The Maps Cartographers Made as Kids

Maps made by children are interesting enough; maps made by children who went on to be professional cartographers—that’s something else altogether, as All Over the Map’s Betsy Mason shows. Because you know they all did that, when they were kids. (And no, before you ask, I don’t think any of my childhood cartography still survives.)

Previously: Children Map the World: The BookChildren Map the World, Volume Two19th-Century Children’s Maps.

The Last Unmapped Places

Lois Parshley’s essay on the last unmapped, mysterious places—Greenlandic fjords, the slums of Haiti, the ocean’s depths, black holes in space—is a long read worth reading. Originally published last month as “Here Be Dragons: Finding the Blank Spaces in a Well-Mapped World” in the Virginia Quarterly Review, it’s been reprinted by the Guardian, in an edited, tighter version, as “Faultlines, Black Holes and Glaciers: Mapping Uncharted Territories.”

Tactile Maps, Modern and Historical

Two items on maps for the blind and visually impaired—a subject I find terribly interesting:

Greg Miller of National Geographic’s All Over the Map reports on a new tactile atlas of Switzerland, which “is printed with special ink that expands when heated to create tiny bumps and ridges on the page.” I can’t find a direct link to said atlas, but Greg interviews Esri cartographer Anna Vetter, who led the project.

Tactile maps have been around for a long time: Atlas Obscura looks at tactile maps—and even a tactile globe!—dating back to the early 1800s. Many of these maps are in the archives of the Perkins School for the Blind. The Perkins School has a Flickr album of these maps.

Dirty Reprojectors

Maps online invariably use the Web Mercator projection. The Dirty Reprojectors project aims to change that, at least in Mapbox. Anand Thakker explains.

Almost all web mapping libraries render maps using Web Mercator, making an assumption that you generally can’t change out-of-the-box. This has advantages, but it posed a real challenge for us when we set out to build the Washington Post’s live election results map, where using the Albers USA projection was an important requirement. To meet that requirement, we built a pipeline to pre-process geometries.

It’s a bit of a kludge, a way of fooling Mapbox into showing a different projection—latitude/longitude coordinates aren’t accurate any more—but it’s an impressive stab at a real problem. The Dirty Reprojectors web app demonstrates the possibilities, with all the projections available through the d3-geo and d3-geo-projection libraries. [James Fee]

The Cartographer Behind Virginia’s Official Highway Map

Virginia Official State Transportation Map (detail)
Virginia Official State Transportation Map (detail)

Official highway maps—paper highway maps—are still a thing: the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot has a profile of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s sole cartographer, Dwayne Altice, who’s responsible for the biennial updates to that state’s official transportation map. Includes some interesting behind-the-scenes detail about how the map is made—and how it used to be made (layers and layers of film). [WMS]

3D Election Maps

Mapping U.S. election results by county and state is a bit different than mapping results by electoral or congressional district, because counties and states don’t have (roughly) equal populations. Choropleth maps are often used to show the margin of victory, but to show the raw vote total, some election cartographers are going 3D.


Max Galka of Metrocosm has created an interactive 3D map of county-level results (above) using his Blueshift tool. The resulting map, called a prism map, uses height to show the number of votes cast in each county.

Here’s a similar 3D interactive map, but using state-level rather than county-level data, by Sketchfab member f3cr204. [Maps on the Web]

Cartography at the CIA


The CIA has posted a short institutional history of its Cartography Center, which reaches back before the CIA was created: in 1941 the Office of the Coordinator of Information (COI), which was replaced by the CIA’s forerunner, the OSS, hired a young graduate student named Arthur Robinson to start its cartography section. Small world.

Another CIA page looks at its first female cartographer, Marion Frieswyk, whom Robinson recruited in 1942.

The CIA also has a Flickr account, where they’ve posted a number of their maps in various albums sorted by decade (all of which are labelled “Cartography Maps,” which sounds dumb until you realize they probably mean Cartography Center Maps). I think the Cartography Tools album is even more interesting than the maps.

Atlas of Design, Volume 3

The third volume of the Atlas of Design is now available for pre-order and will ship some time this month. The Atlas’s 32 maps are listed here; Wired’s report has a gallery of some of them. At least one or two will probably look familiar to my regular readers. Published by the North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS), the 98-page book costs $35 (with a 25 percent discount for NACIS members like me).

The Financial Times Searches for a Better Election Map

The Financial Times
The Financial Times

Martin Stabe of the Financial Times looks at the paper’s options for displaying the 2016 U.S. presidential results. Which to use, map or cartogram? In the end, neither: they’re going with a dot map—a compromise “that attempts to take the best from the other methods.”

The white underlying geographic map places states in their familiar size, shape and location, allowing them to be identified quickly. Using a cluster of dots rather than a solid fill to represent the outcome ensures that the amount of red and blue on the map accurately reflects states’ weight in the election outcome, rather than the (irrelevant) surface area.

