A Video Profile of James Niehues, Ski Resort Map Artist

Earlier this year Great Big Story did a short video piece about legendary ski resort map artist James Niehues, whom I’ve blogged about here on several previous occasions. Though this 2½-minute video is obviously less in-depth than, say, the Aspen Daily News’s profile of him from last year, I don’t mind another look at him and his work. [Atlas Obscura]

Previously: James Niehues Passes the TorchJames Niehues’s Ski Resort Maps; James Niehues Profile.

Historian Searching for Maps to Support Vietnam’s Claims to the Paracel Islands

Philippe Vandermaelen, “Partie de la Cochinchine,” Atlas universel de geographie physique, politique, statistique et mineralogique, 1827. David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.

Using old maps as “proof” of one side’s claim over disputed territory, or a disputed place name, is something we’ve seen many times before. It’s happening with the Paracel Islands as well. They’re claimed (and occupied) by China as part of their claim on the South China Sea (the Nine-Dash Line); Vietnam considers the islands as part of Đà Nẵng province. While the central Vietnamese government has been somewhat careful regarding its boundary dispute with China, the same cannot be said for Đà Nẵng’s government, which has asked a local historian, Tran Duc Anh Son, to collect old maps and documents supporting Vietnam’s claims to the islands (which it calls the Hoàng Sa Archipelago). The New York Times has the story. [WMS]

Previously: Vietnam Objects to Map World’s Boundaries.

Fast Food vs. Schools in London

One of the proposals in the new draft London Plan is to prohibit new fast food establishments within 400 metres of an existing school as a means of combatting childhood obesity.1 This is going over about as well as you’d think. Dan Cookson has mapped the locations of London’s fast food establishments and the 400-metre exclusion zones around each school; his map suggests a problem: there would be few places in the city able to host a new fast food joint.

Related, via Maps Mania: the Guardian’s interactive map of fast food shops in England.

A Map of Stellar Systems with Exoplanets

Planetary Habilability Laboratory, University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo

Via a friend, this map of stellar systems with exoplanets, produced in 2014 by the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo.

This is a map of the over one thousand stellar systems with known exoplanets. The map helps to visualize the relative distance and location of exoplanets systems with respect to Earth using a flattened polar projection (i.e. zero declination) with a logarithmic distance scale. Those systems with potentially habitable exoplanets are highlighted with a red circle. You will need to enlarge to see details (probably something good for a Prezi presentation). The map can be printed 27″ × 27″ @ 300dpi.

It’s an update to their original map from 2011. I imagine that there have been enough discoveries since 2014 that the map could be updated again.

More on the Waldseemüller Globe Gores Auction


When the news broke that Christie’s was auctioning a previously unknown copy of Waldseemüller’s globe gores—the sixth known to still exist—I wondered where it came from and how it was found. Christie’s has now posted an article about the globe gores that answers that question.

Waldseemüller’s set of gores was widely reproduced, yet the example to be offered at Christie’s on 13 December was never cut out—which largely explains why it has survived for hundreds of years. If it had been pasted as intended, Wilson says, ‘wear and tear would surely have seen its demise in the intervening centuries.’

Instead of being cut up, this particular map was used as scrap for bookbinding. It ended up among the belongings of the late British paper restorer Arthur Drescher, who died in 1986 and whose family recently came upon the piece.

Here’s the auction listing. The auction will take place on 13 December; the gores are expected to fetch between £600,000 and £900,000.

Previously: Sixth Waldseemüller Globe Gore to Be Auctioned Next Month.

