Indiana University Is Digitizing Its Collection of Russian Topo Maps

Indiana University’s collection of some 4,000 Russian military topographic maps is being digitized, thanks to a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources.

“The world-changing differences documented by maps in the Eastern Bloc Borderlands project cannot be overstated,” says Michelle Dalmau, head of Digital Collections Services for IU Libraries, and the project’s principal investigator. “In some cases we see villages and settlements depicted that no longer exist.”

Created by the Russian Military from 1883 to 1947, the maps traveled widely through their tactical use in the field. In the years surrounding World War II, many were captured by opposing forces, including German and American troops. As a result, myriad stamps from institutions they passed through—such as the University of Berlin, the U.S. Army Map Service, and the CIA Map Library—mark the maps with a unique and visual history.

More than 1,000 have already been digitized. These maps are similar to the maps chronicled by John Davies and Alex Kent in The Red Atlas (see my review), but date from before the Cold War. [Osher]

Colour Differences in Metro Maps

Scientific American reprints a 2016 article from The Mathematical Intelligencer on an obscure, but important, corner of transit map design: how to choose a colour for a metro line. The discussion is rather math heavy (and therefore above my pay grade), but the gist is that for ease of use lines’ colours should look as different from one another as possible, and it gets more complicated as you add more lines. “Not only must the new colors be unlike the old ones, but also they must differ from each other as much as possible.” The article discusses the math involved in choosing new colours. [WMS]

Previously: The Transit Line Colour Palette.

Clickhole: Rising Sea Levels to Turn Australia into a Rhombus


Clickhole, The Onion’s satirical clickbait website, had a hilarious piece last October declaring that rising sea levels will turn Australia into a rhombus: good news for cartographers, for whom Australia will be easier to draw.

According to a new study by the National Ocean Service, melting icecaps and glaciers will raise sea levels enough to cause drastic coastal erosion to virtually every landmass on the planet, including Australia, which will transform from its current shapeless continental configuration into a crisp, tightly angled quadrilateral. While this will unquestionably result in an incalculable amount of economic and ecological devastation, it will likely be a welcome change for cartographers, who instead of spending hours trying to perfect the jagged and asymmetrical outline of the Australian coast like they do now, will in the coming decades be able to handily dash off a geographically accurate rendering of the continent in just a few seconds flat.

In your face, Wyoming. [Cartophilia]

Estimating Population

NASA’s Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) has produced a population estimation service “for estimating population totals and related statistics within a user-defined region.” Basically, it provides a population estimate for an area drawn on a map. Available as data via map and GIS clients, it’s also accessible via a web app. I’ve noodled about with it; its population estimates are generally not insane. [Kottke]

Coming Soon: Kenneth Field’s Open Online Course on Cartography

Esri will be hosting a free, six-week massive open online course (MOOC) on cartography later this year. Called Cartography., it’s taught by Kenneth Field and coincides with the release of Field’s textbook of the same name.

Each weekly lesson in the Cartography. MOOC focuses on the creation of one exemplary map that draws together key cartographic ideas. Lessons consist of about two hours of content, including video discussions, guided and self-guided exercises using ArcGIS Pro and ArcGIS Online, quizzes, interactions between students and instructors, and supplemental resources. Participants who engage with all the course content will receive a certificate of completion and a discount code to purchase Cartography., the book, should they wish to continue their learning.

Registration opens on 18 April and continues until 2 May. It is, as I mentioned, free; Esri expects more than 10,000 people to sign up.

Cartography., the book, is currently scheduled to come out in June.

Strava, Responding to Security Concerns, Disables Features

Strava has reportedly disabled certain features in the wake of the privacy and security issues raised last month, with users reporting that they can no longer create workout segments. In a statement given to The Verge, Strava said: “We are reviewing features that were originally designed for athlete motivation and inspiration to ensure they cannot be compromised by people with bad intent.” [Canadian Cycling Magazine]

Previously: Strava Heat Map Reveals Soldiers’ LocationsNon-Anonymized Strava User Data Is Accessible.

Freedom in the World, Mapped

Freedom House

The 2018 edition of Freedom House’s annual report on political rights and civil liberties, Freedom in the World, is out, and it’s illustrated by maps that categorize countries into “free,” “partly free” or “not free” and assign them a score out of 100. (I can’t say 1 to 100, because Syria is -1. According to them, it’s been a bad year for global freedom.) The main map, above, shows the three categorizations. It’s a bit reductionist: “partly free” includes Morocco (score: 39) and Bolivia (score: 67), which obscures the fact that Morocco’s score is closer to nearby Algeria’s (35, “not free”) and Bolivia’s is closer to Peru’s (73, “free”) than they are to each other. But scores and categories don’t always map cleanly to one another. A second choropleth map of the scores themselves is more granular, and more revealing:

[Boing Boing]

Planetary Maps for Children

Planetary Maps for Children is a collection of pictorial maps of several moons and planets of the Solar System (so far: Venus, Mars, the Moon, Io, Europa, Titan, and Pluto and Charon), aimed at younger map readers. The maps are vibrant and colourful, full of sight gags and “fabulous make-believe creatures” and other sight gags. They’re available in digital, poster and virtual globe formats and available in several languages; the whole thing is a project of the ICA’s Commission on Planetary Cartography. [via]

LIDAR Mapping Reveals a Far Greater Mayan Civilization

A 2016 aerial survey of ten sites in Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve used LIDAR to digitally remove the tree canopy from the landscape, revealing, National Geographic reports, “the ruins of a sprawling pre-Columbian civilization that was far more complex and interconnected than most Maya specialists had supposed”—and one that likely supported a much higher population than previously thought. The survey and its findings are the subject of a documentary special premiering tomorrow on the National Geographic channel. More coverage: CBC NewsThe New York Times, The VergeThe Washington Post.

Literary Maps Exhibition at Harvard’s Houghton Library

Landmarks: Maps as Literary Illustration, an exhibition of literary and fantasy maps at Harvard’s Houghton Library, is free to the public and runs through 14 April 2018. “Presented in conjunction with the bicentenary of the Harvard Map Collection, this exhibition brings together over 60 landmark literary maps, from the 200-mile-wide island in Thomas More’s Utopia to the supercontinent called the Stillness in N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. Visitors will traverse literary geographies from William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County to Nuruddin Farah’s besieged Somalia; or perhaps escape the world’s bothers in Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood.” Atlas Obscura has more on the exhibition, along with a selection of some of the maps it presents. [Tony Campbell]

The Gerrymanderers

When we talk about gerrymandering, about redrawing the political map to favour one’s own party at the expense of another, we talk a lot about the maps themselves. The mapmakers, not so much. Check out this New York Times article on the political consultants who do the redrawing; it focuses on the electoral map of Maryland, which like several other states’ maps is the focus of a court challenge. The process has become even more refined as more and more data becomes available to feed into the redistricting maw.

The Times article points to a similar, earlier article that appeared in the October 2012 issue of The Atlantic and goes into even more depth: “The League of Dangerous Mapmakers.” [Leventhal]