Like the tiled grid cartogram, the number of electoral votes in each state is easy to compare visually without counting or interpreting numbers printed on the map. Because each electoral vote is a discrete mark, it is possible to accurately represent the split electoral votes that are possible in Maine and Nebraska, or the possibility of a faithless elector.

Technical details and source code here.

Previously: A Primer on Election Map CartographyMore Election Cartography Primers.

AuthaGraph World Map Wins Japanese Design Award


Japan’s Good Design Awards have been announced for 2016, and the Grand Award has gone to an unusual map. The AuthaGraph World Map “is made by equally dividing a spherical surface into 96 triangles, transferring it to a tetrahedron while maintaining areas proportions and unfolding it to be a rectangle.” Follow that? Sphere to tetrahedron to rectangle.

The brainchild of designer Hajime Narukawa, the AuthaGraph map was first released in 2010. What’s it for? In many ways it’s sort of a Japanese Peters projection: it aims to maintain the relative sizes of the continents. From the page selling the map outside Japan:

Every world map that has been invented since the Mercator Projection was first revealed in 1569 can be divided into two groups. One group fits the world into a rectangle by distorting the continents. The other group corrects the distortion, but at the cost of the rectangular shape. This is what drove Narukawa to create a map which is rectangular like the Mercator Projection map, and yet correctly projects the continents like the Dyxmaxion Map (revealed in 1946).

[CCA/Gizmodo/Spoon & Tamago]

More Election Cartography Primers

The New York Times

Today, print subscribers to the New York Times were treated to a fold-out map showing a choropleth map of the 2012 election results at the ZIP code level (above). “The map is part of a special election section that aims to help explain the political geography of the United States — identifying where people who are conservative and liberal live and pointing out how physical boundaries, like the Rio Grande and the Cascade Mountains, often align with political ones,” writes the Times’s Alicia Parlapiano.

Parlapiano’s piece is in fact a lengthy tutorial on how to read election maps, along the lines of the pages I linked to in last week’s post on election map cartography—it outlines the problems of state-level election maps and choropleth maps that privilege area over population, for example, and shows some other ways of depicting the results.

It can’t be a coincidence that in today’s Washington Post we have Lazaro Gamio’s article dramatically highlighting the difference between area and population size with comparative maps. Mark Newman’s cartograms also make an appearance.

I can only conclude that both the Times and the Post are making efforts to educate their readers before the election results start coming in, one week from tonight. (Deep breath.)

A Primer on Election Map Cartography

With less than two weeks before the 2016 U.S. presidential election, it’s time for a refresher on election map cartography, particularly in the context of U.S. presidential elections.


2012 U.S. presidential results. At right, a cartogram scaled by electoral vote. Maps by Mark Newman.
2012 U.S. presidential results. At right, a cartogram scaled by electoral vote. Maps by Mark Newman.

Let’s start with the basics: at All Over the Map, Greg Miller explains the problem with U.S. presidential election maps—big states with few electoral votes look more important than smaller states with more votes—and introduces the idea of the cartogram: a map distorted to account for some variable other than land area.

Here are some cartograms of the 2012 U.S. presidential results (see above). Previously: Cartograms for the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election Results.

The Map That Started It All

Scribner's statistical atlas of the United States,
Plate 11: Popular Vote: 1880. From Fletcher W. Hewes and Henry Gannett, Scribner’s Statistical Atlas of the United States, 1883. Library of Congress.

Back in 2014, Susan Schulten looked at the map that may have started it all: an 1883 choropleth map of the 1880 U.S. presidential results (see above) that shows results not only on a county-by-county basis, but also the amount the winning candidate won by.

The map may not look advanced today, but in 1883 it broke new ground by enabling Americans to visualize the spatial dynamics of political power. Readers responded enthusiastically. One reviewer pointed to the Republican counties in Arkansas—something left invisible on a map of the Electoral College returns—and wondered what other oddities of geography and history might be uncovered when election returns were more systematically measured. In other words, the map revealed spatial patterns and relationships that might otherwise remain hidden, or only known anecdotally. Perhaps its no coincidence that at the same time the two parties began to launch more coordinated, disciplined, nationwide campaigns, creating a system of two-party rule that we have lived with ever since.

(This map also inverts the modern colours for the two main U.S. political parties: here the Democrats are red and the Republicans are blue. Those colours were standardized only fairly recently.) [Geolounge]

Rethinking Election Map Design

Back to Greg Miller, who has a roundup of different kinds of election maps throughout history, including the maps we’ve seen here so far, Andy Woodruff’s value-by-alpha maps (previously) and others.

For other ways of mapping election results, see this gallery of thematic maps, which includes things like 3D choropleth maps, dot density maps, and all kinds of variations on cartograms and choropleth maps. There’s more than one way to map an election. [Andy Woodruff]