London’s Population Versus …

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There’s a certain kind of map found all over the Internet that drives me nuts. It’s the map that compares two geographic regions by labelling one with the other: show that this U.S. state has the same GDP as that country by labelling with that country (or better yet, its flag). But the comparisons can get awfully recondite: labelling the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul with Zimbabwe’s flag because they have similar populations is cute but ultimately useless, unless you have some familiarity with both Rio Grande do Sul and Zimbabwe. They’re bad maps because they’re not really informative—they’re just showing off.

But the problem isn’t necessarily the format. For an exception to the above, see TimeOut London’s maps of London. The first map (above) shows London’s population size by illustrating how many other cities’ populations could be crammed inside London’s boundaries; the same is done with greater metropolitan areas, U.S. cities, Scotland and Wales, and other countries. These maps work because a British-based reader will have some sense of what’s being compared to London: they’re not, in other words, esoteric comparisons. [via]

Fuller: London Town

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Fuller, London Town, 2005–2015. Black ink on archival cotton board, 91 cm × 116 cm.

Fuller’s London Town is a pen-and-ink masterpiece of detail that took ten years to create. Unveiled last October, it’s been making the exhibition rounds and is currently at the Hoxtown Gallery in Holborn, London until April 30th. It’s also included, along with his map of Bristol, in Mind the Map, a collection of map art that came out last September from GestaltenPrints of his work are also available: a print of London Town costs £600 or £2,500 depending on the size. More about Fuller (whose real name is Gareth Wood) here. [via]

Paula Scher: U.S.A.

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Paula Scher, U.S. Geography and Climate, 2014. Acrylic on hand-pulled silkscreen, 36¾″ × 54⅛″.

U.S.A., a new exhibition of Paula Scher’s map art, opened last week at the Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery in New York. From the press release:

For this exhibition, Scher has created a body of large-scale cartographic paintings focusing on the United States. Paintings as tall as seven feet depict the country swirling in torrents of information and undulating with colorful layers of hand-painted boundary lines, place names, and commentary. Different sets of data—population demographics, transportation flows, geography, and climate—are employed to make connections and establish patterns. While the information can in no way be interpreted as literal fact, the expression of it demonstrates a personalized understanding of the diversity of the United States.

The exhibition runs until March 26. More on the exhibition from Slate and Mental Floss. The New Yorker has a new profile of Paula Scher, a renowned graphic designer who’s been painting these distinctive maps in her spare time.

scher-mapsA book of her map art, Paula Scher: MAPS, was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.

Previously: New Paula Scher Exhibition; Paula Scher: The Maps.

The North Carolina Civil War Atlas

NC Civil War Atlas Cover PROOF 3The result of a decade’s worth of research, The Old North State at War: The North Carolina Civil War Atlas, written by Mark Anderson Moore with Jessica Bandel and Michael Hill, is now available. The book “is a comprehensive study of the impact of the war on the Tar Heel State, incorporating 99 newly prepared maps. The large format (17″ by 11″) volume highlights every significant military engagement and analyzes the war’s social, economic and political consequences through tables, charts and text.” Produced by the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, it can be ordered through their online store, at the North Carolina Museum of History or selected state historic sites. Read historian John David Smith’s review in The News & Observer. [via]

The Social Life of Maps

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Elizabeth Mosier reports on a talk last Saturday by University of Delaware English professor Martin Brückner. “Using images from the exhibit he curated at Winterthur Museum (viewable online at http://commondestinations.winterthur.org), Brückner traced maps from production to purchase to public display and personal use, as they became fashionable objects in the period before and after the Revolutionary War,” Mosier writes.

In the 18th century, maps were everywhere: advertised with luxury goods in catalogs and with necessities in the newspaper, displayed in taverns and town halls and high-traffic areas in private homes, printed on parlor screens and ceramics and neckties—“cartifacts” serving no cartographic purpose. If political conflict built the market for maps, the cartouche—or decorative map title—refined it, adding beauty to the criteria for determining a map’s value. The brisk business in maps for navigating and decorating redefined what constituted their usefulness, in material and social terms. Owning a map meant economic status, educational achievement, and national identity; showing a map showed you belonged.

This is the “performative function” of maps, to create reality by plotting it.

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Brückner is the author or editor of several books on the subject of the social history of maps in early America, including The Geographic Revolution in Early America: Early Maps, Literacy, and National Identity (UNC Press, 2006). I should really check his work (and Susan Schulten’s) out; my own graduate work was going to be on the social function of music, so the social function of maps is relevant to my interests for more than one reason. [via]

‘Could Society’s Embrace of GPS Be Eroding Our Cognitive Maps?’

