Navigation: A Very Short Introduction

The problem with Jim Bennett’s Navigation: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, May 2017) is summed up in its subtitle: it’s very short, and it’s only an introduction.

Part of Oxford University Press’s Very Short Introductions series, Navigation discusses the tools and methods used by mariners and navigators to find their way across the seas, beginning with various cultures’ ancient navigational techniques, moving through tools like cross-staffs, backstaffs and octants, dealing with the matter of longitude (on which Bennett has some opinions regarding the popular narrative), before wrapping up, too briefly, with modern techologies like radio beacons, inertial navigation and GPS.

There are some illustrations that are a great help in understanding concepts and tools whose use is not immediately obvious, but, as the subtitle suggests, this is not a book that goes into much depth. At only 144 pages—20 percent of which is taken up by front matter, glossary and index—it can only give the barest of introductions to the subject. That can be maddening for the reader, particularly when its coverage is so uneven: there’s a fair bit on the tools and techniques used during the age of sail, but only a paragraph on LORAN and Loran-C, for example. Another frustration is Bennett’s extremely discursive style, as though he were giving a posh invited lecture; I kept feeling that more could have been included had his prose been tightened up.

All the same, there’s value in a book that styles itself, modestly, as an introduction. An introduction is where you begin. It’s the first step, not the finish line. It sets out the parameters of the field and gives you just enough to know what’s out there. For someone like me, it tells me where the gaps are in my knowledge. To paraphrase someone, it lets you know what you do not know. It tells you where to go next: the most useful part of the book may well be its “Further Reading” section; you just need the preceding 116 pages of text to know how to use it.

And for all my concerns about brevity and prose, it’s a good deal more accessible, and easier to read, than the equivalent Wikipedia page—and it went through an editorial process, too. And while it’s not free, it’s very modestly priced. So I have no regrets about buying it.

Amazon | iBooks

Book Roundup for January 2018

Augustine Herrman’s Chesapeake

Augustine Hermann, Henry Faithorne, and Thomas Withinbrook. Virginia and Maryland as it is planted and inhabited this present year 1670, 1673. Map on four sheets, 80 × 95 cm. Library of Congress.

A Biography of a Map in Motion: Augustine Herrman’s Chesapeake by Christian J. Koot, out last month from NYU Press, is an exploration of an iconic map—Virginia and Maryland as it is planted and inhabited this present year 1670 (see above)—and the mapmaker behind it, Augustine Herrman. “[T]he map pictures the Mid-Atlantic in breathtaking detail, capturing its waterways, coastlines, and communities. Herrman spent three decades travelling between Dutch New Amsterdam and the English Chesapeake before eventually settling in Maryland and making this map. Although the map has been reproduced widely, the history of how it became one of the most famous images of the Chesapeake has never been told.”

Monsters on the Map

Surekha Davies’s Renaissance Ethnography and the Invention of the Human: New Worlds, Maps and Monsters (Cambridge University Press) came out in June 2016 (see previous entry). In this podcast episode, Davies speaks with host Michael Robinson about the nature of monsters on old maps, and what they meant to contemporary map readers. Runs 28 minutes and is fascinating listening.

New Books in January 2018

Out this month:

  1. Jeremy Black’s Geographies of an Imperial Power: The British World, 1688-1815 (Indiana University Press), an exploration of “the interconnected roles of power and geography in the creation of a global empire.”
  2. Caren Kaplan’s Aerial Aftermaths: Wartime from Above (Duke University Press), a book about the military uses of aerial imagery that explores “how aerial views operate as a form of world-making tied to the times and places of war.”
  3. The Clyde: Mapping the River by John Moore (Birlinn), a book of maps of “arguably the most evocative of Scottish rivers,” came out in the U.K. last October but is available in North America as of this month.

Map Books of 2018

Finally, the Map Books of 2018 page is now live. This is the page I list all the books scheduled to come out this year. It’s constantly in flux as publication dates change and new books are brought to my attention. If there’s a book coming out in 2018 that should be on this page, let me know.

Two More Books for 2017

The year 2017 is almost at an end, but two more map books, published last month, have just come to my attention (via, as usual, the WMS’s indefatigable Bert Johnson). These, then, are very late additions to the Map Books of 2017 page:

Sad Topographies by Damien Rudd (Simon & Schuster), who “journeys across continents in search of the world’s most joyless place names and their fascinating etymologies.” This appears to be an outgrowth of the author’s sadtopographies Instagram account.1

New Lines: Critical GIS and the Trouble of the Map by Matthew W. Wilson (University of Minnesota Press). “Seeking to bridge a foundational divide within the discipline of geography—between cultural and human geographers and practitioners of Geographic Information Systems (GIS)—Wilson suggests that GIS practitioners may operate within a critical vacuum and may not fully contend with their placement within broader networks, the politics of mapping, the rise of the digital humanities, the activist possibilities of appropriating GIS technologies, and more.”

