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Chorography (from khōros, "place" and graphein, "to write") is the art of describing or mapping a region or district, and by extension such a description or map. This term derives from the writings of the ancient geographer Pomponius Mela and Ptolemy, where it meant the geographical description of regions. However, its resonances of meaning have varied at different times. Richard Helgerson states that "chorography defines itself by opposition to chronicle. It is the genre devoted to place, and chronicle is the genre devoted to time". Darrell Rohl prefers a broad definition of "the representation of space or place".
In his text of the Geographia (2nd century CE), Ptolemy defined geography as the study of the entire world, but chorography as the study of its smaller parts—provinces, regions, cities, or ports. Its goal was "an impression of a part, as when one makes an image of just an ear or an eye"; and it dealt with "the qualities rather than the quantities of the things that it sets down". Ptolemy implied that it was a graphic technique, comprising the making of views (not simply maps), since he claimed that it required the skills of a draftsman or landscape artist, rather than the more technical skills of recording "proportional placements". Ptolemy's most recent English translators, however, render the term as "regional cartography".
Ptolemy's text was rediscovered in the west at the beginning of the fifteenth century, and the term "chorography" was revived by humanist scholars. An early instance is a small-scale map of Britain in an early fifteenth-century manuscript, which is labelled a tabula chorographica.John Dee in 1570 regarded the practice as "an underling, and a twig of Geographie", by which the "plat" [plan or drawing] of a particular place would be exhibited to the eye.
The term also came to be used, however, for written descriptions of regions. These regions were extensively visited by the writer, who then combined local topographical description, summaries of the historical sources, and local knowledge and stories, into a text. The most influential example (at least in Britain) was probably William Camden's Britannia (first edition 1586), which described itself on its title page as a Chorographica descriptio. William Harrison in 1587 similarly described his own "Description of Britaine" as an exercise in chorography, distinguishing it from the historical/chronological text of Holinshed's Chronicles (to which the "Description" formed an introductory section). Peter Heylyn in 1652 defined chorography as "the exact description of some Kingdom, Countrey, or particular Province of the same", and gave as examples Pausanias's Description of Greece (2nd century AD); Camden's Britannia (1586); Lodovico Guicciardini's Descrittione di tutti i Paesi Bassi (1567) (on the Low Countries); and Leandro Alberti's Descrizione d'Italia (1550).
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