Fake Maps! (Very Dishonest)

Here’s a video of Steven Feldman’s informative and entertaining talk at FOSS4G in Boston last August: “Fake Maps, Very Dishonest” looks at the ways in which maps, through ignorance, incompetence or deliberate intent, can mislead, misinform, misfire and miss the point. Very much in the vein of Monmonier’s How to Lie with Maps, or Andrew Wiseman’s “When Maps Lie,” but very much aimed at working mapmakers. Slides of Steven’s presentation are available here (there are some that didn’t make it into the actual talk). Slides and videos of other FOSS4G presentations are also available online. [Benjamin Hennig]

Confederate Maps at the U.S. National Archives

Map of the Battlefield of Shiloh; Tennessee; Confederate Maps, 1861-1876; War Department Collection of Confederate Records, 1825-1927, RG 109; NACP—Cartographic (RDSC).

The Unwritten Record, a blog by staff at the U.S. National Archives’s Special Media Archives Services Division, announced last month: “Civil War maps are always popular at the National Archives, and the Cartographic Branch is pleased to announce the digitization of over 100 Confederate maps from Record Group (RG) 109.  All are now available to view or download through our online catalog.” [Texas Map Society]

Miniature Maps and Minchiate

The William P. Cumming Map Society’s North Carolina Map Blog has a post looking at miniature maps of North Carolina (“miniature” is defined as less than four inches in size) and a post about minchiate, a 16th-century Florentine card game; there were were educational minchiate decks with a map on each of the 97 cards. [WMS]

Literature and Cartography

Here’s a book that, given my interest in maps and literature, I’ll have to track down: Literature and Cartography: Theories, Histories, Genres, edited by Anders Engberg-Pedersen and featuring contributions from 15 other authors. “Literary authors have frequently called on elements of cartography to ground fictional space, to visualize sites, and to help readers get their bearings in the imaginative world of the text. Today, the convergence of digital mapping and globalization has spurred a cartographic turn in literature. This book gathers leading scholars to consider the relationship of literature and cartography. Generously illustrated with full-color maps and visualizations, it offers the first systematic overview of an emerging approach to the study of literature.” Out today from The MIT Press. [Amazon]

The Future of Mapping: Semantic Maps

The future of mapping, according to John Hanke and Brian McClendon, who basically created Google Earth, is something called a semantic map. Now, semantic mapping has very different meanings in literacy, statistics and data science; in this case a semantic map refers to “a map that continues to learn about the physical world and refine its predictions of what objects are and how they will act through huge amounts of data. Without semantic maps, self-driving cars won’t ever be able to intelligently move through the world–at least not without crashing into something—a development that will arrive when self-driving cars do.” Also has augmented reality implications. The Co.Design article explains. [Dave Smith]

An Exhibitions Roundup

Pratt Manhattan Gallery. Installation view, You Are Here NYC: Art, Information, and Mapping. Photo: Jason Mandella Photography.

Hyperallergic takes a look a the Leventhal’s current exhibition, Beneath Our Feet: Mapping the World Below, which runs until 25 February 2018. Previously: 1, 2. [Dave Smith]

Exhibits from last month’s Barry Lawrence Ruderman Conference on Cartography (previously) remain on display at Stanford’s David Rumsey Map Center until 6 April 2018, as well as online. [WMS]

You Are Here NYC: Art, Information, and Mapping, an art exhibition at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery curated by Katharine Harmon and featuring maps in a similar vein to her 2016 book You Are Here: NYC (reviewed here), closed last week (my bad for not getting to it sooner), but in the interest of posterity, here’s Gothamist’s coverage.

2017 Holiday Gift Guide

2017 Holiday Gift Guide

Every year at about this time I post a gift guide that lists some of the noteworthy books about maps that have been published this year. If you have a map-obsessed person in your life and would like to give them something map-related—or you are a map-obsessed person and would your broad hints to have a link—this guide may give you some ideas.

Once again I’ve done my best to organize the books by theme. This is not a complete list of what’s been published in 2017. That’s what the Map Books of 2017 page is for: that page includes many, many other books that might also suggest themselves as gift possibilities.


