Seymour Schwartz at 90

Today is the 90th birthday of Seymour Schwartz, surgeon, map collector and author of books of map history (The Mismapping of America and Putting “America” on the Map, among others). It’s a milestone noted by the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, which gives considerable attention to his long medical career—a side of him that those of us into maps may know less about. [WMS]

Previously: Seymour Schwartz’s Hidden Passion.

More on Two Books About Nonexistent Places

Two items on books about nonexistent places on maps and other map errors, each of which we’ve heard of before:

  1. The Santa Fe New Mexican has a piece on The Phantom Atlas: The Greatest Myths, Lies and Blunders on Maps by Edward Brooke-Hitching, which came out in the U.K. in late 2016 (previously); that edition is available via Amazon on the U.S. and Canada, but a separate U.S. edition is coming in April from Chronicle. [WMS]
  2. Meanwhile, at National Geographic’s All Over the Map blog, Greg Miller takes a look at The Un-Discovered Islands, Malachy Tallack’s book about phantom islands: places once thought real, but later proven nonexistent. Like The Phantom Atlas, it first saw publication in 2016; its U.S. edition came out last November (previously). Miller’s piece includes examples of such nonexistent places on maps from the Osher Map Library.

Urbano Monte’s 1587 World Map, Digitally Assembled

David Rumsey Map Collection

In the real world, Urbano Monte’s 1587 map of the world exists as a series of 60 manuscript sheets designed to be assembled into a large world map—one that would be, at 10 feet square, the largest early world map known to exist.1 As the David Rumsey Map Collection explains, “the whole map was to be stuck on a wooden panel 5 and a half brachia square (about ten feet) so that it could be revolved around a central pivot or pin through the north pole.”

But with only two copies known to exist, that ain’t happening. So what the Rumsey Collection has done, with the copy they recently acquired via Barry Ruderman, is to do it virtually, creating a digital edition of the map as a single image (see above). The digital Monte map was apparently revealed at the Ruderman Conference last October (previously).

The Rumsey Collection’s blog post has lots of images of the individual sheets, and explains how digitizing the map explains Monte’s choice of projection:

Monte wanted to show the entire earth as close as possible to a three-dimensional sphere using a two-dimensional surface. His projection does just that, notwithstanding the distortions around the south pole. Those same distortions exist in the Mercator’s world map, and by their outsized prominence on Monte’s map they gave him a vast area to indulge in all the speculations about Antarctica that proliferated in geographical descriptions in the 16th century. While Mercator’s projection became standard in years to come due to its ability to accurately measure distance and bearing, Monte’s polar projection gave a better view of the relationships of the continents and oceans.

The Mercator version of Monte’s map is here. A Google Earth KMZ file of the map as a digital globe is here. For background on Monte’s map, see the accompanying essay by Katherine Parker, “A Mind at Work” (PDF). For more coverage, see All Over the Map’s blog post.

An Online Atlas of Canadian Election Results is an online atlas of federal and provincial election results in Canada. At the federal level the maps go back as far as the 1925 general election; provincial election maps go back as far as the late 1960s or early 1970s. Poll-by-poll results are available for the most recent elections.

This is a huge resource, all the more impressive given the scope of the data and the fact that it seems to have been done by just one person: J. P. Kirby, a self-described “regular guy interested in politics and elections. I’m also a map geek.” (Naturally.) What I like best is that the atlas shows the historical electoral district boundaries for each election, which is fascinating on its own but must have taken some digging on Kirby’s part. (Also kind of weird to see early 20th-century results overlaid on a modern, OSM-based map with airports and freeways and so on.)

Previously: 1895 Electoral Atlas of Canada.

Snowfall as Animated Relief Map

Here’s something neat from Garrett Dash Nelson: “the total seasonal snowfall in the continental US for 2017–2018 so far, shown as a relief map,” where total snowfall is expressed as elevation. That’s neat. Even neater: the animated gif that depicts it (a frame of which is above). Even neater than that: he shows how he made said animated gif.


Peter Kuper, “Trumpworld,” The New Yorker, 12 January 2018.

