The book treats the three related methods of cartography, ethnography and translation to re-enliven the interpretative processes that led to the re-imagining of Ireland in the English language. A central trope of this interpretation was that the Irish language and culture, classified as folklore rather than found or discovered or recovered, was in fact archaic, barbaric and uncivilized. The introduction of translation as a stage in the process of interpretation, and not merely a natural aspect of cultural process, remaps the mapmakers themselves and relocates their work as part of the self-conscious civilizing desire of the Empire. In this mission there are diverse or heterogeneous cultural and political forces at work and the result is not always the desired one.