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]
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.
BatiParis is an online map that shows the age of buildings in Paris (most of which, it reveals, were built between 1851 and 1914.) A note on the interface: clicking on the legend toggles the period of construction, so clicking on a date range removes it from the map the first time. [via]
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.
Project Ukko visualizes seasonal wind predictions, i.e., the amount of wind that is forecasted for the upcoming season. It’s the sort of thing the wind generation industry would find useful. But such a prosaic purpose is belied by the breathtaking way in which the data is visualized. [via]
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.
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]
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.
The Local profiles 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]
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?