An Austro-Hungarian Mapmaking Guide

Schlüssel und vorlageblatter für den situations zeichnungs unterricht, 1882. K.K Militar-Geografischen Institute. C1:5 b.3. Bodleian Library.

The Bodleian Map Room Blog posts some excerpts from an 1882 Austro-Hungarian guide to mapmaking. “The Schlüssel und vorlageblatter für den situations zeichnungs unterricht (which translates roughly as ‘Key and template for drawing lessons’) is a teaching aid created by the Institute of Military Geography in the Austro-Hungarian Ministry of War in 1882 for the drawing of maps. Inside there are a number of different terrain examples and sheets showing scales, text, topographical features and legends.” As the blog post points out, the purpose of the guide was to ensure uniformity in military mapmaking. [Benjamin Hennig]

Tissot’s Indicatrix

Tissot’s indicatrices superimposed on the Robinson projection. Map by Eric Gaba. Wikimedia Commons.

Geo Lounge’s Elizabeth Borneman has a piece on Tissot’s indicatrix, which tends to turn up in discussions of map projections. (See, for example, this piece from Vox’s Johnny Harris, and the accompanying video.) And for good reason: it’s a useful visualization tool. All maps distort—representing a curved surface on a flat plane, et cetera, et cetera—but a grid of Tissot’s indicatrices superimposed on a world map will measure the distortion—linear, angular, by area—produced by that map’s projection. On the Mercator projection, the indicatrices remain perfect circles, but grow larger toward the poles; on equal-area equatorial projections, they maintain their size but squish into ellipses; on other projections they also angle left or right depending on how close they are to the edge. On compromise projections like the Robinson (see above), they do all three.

New Map Books for September 2017

Map books coming out this month:

The Art of Cartographics (Goodman) is available now in the U.K. but won’t come out in North America until March 2018. The publisher describes it as “a stunning collection of maps designed in a unique way. […] This carefully curated book selects the most creative and interesting map design projects from around the world, and offers inspiration for designers and map-lovers alike. Covering themes including power, gentrification, literature, animals, plants and food, and showcasing handrawn, painted, digital, 3D sculpted and folded maps, Cartographics offers a slice of social history that is as beautiful as it is fascinating.” Buy at Amazon U.K. | Pre-order at Amazon

In a similar vein, while the British edition of Where the Animals Go, a compendium of spectacular maps of animal paths, came out last November, U.S. readers have had to wait until now: W. W. Norton is publishing the U.S. edition, and it comes out next week. Buy at Amazon

Also out next week: the National Geographic Atlas of Beer (National Geographic). I have no information about the quantity or quality of the maps therein, but according to the publisher the book does have some: “The most visually stunning and comprehensive beer atlas available, this richly illustrated book includes more beers and more countries than any other book of its kind. Including beer recommendations from Garrett Oliver, the famed brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery, and written by ‘beer geographers’ Nancy Hoalst-Pullen and Mark Patterson, this indispensable guide features more than 100 illuminating maps and over 200 beautiful color photos.” Buy at Amazon

Related: Map Books of 2017.

Women and Cartography in the Progressive Era

Christina E. Dando’s Women and Cartography in the Progressive Era (Routledge) came out earlier this month. From the publisher: “As women became more mobile (physically, socially, politically), they used and created geographic knowledge and maps. […] Long overlooked, this women’s work represents maps and mapping that today we would term community or participatory mapping, critical cartography and public geography. These historic examples of women-generated mapping represent the adoption of cartography and geography as part of women’s work. […] This study explores the implications of women’s use of this technology in creating and presenting information and knowledge and wielding it to their own ends.” [WMS]

Amazon | iBooks

Related: Map Books of 2017.

The Penguin Projection

“A world map tells a lot about the person who has made it, or about the market it is made for,” says Frans Blok. The edges of equatorial projections are determined so as to put the map’s audience at the centre of the map: European maps put the Bering Strait at the edges, Australian and Asian maps the Atlantic, American maps break Asia in two. If, however, only the polar regions were habitable—or if you were making a map for penguins—you might use a polar projection centred on Antarctica.

Frans Blok

“And no, for European use this map is less suitable. But there aren’t that many penguins living here,” says Blok. [ICA]

When Users Don’t Interact with Interactive Maps

Brian Timoney responds to the argument that few users actually interact with interactive infographics with some thoughts on how that might apply to online maps, with their sometimes-complicated, GIS-derived user interfaces. His suggestions? Static maps, small multiples, animated GIFs, text-based search—simpler, more user-friendly, more familiar UIs and ways to present mapped data.