It shouldn’t be a secret that I haven’t seen or read everything on these lists; I go by what information is publicly available. But two books I have seen, and can recommend. Both Stephen J. Hornsby’s Picturing America: The Golden Age of Pictorial Maps (reviewed here) and The Red Atlas: How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World by John Davies and Alex Kent (reviewed here) are beautiful collections of historically significant maps with informative accompanying text.

Continue reading “2017 Holiday Gift Guide”

The Library of Congress Acquires the Codex Quetzalecatzin

Codex Quetzalecatzin, 1593. Manuscript map, 90 × 73 cm. Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress has acquired the Codex Quetzalecatzin, an extremely rare 1593 Mesoamerican indigenous manuscript that depicts, using Nahuatl hieroglyphics and pre-contact illustrative conventions as well as Latin characters, the lands and genealogy of the de Leon family. John Hessler’s blog post describes the codex and helps us understand its significance.

Like many Nahuatl codices and manuscript maps of the period it depicts a local community at an important point in their history. On the one hand, the map is a traditional Aztec cartographic history with its composition and design showing Nahuatl hieroglyphics, and typical illustrations. On the other hand, it also shows churches, some Spanish place names, and other images suggesting a community adapting to Spanish rule.  Maps and manuscripts of this kind would typically chart the community’s territory using hieroglyphic toponyms, with the community’s own place-name lying at or near the center. The present codex shows the de Leon family presiding over a large region of territory that extends from slightly north of  Mexico City, to just south of Puebla. Codices such as these are critical primary source documents, and for scholars looking into history and  ethnography during the earliest periods of contact between Europe and the peoples of the Americas,  they give important clues into how these very different cultures became integrated and adapted to each others presence.

The Codex has been in private hands for more than a century, but now that the Library of Congress has it, they’ve digitized it and made it available online. [Tony Campbell/Carla Hayden]

Yorktown Campaign Map of New York City Being Auctioned

On 5 December Christie’s will auction, as part of a lot of printed books and manuscripts, a map described as “an important manuscript map of New York City prepared by cartographers attached to Rochambeau’s forces during the Yorktown Campaign.” The 63×40-cm ink-and-watercolour map dates from 1781-1782 and is expected to fetch between $150,000 and $200,000. Christie’s item description is quite detailed.

Horror Vacui: The Fear of Blank Spaces

Olaus Magnus, Carta Marina, 1539. Detail. James Ford Bell Library.

In an article I published in 2013, I argued that one key difference between fantasy maps and the real-world medieval and early modern maps they purport to imitate is blank spaces: fantasy maps are full of blank spaces (that which is not in the story is not on the map), whereas real-world maps were covered in cartouches, sea monsters, inset illustrations and other embellishments. One of my sources for that article was a book by Chet Van Duzer: Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps (reviewed here).

Recently Van Duzer has been giving talks on the very subject of the lack of empty spaces on old maps. Which, as you can imagine, is very relevant to my interests. In October he spoke on the subject at the Barry Lawrence Ruderman Conference on Cartography, and earlier this month he gave a similar talk at the New York Map Society. Here’s the abstract from the Ruderman Conference:

Historians of cartography occasionally refer to cartographers’ horror vacui, that is, their fear or hesitancy to leave spaces blank on maps that might be filled with decorations. Some scholars have denied that this impulse was a factor in the design of maps, but the question has never been examined carefully. In this talk I will undertake such an examination, showing that horror vacui was indeed an important factor in the design of maps, at least for some cartographers, from the sixteenth to the early eighteenth century. Some of the factors that motivated cartographers’ concern about empty spaces will also be examined, as will maps by cartographers who evidently did not experience this fear. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries maps began to be thought of as more purely scientific instruments, cartographic decoration declined generally, and cartographers managed to restrain their concern about spaces lacking decoration in the interest of presenting their work as modern and professional.​

But since I couldn’t make it to those events, all I had was that tantalizing abstract. (Publish something!) Fortunately, we now have a little more: Greg Miller has written a piece about Van Duzer’s research over on the National Geographic All Over the Map blog.