Map Men is a YouTube series by comedians Jay Foreman and Mark Cooper-Jones. It’s funny as hell, and quite informative too: it’s two silly people being very smart about often-silly cartographical situations. Six episodes so far; I hope they make more. [Geographical]
Uncharted Atlas is a Twitter bot that generates a new fantasy map every hour. The brainchild of glaciologist Martin O’Leary, it uses algorithmically created terrain that is weathered by water erosion, a process he details on this page (All Over the Map’s post explains it in more human-readable terms). As Martin writes:
I wanted to make maps that look like something you’d find at the back of one of the cheap paperback fantasy novels of my youth. I always had a fascination with these imagined worlds, which were often much more interesting than whatever luke-warm sub-Tolkien tale they were attached to.
At the same time, I wanted to play with terrain generation with a physical basis. There are loads of articles on the internet which describe terrain generation, and they almost all use some variation on a fractal noise approach, either directly (by adding layers of noise functions), or indirectly (e.g. through midpoint displacement). These methods produce lots of fine detail, but the large-scale structure always looks a bit off. Features are attached in random ways, with no thought to the processes which form landscapes. I wanted to try something a little bit different.
The code is available for playing with, and apparently other people are doing just that. Another algorithm—one that linguists should find fascinating—generates the place names.
The fantasy maps that get the most popular and critical attention are those of Middle-earth and Westeros. That’s almost entirely due to their respective series’ popularity (and in the case of Middle-earth, the foundational nature of that map and its influence on later works). Maps of Robert Jordan’s hugely popular Wheel of Time series don’t get quite the same attention—a situation that Adam Whitehead, writing on his Atlas of Ice and Fire blog, tries to rectify. Reading his post, I suspect that the afterthought-ish nature of said maps might have something to do with it.
Apparently Robert Jordan did not originally plan to include maps in the books, and did so only at the urging of his publisher Tom Doherty because people expected maps in a fantasy novel. This may be why the earliest maps for the books were pretty bare-bones, only featuring the names of the major countries, the two big mountain ranges and not much else. It may also explain the curiously straight mountain range edges to the map border which later came in for much ribbing from reviewers.
(Sidebar: In the talk on fantasy maps I gave at Readercon in July 2014 I noted the difference in map quality between the paperback editions of The Eye of the World and The Great Hunt; the second map is of considerably lower quality, but has the virtue of being more legible at mass-market paperback size.)
Interchange Choreography is a collection of maps of complicated highway interchanges by Chicago-based designer Nicholas Rougeux. “Applying colors to roads and using connecting roads to blend those colors adds structure and breathes new life in to areas that are often avoided for their complexity. The results resemble everything from dancers to otherworldly creatures.”
New Jersey’s interchanges look particularly complicated:
Because Palestine, after all, has been removed. It is there on old paper maps, of the Holy Land, of the Roman and Ottoman empires, of the British mandate. Yet in our digital age, a search on Google Maps for Israel produces a map without Palestine. It displays Israeli urban centres down to a few thousand inhabitants, and even marks Ma’ale Adumin, an Israeli settlement on the occupied West Bank. At the same time it shows no Palestinian place-names or urban centres, not even major ones like Gaza City, Khan Yunis or Nablus. The dotted, inconsistent borders of the occupied territories leave the impression that they are not claimed or administered by anyone. […]
Historians of cartography have long studied the practices and consequences of cartographic omission. In a landmark study, “New England cartography and the Native Americans”, published posthumously in 1994, the British historian of cartography J. B. Harley analysed seventeenth-century maps to follow the progressive replacement of the Native Americans with European settlers. In Harley’s analysis, the maps were something more than historical records of that process. Because they made the colonists visible at the expense of the indigenous population, they were also instruments of colonial legitimisation.
Many colonial mapmakers preferred to leave the areas of predominantly indigenous presence blank, rather than to reproduce an indigenous geography; one example is Herman Moll’s 1729 map of New England and the adjacent colonies, seen above. The traces of indigenous presence, past and present, were gradually removed from the maps as the colonists pushed west. The apparent emptiness helped to justify the settlers’ sense that they had discovered a virgin territory, promised to them by Providence. The pattern was the same in all areas of colonial activity, including Australia and Africa.
Never mind research that suggests that a single map adding bus lines to an already complicated subway map is cognitively overwhelming. Anthony Denaro has created a map of the New York City transit system that shows bus as well as subway routes—basically, a map of every means of transportation accessible by Unlimited MetroCard. Complex? You bet. Difficult to produce? Unquestionably: Anthony takes us through all the design choices he had to make. Difficult to use? Impossible for me to say (I haven’t even visited New York), but as Anthony points out, this map isn’t for tourists; it’s for frequent users. And no doubt it’ll be yet another engagement in the ongoing New York Subway Map War. [CityLab]
Bloomberg Businessweek looks at Niantic, the company that developed Pokémon Go, and its CEO, John Hanke, both of whom have a long history in mapping technology (Hanke was the founder and CEO of Keyhole, which became the foundation for Google Earth; Niantic started as a Google startup and focused on location-based apps—including, among other things, the game Ingress—before being spun off).
Hanke says Niantic’s focus has always been its underlying technology, not any one game, and the success of Pokémon Go has already attracted partners interested in using his mapping software for projects of their own. “Maybe you want to build a real-world vampire game where you control a clan of vampires and battle with other clans of vampires,” he says. “You could invest in re-creating our core technology and all of our data, which would require a fairly large team of very sophisticated Ph.D.s, or use our platform.”
CBC News reports on the Canadian Coast Guard’s project to map the continental shelf under the Arctic Ocean, now in its third and final year. This is part of Canada’s attempt to stake a claim to the continental shelf (and seas above it) beyond the 200-mile nautical limit, which other Arctic countries (hello, Russia) are also trying to do.
In the Los Angeles Review of Books, Miriam Kingsberg reviewsCartographic Japan: A History in Maps (University of Chicago Press, March 2016), a collection of essays on the history of Japanese mapmaking edited by Kären Wigen, Sugimoto Fumiko and Cary Karacas (see previous entry). “Cartographic Japan constitutes a significant addition to the academic literature on the history of Japanese mapping. Much like the works it describes, the volume may also be treasured as a piece of art and collector’s item in its own right.” Amazon, iBooks. [WMS]
Meanwhile, a seventeenth-century map of a legendary Japanese fortress has been discovered in a museum’s collection of paintings, the Asahi Shimbun reports. [WMS]
Iowa and the Midwest: An Exhibition of Antique Maps, an exhibition of maps of Iowa from four private collections, runs from 12 August to 23 October at Simpson College’s Willis Gallery. (Simpson College is situated in Indianola, Iowa, just south of Des Moines.) “The maps, which date from 1715 to 1902, chart the region’s Euro-American development from unexplored colonial territories to what is now America’s Heartland.” [WMS]
“The OpenStreetMap Community is at a crossroads, with some important choices on where it might choose to head next,” wrote Michal Migurski last month. Identifying three types of map contributors—robot mappers using third party data, crisis mappers responding to a disaster like the Haiti earthquake, and so-called “local craft mappers” (i.e., the original OSM userbase that edits the map at the community level, using GPS tracks and local knowledge), Michal ruffled many feathers by saying that “[t]he first two represent an exciting future for OSM, while the third could doom it to irrelevance.” That’s largely because, in his view, the craft mappers’ passivity and complacency, and their entrenched position in the OSM hierarchy, are impeding the efforts of the other two groups.