National Geographic looks at the 20 or so amateur mapmakers producing digital maps of the Syrian civil war. Some are neutral, some are partial to one side, all are dealing with the challenges of producing accurate, up-to-date information far from the front lines.
The rise of these next-generation mapmakers comes as many news organizations around the world are reducing their commitment to foreign coverage. And reporting from conflict zones remains as dangerous as ever. According toReporters Without Borders, 50 journalists and 142 citizen journalists have been killed in Syria since 2011. The lack of on-the-ground coverage by journalists leaves an information gap that is being filled by these digitally savvy mapmakers.
The Ricci Institute is hosting a series of events connected with our exhibition China at the Center at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. One of these events is an international symposium held at the University of San Francisco April 22-24 with extra events at the AAM and in the Manresa Gallery on the USF campus. The topic of the symposium concerns the history of East-West scientific exchange through the medium of cartography beginning with ancient maps and continuing to the present with the latest technological innovations. Internationally known specialists in cartography and East-West cultural exchange will be invited to share their research, while experts from Google and NASA will discuss the latest technological developments in enriching our knowledge of the world and the cosmos.
NASA Earth Observatory: “The map above, based on data provided by the National Snow and Ice Data Center, shows the extent of Arctic permafrost. Any rock or soil remaining at or below 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) for two or more years is considered permafrost.” The map differentiates between continuous, discontinuous, sporadic and isolated permafrost. [NASA Earth]
Vox’s lead exposure risk map takes a nationwide look at a crisis some might have thought was limited to Flint, Michigan. “The areas where kids are at highest risk of lead exposure—an estimate calculated using government data about the surroundings—are scattered all across the country.” Lead exposure data is hard to come by, so exposure risk is calculated based on Washington State’s methodology, which uses age of housing and poverty as risk factors. [Mapbox]
“A New York dealer in antique maps and rare books claims to have found the first map of Salt Lake City,” writes Trent Toone of the Deseret News. “Paul Cohen, of Cohen and Taliaferro, recently obtained the original sheepskin plat map of the ‘Great City of the Valley of the Great Salt Lake’ and plans to have it on display at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, which runs April 7-10.” The 21½×11¼-inch sheepskin map was produced during an 1847 survey. [WMS]
On the National Library of Scotland’s blog, a look at steps taken to conserve and repair two damaged 19th-century maps. “These case studies show some of the treatment options available for large maps, and demonstrate the challenging decisions that have to be made in order to care for the Library’s collections in their entirety. The principles at the heart of every conservation intervention are reversibility and retreatability, which ensure that we can always return to an object in the future if circumstances change.” [via]
The problem with Google Maps becoming a de facto cartographic authority is that it isn’t a legal authority. As we have seen over and over again, this has implications, both for Google, which must often walk a fine line between countries’ cartographic demands (for example, China and India have laws mandating “correct” borders on maps that are mutually exclusive; the border Google shows you depends on where you are), and for Google’s users: a 2010 border skirmish between Costa Rica and Nicaragua was triggered by an error in Google Maps. A discussion of that incident begins Ethan R. Merel’s note published in the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, which explores the problem of Google being thrust into a role it may not have expected.
Since Google is now producing the world’s most important maps, a task previously done by nation-states, the company is “getting confused with a nation-state, and not just any one, a really important one—a powerful one.”92 At first, Google reaped the benefits of waning state control over the practice of map making, but more recently, Google has started to face the criticism and responsibilities which accompany such possession of power.93
In 2009 it was announced that map collector David Rumsey, whose eponymous website has been a must-visit for any map aficionado, would be donating his collection of 150,000 maps, plus digital copies, to Stanford University. Preparations to receive Rumsey’s collection began last summer. Now the David Rumsey Map Center is set to open—an event that will be marked with a reception on 19 April, the opening of an exhibition called A Universe of Maps: Opening the David Rumsey Map Center, and a series of presentations and workshops over the following two days. Speakers include Anne Knowles, Susan Schulten and Chet Van Duzer, among others, as well as Rumsey himself. [via]
Changing place names can be a laborious process. The Washington State Committee on Geographic Names reviews proposals, and recommends changes to the Washington State Board on Geographic Names. Both operate under DNR and cannot initiate changes on their own. To do that, the board seeks input from the public, tribes, historians, historical societies, scholars, and political entities such as county commissions, etc. who can support, oppose or remain neutral on a name change. Citizens can nominate new names that must have relevance. The names board then makes a final judgment.
Once a name is changed on state maps, it goes to the federal level for consideration by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which oversees the federal name database. That database is the source of names on national maps and databases, ranging from the Park Service to Google.
This Anglo-Saxon map of the world, made in Canterbury around 1025-1050, shows a number of similarities to Tolkien’s map of Thror. First and foremost, the two maps share the same orientation: East is on the top, North is on the left and the West is on the bottom (you can clearly see this by looking at Britain in the bottom left corner!)—a standard feature of medieval maps (before the introduction of the compass, the East (where the sun rises) was the easiest direction to locate). Moreover, the Cotton World Map, like Tolkien’s, features several drawings, such as two little men fighting in the south of Britain, little drawings of cities like Rome and Jerusalem, and mountains (including Mount Ararat in Armenia with a little Ark of Noah!). Finally, the Anglo-Saxon map accompanies some of these drawings with descriptions; e.g., the drawing of a lion in China, where it says “hic abundant leones” [here are many lions]—not unlike Tolkien’s drawing of a spider, near the text ‘There are spiders’.
“Although Google Maps is fast becoming the ultimate authority on navigation,” writes Karen Turner for the Washington Post, “the program is proving vulnerable to mistakes and hackers with results that at times can be catastrophic.” Turner focuses on Google and problems with its error-correction and verification processes; it’s worth remembering, though, that all online maps suck in some way: no map service has a monopoly on accuracy or error. [via]