It’s been a while since we last saw a map of Donald Trump’s world view (previously), but now, inspired by the president’s reported comments about shithole countries, we have a new one from The New Yorker’s Peter Kuper. [Facebook/Twitter]

Previously: The Huffington Post Maps Trump’s World.

Navigation: A Very Short Introduction

The problem with Jim Bennett’s Navigation: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, May 2017) is summed up in its subtitle: it’s very short, and it’s only an introduction.

Part of Oxford University Press’s Very Short Introductions series, Navigation discusses the tools and methods used by mariners and navigators to find their way across the seas, beginning with various cultures’ ancient navigational techniques, moving through tools like cross-staffs, backstaffs and octants, dealing with the matter of longitude (on which Bennett has some opinions regarding the popular narrative), before wrapping up, too briefly, with modern techologies like radio beacons, inertial navigation and GPS.

There are some illustrations that are a great help in understanding concepts and tools whose use is not immediately obvious, but, as the subtitle suggests, this is not a book that goes into much depth. At only 144 pages—20 percent of which is taken up by front matter, glossary and index—it can only give the barest of introductions to the subject. That can be maddening for the reader, particularly when its coverage is so uneven: there’s a fair bit on the tools and techniques used during the age of sail, but only a paragraph on LORAN and Loran-C, for example. Another frustration is Bennett’s extremely discursive style, as though he were giving a posh invited lecture; I kept feeling that more could have been included had his prose been tightened up.

All the same, there’s value in a book that styles itself, modestly, as an introduction. An introduction is where you begin. It’s the first step, not the finish line. It sets out the parameters of the field and gives you just enough to know what’s out there. For someone like me, it tells me where the gaps are in my knowledge. To paraphrase someone, it lets you know what you do not know. It tells you where to go next: the most useful part of the book may well be its “Further Reading” section; you just need the preceding 116 pages of text to know how to use it.

And for all my concerns about brevity and prose, it’s a good deal more accessible, and easier to read, than the equivalent Wikipedia page—and it went through an editorial process, too. And while it’s not free, it’s very modestly priced. So I have no regrets about buying it.

Amazon | iBooks

Alex Clausen and the Fake Waldseemüller Globe Gores

It seems like everyone who evaluated the Waldseemüller globe gores is going to get a profile. The recently discovered gores were going to be auctioned by Christie’s last month until experts found evidence that they were carefully faked copies. That was, as I said at the time, a bombshell. Since then we’ve seen profiles of the experts at the James Bell Ford Library and Michal and Lindsay Peichl; now add to the list Alex Clausen, the gallery director of Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps in La Jolla, California, whose work on the globe gores got profiled this week in the La Jolla Light. The article is a bit breathless in tone, but goes into much more detail than some of the others and is worth your time. Some key points:

  • Clausen guesses that the forgery was done in the 1940s or 1950s (“The prime forgery suspect is Carl Schweidler, whom Clausen calls ‘probably the best paper restorer of the 20th century.’”);
  • The reason why Christie’s was led astray was that one of the reference gores—the Bavarian State Library’s—was also a fake (that latter fact has already come out, but this article doesn’t gloss over its importance); and
  • Barry Ruderman, Clausen’s boss, guesses that this is only the tip of the forgery iceberg.

[Tony Campbell]

How Ptolemy’s Geography Helped Get a Man Burned at the Stake

Map of the Holy Land in Claudii Ptolemaei Alexandrini Geographicae enarrationis libri octo. Michael Servetus, 1535. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Last November the Library of Congress’s map blog, Worlds Revealed, published Cynthia Smith’s interesting piece on Michael Servetus, a Renaissance theologian who, in 1553, Calvin had burned at the stake, along with his books, for heresy. One of those books was a 1535 edition of Ptolemy’s Geography, and while that book was not one that got him into trouble in the first place, it was used against him at his trial.

A map of the Holy Land is shown on Plate 41, seen below, while the text on the verso, below the map, describes it as an “inhospitable and barren land,” which was considered by the religious authorities to be blasphemous. Servetus was arrested and underwent trial in Geneva for his other religious writings but this text was used as evidence at his trial. Calvin asserted that the text had contradicted the description of the Holy Land in the Book of Exodus as a “land flowing with milk and honey.” […] Ironically, the controversial passage was not original to Servetus but was simply copied by him from previous editions of Ptolemy’s Geography which were published in 1522 and 1525 by another physician named Laurent Fries.