A Book Roundup

The Routledge Handbook

Out last month, the expensive, 600-page Routledge Handbook of Mapping and Cartography (Routledge). Edited by Alexander J. Kent (who co-wrote The Red Atlas) and Peter Vujakovic, the book “draws on the wealth of new scholarship and practice in this emerging field, from the latest conceptual developments in mapping and advances in map-making technology to reflections on the role of maps in society. It brings together 43 engaging chapters on a diverse range of topics, including the history of cartography, map use and user issues, cartographic design, remote sensing, volunteered geographic information (VGI), and map art.” [The History of Cartography Project]

New Academic Books

New academic books on maps and cartography published over the past couple of months include:

More on Books We’ve Heard of Before

National Geographic interviews Malachy Tallack, the author of The Un-Discovered Islands, and The Guardian shares seven maps from James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti’s Where the Animals Go.

Related: Map Books of 2017.

Literature and Cartography

Here’s a book that, given my interest in maps and literature, I’ll have to track down: Literature and Cartography: Theories, Histories, Genres, edited by Anders Engberg-Pedersen and featuring contributions from 15 other authors. “Literary authors have frequently called on elements of cartography to ground fictional space, to visualize sites, and to help readers get their bearings in the imaginative world of the text. Today, the convergence of digital mapping and globalization has spurred a cartographic turn in literature. This book gathers leading scholars to consider the relationship of literature and cartography. Generously illustrated with full-color maps and visualizations, it offers the first systematic overview of an emerging approach to the study of literature.” Out today from The MIT Press. [Amazon]

2017 Holiday Gift Guide

2017 Holiday Gift Guide

Every year at about this time I post a gift guide that lists some of the noteworthy books about maps that have been published this year. If you have a map-obsessed person in your life and would like to give them something map-related—or you are a map-obsessed person and would your broad hints to have a link—this guide may give you some ideas.

Once again I’ve done my best to organize the books by theme. This is not a complete list of what’s been published in 2017. That’s what the Map Books of 2017 page is for: that page includes many, many other books that might also suggest themselves as gift possibilities.

Recommended

It shouldn’t be a secret that I haven’t seen or read everything on these lists; I go by what information is publicly available. But two books I have seen, and can recommend. Both Stephen J. Hornsby’s Picturing America: The Golden Age of Pictorial Maps (reviewed here) and The Red Atlas: How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World by John Davies and Alex Kent (reviewed here) are beautiful collections of historically significant maps with informative accompanying text.

Continue reading “2017 Holiday Gift Guide”

Nowherelands

A book I missed hearing about earlier: Bjørn Berge’s Nowherelands: An Atlas of Vanished Countries 1840-1975 (Thames and Hudson, October 2017). Another in the line of books about obscure, unusual and out-of-the-way places, this one focuses on countries that really did exist, but only for a little while. From the publisher:

Some of their names, such as Biafra or New Brunswick, will be relatively familiar. Others, such as Labuan, Tannu Tuva and Inini, are far less recognizable. But all of these lost nations have fascinating stories to tell, whether they were as short-lived as Eastern Karelia, which lasted only a few weeks during the Soviet–Finnish War of 1922, or as long-lasting as the Orange Free State, a Boer Republic that celebrated fifty years as an independent state in the late 1800s. Their broad spectrum reflects the entire history of the 19th and 20th centuries, with its ideologies, imperialism, waves of immigration and conflicts both major and minor.

Via James Cheshire’s Ultimate Gift List for Map Lovers, which you should check out while I’m working on mine.

The Red Atlas

During the second half of the twentieth century, the Soviet Union’s military and civilian cartographers created topographical maps of the entire world of a very high standard of quality and accuracy. How they did so, and why, remains in large part a mystery, one that John Davies and Alexander J. Kent’s new book, The Red Atlas: How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World (University of Chicago Press, October) fails to solve completely.

The Red Atlas is not the definitive history of those Soviet mapping efforts because so much about those efforts remains a secret. The only reason we know about them is because, in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, so many physical copies of those once-highly secret maps fell into the hands of map collectors. The Red Atlas talks about that: for more than a decade, Davies and Kent have been studying those maps. (I’ve been following their work. See the links at the bottom of this post for my earlier posts on the subject.) What they know about the Soviet mapping efforts—sources, methods, their reason for doing it—is extrapolated from the final product of those effort: the maps. The Red Atlas is above all else an exercise in cartographic forensics.