The 74 on Boston Schools and the Peters Map

Education news website The 74 has its own coverage of the Boston schools/Peters map controversy (is it safe to call it a controversy?), with extensive quotes from Matthew Edney, who does not mince words. (Comparing both projections to Comic Sans? Ouch.) [Caitlin Dempsey]

Previously: More on Boston Schools and the Peters MapThe Peters Map Is Fighting the Last WarThe Peters Projection Comes to Boston’s Public SchoolsIn Defence of the Mercator ProjectionHow the Mercator Projection Won the Internet.

William Rankin Profiled

Over at the Toynbee Prize Foundation’s Global History Forum, Timothy Nunan has a long article about Yale history of science professor William Rankin, author of last year’s After the Map: Cartography, Navigation, and the Transformation of Territory in the Twentieth Century (book website, publisher, Amazon, iBooks) and the themes—the shifting relationship between map and territory, for example—addressed by that book. [WMS]

Previously: After the MapWilliam Rankin, Author of ‘After the Map,’ Interviewed.

Deadline Extended for Corlis Benefideo Award Nominations

The nomination deadline for the Corlis Benefideo Award has been extended to April 15. The Award, given by the North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS), “recognizes imaginative cartography,” which is defined in part as “the potential … to transform our ways of seeing and understanding our world, and to trigger imaginative reaction from its audience.” It’s named for a character in “The Mappist,” a short story by Barry Lopez, and if you’ve read the story you’ll understand how appropriate the name is. (The story can be found in two of Lopez’s collections: Light Action in the Caribbean and Vintage Lopez.)

Nominations for this award are accepted from anyone, not just NACIS members.

Flex Projector

With all this recent talk about map projections, it might be worth pointing out the existence of Flex Projector, a cross-platform Java application for creating map projections, now at version 1.0.6. Yes, creating: if you want to invent your own map projection and slap your own name on it, you can do that with this app; others certainly have. (You will need to have Java installed on your computer.) Heck, Tom Patterson’s Natural Earth projection was built with it. [GIS Lounge]

Previously: Shaded Relief World Map and Flex Projector.

More on Boston Schools and the Peters Map

Atlas Obscura’s Cara Giaimo has an in-depth look at the reaction to the decision by Boston public schools to adopt the Peters projection in teaching materials. It’s well worth taking the time to read; the general gist from several cartographers and commentators is that swapping the Mercator for the Peters isn’t that much of an improvement. Though it includes comments from yours truly (I was in touch for this article), Giaimo talks to people who actually do know what they’re talking about, including Mark Monmonier (who, again, literally wrote the book on the Mercator projection) and Matthew Edney (who spoke to WZON 3 about this topic earlier).

Joshua Stevens, NASA’s data visualization and cartography lead:

Also on Twitter, and to emphasize how long this has been going on, Jeremy Crampton notes his 1994 paper, “Cartography’s Defining Moment: The Peters Projection Controversy, 1974–1990.” A sequel may be required.

Previously: The Peters Map Is Fighting the Last WarThe Peters Projection Comes to Boston’s Public SchoolsIn Defence of the Mercator ProjectionHow the Mercator Projection Won the Internet.

The Peters Map Is Fighting the Last War

News of Boston public schools’ decision to go with the Peters projection has gone viral over the past week, and my teeth have not stopped itching. Largely because this is very much old news: Arno Peters began promoting “his” projection 44 years ago, and the Peters map has been making the rounds in certain circles ever since then. This is not new, and the media is showing its feckless streak in its lack of awareness of that fact. After all, the West Wing episode with the Peters map in it was broadcast 16 years ago.

The Gall-Peters projection is just one of several rectilinear equal-area projections; that Peters promoted it as a tool of social justice and anti-colonialism made it awfully appealing to people who are concerned with such issues. (They are not wrong to be concerned with such issues.) But cartographers have generally always been appalled by the projection, by Peters’s rhetoric and by his general ignorance of what had gone before. (Peters’s map had already been described by James Gall in 1885; the Mercator projection’s insufficiencies as a wall map had long been known; and there were many other projections, from the Van der Grinten to the Mollweide to the Goode homolosine, that were already being used in the Mercator’s stead.)

(The Mercator projection, for its part, makes a crap wall map: its virtue is that rhumb lines—compass headings—are straight lines, making the Mercator ideal for navigation. It’s worth emphasizing that Mercator himself died in 1594. Again, see Monmonier’s book on the subject.)

Cartographers’ response to the Peters projection is essentially, usually (and correctly) that every map projection is a compromise, because every map projection is an attempt to represent a round planet on a flat surface. All maps, in other words, lie; or at least no map is exempt from lying; or at least the Mercator is no more a liar than any other projection. It’s essentially an effort in debunking—the tedious repetition of “well, actually” to a credulous audience that doesn’t care enough to listen all the way through. (And besides: the company selling the Peters map thoroughly agrees with them!)