Earlier this month in the New York Times, Greg Milner looked at something that was a frequent subject during The Map Room’s first life: people getting themselves lost by blindly following their GPS units (or satnavs, as the British call them).

Could society’s embrace of GPS be eroding our cognitive maps? For Julia Frankenstein, a psychologist at the University of Freiburg’s Center for Cognitive Science, the danger of GPS is that “we are not forced to remember or process the information—as it is permanently ‘at hand,’ we need not think or decide for ourselves.” She has written that we “see the way from A to Z, but we don’t see the landmarks along the way.” In this sense, “developing a cognitive map from this reduced information is a bit like trying to get an entire musical piece from a few notes.” GPS abets a strip-map level of orientation with the world.

[via]

pinpointMilner is the author of the forthcoming book Pinpoint: How GPS Is Changing Technology, Culture, and Our Minds (W. W. Norton, May 2016): pre-order at Amazon or iBooks.

For another look at how GPS may be affecting our brains’ ability to navigate, see “Global Impositioning Systems,” a long read by Alex Hutchinson in the November 2009 issue of The Walrus, which I told you about in 2011.

 

George Washington, Mapmaker

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George Washington, A plan of Alexandria, now Belhaven, 1749. Pen and ink, 36×44 cm. Library of Congress.

Last week, Slate’s Rebecca Onion looked at the surveying and mapmaking career of George Washington. Her main source is this page by the Library of Congress’s Edward Redmond. “Beginning with his early career as a surveyor and throughout his life as a soldier, planter, businessman, land speculator, farmer, military officer, and president, Washington relied on and benefitted from his knowledge of maps. Between 1747 and 1799 Washington surveyed over two hundred tracts of land and held title to more than sixty-five thousand acres in thirty-seven different locations,” Redmond writes. Here’s a list of Washington’s maps—drawn by him, drawn by others according to his sketches, or of property owned by him—held by the Library of Congress. [via]

Mainers Speak Out on the DeLorme Atlas

The issue of whether the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer will survive DeLorme’s purchase by Garmin continues to be of concern to Maine residents. The Bangor Daily News last Thursday:

Some Mainers consider DeLorme’s Atlas and Gazetteer their own backwoods bibles. The collection of maps works perfectly for planning expeditions afield, and can prompt plenty of discussion around a wood stove after a long day of hunting or fishing.

When the BDN asked for readers to share their thoughts on the iconic map book, dozens responded, telling us how much the maps have mattered to them.

[via]

Previously: ‘Keep Your Hands Off My Gazetteer’Maine Reacts to DeLorme’s Acquisition by Garmin.

Null Island

zero-zeroZero degrees longitude, zero degrees latitude is literally nowhere: situated in the middle of the open ocean, off the coast of Africa in the Gulf of Guinea, the only thing to mark its presence is a weather observation buoy [via]. But it’s also a significant set of coordinates, in that it’s the location you might get in the case of geocoding errors.

Hence the invention of Null Island, an imaginary place to flag geocoding failures. It shows up in version 1.3 of Natural Earth, for example, as an island one square metre in size, but coded so that it would never appear in an actual map. Gary Vicchi explains Null Island in more detail. As is the way of fictional places, Null Island has grown in the imagination: it has its own website, replete with sections on its history, geography, people and economy, and its own flag.

Around Switzerland in 80 Maps

The Local profilesaround-switzerland-80-maps Lausanne-based game and book company Helvetiq, which last year published Diccon Bewes’s Around Switzerland in 80 Maps. Those maps range, according to the publisher, “from the circular island map of 1480 to the birth of modern Swiss cartography; from the British rail plan for Switzerland to a Soviet map of Basel during the Cold War; from the 1970s Zurich map for men to the vision of a Greater Switzerland with 40 cantons.” Buy at Amazon. [via]

‘A Form of Cartophobia’

Benjamin Hennig calls on social scientists to “rediscover maps and other forms of geographical visualization”:

It is interesting to consider how far the discipline of human geography appears to have distanced itself from maps over recent times, resulting almost in a form of cartophobia. Several papers over the last years showed a decline in map use and mapping practices in high-profile geographic journals. Cartographic skills as a natural expertise of a geographer seems to have vanished in many places, as have the theoretical and practical elements of geographic data visualization. Do many geographers ‘prefer to write theory rather than employ critical visualizations’, as Perkins (2004: 385) notes?