Conserving Old Maps

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]

Google Maps as Non-State Authority

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

[via]

David Rumsey Map Center at Stanford Opens April 19

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]

Here’s a page previewing the Center. Here’s a short video:

Previously: Rumsey Donates Maps to Stanford.

Washington State Senator Seeks Removal of Offensive Place Names

A Washington state senator, Pramila Jayapal, is pushing for some three dozen racially charged place names to be changed (her press release). A list and map of the place names is here. From the Crosscut article:

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.

Relevant to this issue is Mark Monmonier’s 2006 book, From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow: How Maps Name, Claim and Inflame (Amazon, iBooks), which I reviewed when it was released: its third chapter deals with removing racially pejorative names from the map. [via]

The Medieval Origins of Thrór’s Map

thror-cotton

In my 2013 article on fantasy maps for The New York Review of Science Fiction, I noted that J. R. R. Tolkien’s two maps from The Hobbit were much more like real-world medieval maps than typical fantasy maps usually are. Medieval scholar Thijs Porck explores how Thrór’s map, in particular, is quite similar to the 11th-century Cotton World Map.

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’.

[via]

The Washington Post on Google Maps Errors

“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]

McKinlay: ‘Use or Lose Our Navigation Skills’

Writing in Nature, Roger McKinlay notes the complexity, infrastructure requirements (i.e., cost) and limitations of modern navigation technology and argues that people “should make better use of our innate capabilities. Machines know where they are, not the best way to get to a destination; it might be more reliable to employ a human driver than to program an autonomous car to avert crashes. If we do not cherish them, our natural navigation abilities will deteriorate as we rely ever more on smart devices.” [via]

San Serriffe

San SerriffeOn 1 April 1977, the Guardian published something that has become known as one of the finest April Fool’s gags in history: a seven-page supplement about the fictional, “semi-colonial” island of San Serriffe, complete with a map (at right) full of typographic puns and gags. The Guardian has a page on the gag and has reprinted a couple of the articles here and herethe Museum of Hoaxes has scans of the entire supplement.

Site Stats for March 2016

In March, 30 readers supported The Map Room by contributing a total of $332: 10 contributed $62 via buying me a coffee and 20 contributed $270 to my web hosting fees. My thanks to you all for your support.

WordPress says The Map Room got 11,742 views and 5,978 visitors in March. Those numbers don’t include legacy archive pages (another 2,900 or so views), RSS subscribers (about 1,200), or people using a blocker (see my privacy policy). They’re about even with February’s numbers.

The most popular post in March: Map Colours and Colour Blindness. Coming a close second: Super Tuesday Results by County.

March’s bestselling book (as determined by orders via this site’s affiliate links) is, by a large margin, Gretchen Peterson’s City Maps: A Coloring Book for Adults (see post).

Thirteen Years, With a Bit of a Gap

Just realized that today marks The Map Room’s thirteenth anniversary. (There was, of course, the 54-month interruption between June 2011 and this past January, so it doesn’t mean thirteen continuous years—unless you count the occasional map posts on my personal blog, on Twitter and on Facebook. But I maunder. In any event, another milestone.)

Brian Staveley on Fantasy Maps

stewart-annuran
Isaac Stewart, map from The Last Mortal Bond. 2016.

To mark the publication of The Last Mortal Bond (Amazon, iBooks), the final volume in his Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne trilogy, Brian Staveley has penned this essay on the value of maps in fantasy fiction. Excerpts:

A map is more than a two-dimensional catalogue of locations. First, and most importantly, it is a promise. By mapping a world, or a continent, or even a city, a writer assures his/her readers that their imagination has ranged well beyond the boundaries of their particular story, that they have imagined, not just the room in which the scene takes place, but the street beyond that room, the political structure responsible for building those streets and maintaining them, the agricultural system on which that political structure rests, the natural resources that undergird that system, and all the rest. […]

last-mortal-bondFinally, maps provide a lens through which to view the events of the story. Every map, after all, contains the biases of the mapmaker, and while cartography might like to lay a claim to objectivity, there can be no objectivity in an artifact that excludes a thousand-fold the amount of information that it contains. Does a map contain political boundaries or landforms? What demographic information does it convey? Religion? Age? Ethnicity? What does it elide? What landforms are depicted? Which are excluded? Do those confident dotted lines obscure ongoing conflicts? No map can escape these deliberations, and even the most thoughtful cartography can’t offer the absolute truth, only a perspective on that truth. One reason I spend so much time studying a map before I read the book that follows is that I’m curious about that perspective. I get a glimpse before I even begin, into what the writer thinks is important about their own story.

The Design Details of Interactive Maps

Axis Maps’s Dave Heyman offers some advice on interactive map design—specifically, on the details, like colour usage and data interfaces. “Academic cartography provides good guidelines for thematic cartography, but interactivity and user-interface design are often ‘I know it when I see it’ type of things. What follows are 4 quick design concepts and techniques that can be applied in many situations to improve the look and feel of an interactive map.” [via]

New National Maps of Switzerland

swiss-topo

Switzerland is updating its official map series. The new maps are digitally based and use new fonts, symbols and colours—railways, for example, are now in red. They replace the 1:25,000 series that dates back to the 1950s; all 247 sheets should be replaced by 2019. You can compare the old and new map designs on this interactive map (screencap above). [via]