For the latest examples of this, see Caitlin Dempsey’s piece on teaching context, and Andy Woodruff’s response to the latest round of this. They’re good pieces, worth reading—but I can’t help wonder whether something different needs to be tried. But then again: what problem are we trying to solve? Media and public credulity? The fact that the Peters projection, bluntly, sucks? The campaign—and it is a campaign—behind it?

But the campaign for the Peters map is increasingly irrelevant. In late 2015 I argued that the debate over the right projection for wall maps was the cartographic equivalent of fighting the last war. The Peters map was a 20th-century response to a 19th-century problem (the Mercator on wall maps) that had already largely been solved earlier in the century. Sure, there are still wall maps out there that use the projection (I’m looking in your direction, IKEA), but by and large it’s not used nearly as much as the Peters defenders would have you think.

But 21st-century mapmaking is not about wall maps: it’s about web maps. As I said in 2015:

Every online map service uses a variant of the Mercator projection called Web Mercator. Whatever its shortcomings—and there are many, owing to the fact that its calculations use a spherical Mercator model to save computational cycles—Web Mercator has become the de facto standard. And the size distortions at small scales that have made the Mercator projection the target of so much ire over the decades are simply moot for most use cases.

In many ways the past debates over the Mercator are moot: arguing over the right projection for wall-sized world maps—Mercator vs. Peters vs. Robinson—is fighting the last war. Mercator has become the default option for online mapmaking, simply because so many data visualization maps rely on Google Maps or OpenStreetMap for their base map layer. Other projections will be reserved for the professionals, people with access to more sophisticated mapmaking tools and the skill to use them, but for the most part, when data is mapped on the Internet, it’ll be mapped according to Mercator.

Zoom out in Google Maps or OpenStreetMap, and what do you see? The Mercator projection, with Greenland in all its inappropriately giant glory. (Apple Maps turns into a globe when you zoom out far enough, but Apple Maps are app-only.) The reason why this isn’t generally seen as a problem is that hardly anyone uses Google Maps as a world map: like topographic maps that use UTM, at close range Mercator works just fine.

While there are efforts under way to use other projections in web maps, it’s unlikely that the Mercator-vs.-Peters battle—a false dichotomy if there ever was one—will migrate to the digital arena.

Previously: The Peters Projection Comes to Boston’s Public SchoolsIn Defence of the Mercator ProjectionHow the Mercator Projection Won the Internet.

Book Roundup for March 2017

Out this month: the English translation of Andrea Carandini’s massive two-volume, 1300-page Atlas of Ancient Rome (Princeton University Press), which “provides a comprehensive archaeological survey of the city of Rome from prehistory to the early medieval period.” See the book’s website. [Amazon]

Other books seeing publication this month: Picturing America: The Golden Age of Pictorial Maps by Stephen J. Hornsby (University of Chicago Press), a history of the pictorial map art form during the 20th century [Amazon]; and Zero Degrees: Geographies of the Prime Meridian by Charles W. J. Withers (Harvard University Press), a history of prime meridians and the standardization thereof [Amazon].

An update: Mapping the Holy Land (I. B. Tauris) which I originally understood to be coming out in January, is now slated for publication this week. [Amazon]

Related: Map Books of 2017.

The Peters Projection Comes to Boston’s Public Schools

Gall-Peters projection (Wikimedia Commons)

In a development that just might make academic cartographers pull out their remaining hair in frustration, Boston’s public schools began using the Peters projection in social studies classes last week. The news coverage (see the Grauniad’s) is the usual straw man argument about the Mercator and the false dichotomy between it and the Peters, as though no other map projections have ever been used. (National Geographic has been using other projections since the 1920s, and currently uses the Winkel tripel. The last time I was at a map store, hardly any of the world maps for sale used the Mercator. See Mark Monmonier’s Rhumb Lines and Map Wars: A Social History of the Mercator Projection, which I reviewed in 2008.)

Cartographers’ Stories

Daniel Huffman and John Nelson have launched A Cartographer’s Story, a website that collects personal essays from mapmakers.

While our community has a rich culture of sharing project walkthroughs and clever tricks, our colleagues also need to hear about the personal and emotional relationships we have with our maps. We invest ourselves in creating works that are meant to stir the hearts and imaginations of others—and in return our works invest in us. What are your stories? How has mapping moved you or changed you? Did it encourage you through a tough time? Teach you something about yourself? Represent a significant relationship in your life?

Seven stories posted so far; they’re looking for more.