Continue reading “The Red Atlas”

Londonist Mapped

Londonist Mapped: Hand Drawn Maps for the Curious Explorer came out last month from AA Publishing. (It’ll be out in North America next February.) Londonist describes their book thusly: “The book presents dozens of beautiful maps of the capital, from historic plans to specially commissioned art. Here you’ll find maps of lost Victorian buildings, little-known musical history, subterranean London and many more. The book also includes a reprint of our popular Anglo-Saxon London map.” I wonder if it includes “Bridges of London.” [WMS]

Picturing America: The Golden Age of Pictorial Maps

With Picturing America: The Golden Age of Pictorial Maps (University of Chicago Press, March 2017), Stephen J. Hornsby makes the case for the pictorial map as a distinct and significant genre of mapmaking that is worthy of study and preservation.

Because pictorial maps were artistic rather than scientific, Hornsby argues, they were ignored as a subject of cartographic study—“treated as ephemera, the flotsam and jetsam of an enormous sea of popular culture.”1 As such they have not been preserved to the same extent as more strictly cartographic maps. (Being printed on cheap acid paper didn’t help.) But as products of popular culture they were distinctive—and ubiquitous. “By World War II,” he writes, “pictorial maps had created a powerful visual image of the United States and were beginning to reimagine the look of the world for a mass consumer audience.”2 They were so prevalent, I suppose, that they were invisible. Taken for granted. It frequently falls to the historian of popular culture to point out that the common and everyday is, in fact, significant. That’s what Hornsby is doing here.

Continue reading “Picturing America: The Golden Age of Pictorial Maps”

Map Books of 2017 Updated

I’ve finally updated the Map Books of 2017 page to account for all the books that were brought to my attention over the past few months.

Later this month it’ll be time for me to post the 2017 edition of The Map Room’s Holiday Gift Guide. Each year I put out a list of some of the noteworthy books about maps that have been published over the previous year. This year’s guide will be a rather smaller selection of the above list, focused on gift-giving (academic monographs and GIS manuals make less-than-ideal gifts, I’m thinking); the Map Books of 2017 page is meant to be more comprehensive.

A Book Roundup

Writing for the Globe and Mail, Charlotte Grey reviews two recent Canadian books about mapmaking and mapmakers, both of which came out last month: Adam Shoalts’s History of Canada in Ten Maps (which I reviewed here last month) and Barbara Mitchell’s Mapmaker: Philip Turnor in Rupert’s Land in the Age of Enlightenment. Mitchell and her book also get local-author coverage from kawarthaNOW.

Meanwhile, All Over the Map’s coverage of The Red Atlas continues with this look at Soviet posters used to train cartographers.

It looks like posters from Andrew DeGraff’s Cinemaps are available for sale: not just prints (which go for around $55-85), but originals (which go for rather more).

Canada Before Confederation

Written by Chet Van Duzer and Lauren Beck, Canada Before Confederation: Maps at the Exhibition (Vernon Press, July 2017) explores 18 maps from the 16th through the 18th century. The book accompanies an exhibition of (presumably the same) maps and a conference, Canada Before Confederation: Early Exploration and Mapping, which takes place next month, 13-14 November, at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Nova Scotia (preliminary conference program). The back cover copy mentions that the map exhibition has travelled or is travelling to several other locations, but I haven’t been able to find any online; if anyone knows where else it’s been, let me know and I’ll update this post. [WMS]

More New Map Books for October 2017

It’s an even busier month than I thought for map book publishing. In addition to the eight books I told you about earlier this month, plus the two new editions of the Times Mini and Reference atlases, here are three more map-related books that were published this month:

  1. Atlas of Nebraska by J. Clark Archer et al. (Bison Books). “Far more than simply the geography of Nebraska, this atlas explores a myriad of subjects from Native Americans to settlement patterns, agricultural ventures to employment, and voting records to crime rates.” [Amazon]
  2. Bermuda Maps by Jonathan Land Evans (National Museum of Bermuda Press), a look at Bermuda’s cartographic history back to the 1600s. Available directly from the National Museum of Bermuda; I’m not sure where to get it off-island.
  3. Explorer’s Atlas: For the Incurably Curious by Piotr Wilkowiecki and Michał Gaszyński (HarperCollins UK). Illustrated large-format book full of factoids. There’s an accompanying wall map. Published in the U.K.; available elsewhere through resellers. [Amazon UK]

Previously: New Map Books for October 2017New Editions of Two Smaller Times Atlases (One Very Small Indeed).

Update (30 Oct.): Jonathan Land Evans writes with information on overseas orders for his book, Bermuda Maps: “The most direct way by which people overseas may order copies is by e-mailing bookmart@psl.bm, as the museum now uses The Bookmart bookstore in Bermuda for all order-fulfillment involving shipping to addresses outside Bermuda. The hardback book is a large one, handsomely illustrated in colour, and costs $65 plus postage.”