North Carolina’s Gerrymandered Congressional District Map Ruled Unconstitutional

North Carolina’s congressional district map has been ruled unconstitutional by a panel of federal judges, the New York Times reports. Significantly, it’s because the map represented a partisan gerrymander, engineered to ensure a Republican stranglehold on North Carolina’s congressional delegation, rather than a racial gerrymander. Partisan gerrymanders have not previously been considered illegal; it’ll be interesting to see what the eventual and inevitable Supreme Court ruling on this (and other gerrymandering cases) will be.

Book Roundup for January 2018

Augustine Herrman’s Chesapeake

Augustine Hermann, Henry Faithorne, and Thomas Withinbrook. Virginia and Maryland as it is planted and inhabited this present year 1670, 1673. Map on four sheets, 80 × 95 cm. Library of Congress.

A Biography of a Map in Motion: Augustine Herrman’s Chesapeake by Christian J. Koot, out last month from NYU Press, is an exploration of an iconic map—Virginia and Maryland as it is planted and inhabited this present year 1670 (see above)—and the mapmaker behind it, Augustine Herrman. “[T]he map pictures the Mid-Atlantic in breathtaking detail, capturing its waterways, coastlines, and communities. Herrman spent three decades travelling between Dutch New Amsterdam and the English Chesapeake before eventually settling in Maryland and making this map. Although the map has been reproduced widely, the history of how it became one of the most famous images of the Chesapeake has never been told.”

Monsters on the Map

Surekha Davies’s Renaissance Ethnography and the Invention of the Human: New Worlds, Maps and Monsters (Cambridge University Press) came out in June 2016 (see previous entry). In this podcast episode, Davies speaks with host Michael Robinson about the nature of monsters on old maps, and what they meant to contemporary map readers. Runs 28 minutes and is fascinating listening.

New Books in January 2018

Out this month:

  1. Jeremy Black’s Geographies of an Imperial Power: The British World, 1688-1815 (Indiana University Press), an exploration of “the interconnected roles of power and geography in the creation of a global empire.”
  2. Caren Kaplan’s Aerial Aftermaths: Wartime from Above (Duke University Press), a book about the military uses of aerial imagery that explores “how aerial views operate as a form of world-making tied to the times and places of war.”
  3. The Clyde: Mapping the River by John Moore (Birlinn), a book of maps of “arguably the most evocative of Scottish rivers,” came out in the U.K. last October but is available in North America as of this month.

Map Books of 2018

Finally, the Map Books of 2018 page is now live. This is the page I list all the books scheduled to come out this year. It’s constantly in flux as publication dates change and new books are brought to my attention. If there’s a book coming out in 2018 that should be on this page, let me know.

Route 338: A Giant Educational Map About Canada’s Political System

I’ve mentioned Canadian Geographic’s giant floor maps, which are loaned out to schools and come with additional teaching materials, before (namely, the Vimy Ridge map). Now CTV News takes a look at another one of their maps, this one focusing on Canada’s political system and improving students’ “democratic literacy.” It’s called Route 338, and it’s a 10.7×7.9m (35′×26′) floor map of Canada showing the boundaries of its 338 federal electoral districts. Route 338 is a collaboration between Canadian Geographic Education and CPAC (the Canadian equivalent of C-SPAN). [CAG]

xkcd’s 2016 Election Map

Randall Munroe

The maps that appear from time to time on xkcd are usually a lot more whimsical than the one Randall posted today: his somewhat belated “2016 Election Map” assigns one figure for every 250,000 votes for each of the 2016 presidential election candidates. As Randall says in the alt text,1 “I like the idea of cartograms (distorted population maps), but I feel like in practice they often end up being the worst of both worlds—not great for showing geography OR counting people. And on top of that, they have all the problems of a chloro… chorophl… chloropet… map with areas colored in.” This is an issue that election map cartographers regularly have to deal with, as many of my readers know well.