In Search of Lost Islands

Three books look at islands that never were.

We expect maps to tell the truth; indeed we need them to on a fierce and primal level. “I believe cartography enjoys an enviable position of credibility and confidence among the people who see it. If you see it mapped, you believe,” wrote Charles Blow last fall; he was writing in response to Trump’s petty defacement of a hurricane forecast map with a marker. The reaction to Trump’s stunt, was, I thought, revealing. It’s part and parcel with what Matthew Edney refers to as the ideal of cartography: striving toward a universal, unbiased and perfect map.

When a map has a mistake on it, when it’s wrong, it does something funny to our heads. We obey our phones and dashboard GPS navigators even when they send us off a cliff. We concoct nutty theories about ancient civilizations because a 16th-century portolan chart had a funny bend on a coastline. We wonder, because someone wrote “here be dragons” on a map, whether dragons were actually real. We make brain pretzels trying to force maps to be truthful even when they are manifestly wrong.1

Maps have to tell the truth. They simply have to. Maybe that’s why stories about mistakes on the map, and the havoc those mistakes cause, fascinate us so much. Which brings me to three books, all published for the first time in 2016, that talk about map errors of an older kind: islands and other features that appeared on maps, sometimes for centuries, that in the end turned out not to exist.

Continue reading “In Search of Lost Islands”

Major Collection of Revolutionary Maps Donated to Mount Vernon Library

Lewis Evans, “A general map of the middle British colonies, in America” (1755). Map, 49 × 65 cm. Richard H. Brown Revolutionary War Map Collection, Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, Mount Vernon.

Mount Vernon’s library is the recipient of a major donation of 18th-century maps, images and other documents pertaining to the American Revolution that is valued at around $12 million. The Richard H. Brown Revolutionary War Map Collection, named for the private collector who donated them, features more than 1,000 items dating from between 1740 and 1799. Of those items, 292 have been digitized so far. Mount Vernon’s Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington took possession of most of the donation last month. [WMS]

How ‘1917’ Found Its Map

CBC News explores how the production team for the First World War epic 1917 consulted McMaster University’s collection of trench maps and aerial photography to produce an authentic replica of a situation map for the movie. The map they used, incidentally, is this one, a situation map showing British and German troop positions around Monchy-le-Preux on 24 April 1917:

McMaster University Library Research Collections

New Interactive Coronavirus Map from the University of Washington

Screenshot from Novel Coronavirus Infection Map
Screenshot

Another interactive map tracking novel coronavirus infections, this one from University of Washington geographer Bo Zhao. Like the Johns Hopkins map (previously), it compiles information from multiple sources.

The country-level data is collected from WHO, while the data of each province in China is collected from multiple sources such as China’s NHC, Mapmiao and Baidu. Notably, we also refer to CDC to verify the virus spreading status in the U.S. To make a timely data and map updates, we collect the data every 4 hours, and verify the data quality per day. In addition, we plan to provide finer-scale data from China (the county level), U.S. (the state level) and Canada (the province level) in the next version.

More at UW News. [Geography Realm]

Previously: Tracking the Wuhan Coronavirus; The Washington Post Maps the Spread of the New Coronavirus.

Brewer Wins Miller Medal

O. M. Miller MedalBelatedly noted, thanks to a story in Penn State News last month: Cynthia Brewer was awarded the American Geographical Society’s O. M. Miller Cartographic Medal at the AGS’s symposium last fall. Brewer, a geography professor at Penn State since 1994, is the author of Designing Better Maps: A Guide for GIS Users (previously) and the creator of the ColorBrewer colour design tool for cartographers. The Miller medal is no minor award: this is only the eighth time it’s been awarded since it was created in 1968; past recipients have included Waldo Tobler, Arthur Robinson, Mark Monmonier and, in 2017, John Hanke and Brian McClendon (basically, the team behind Google Maps). Brewer is the first woman to receive the award.

Kenneth Nebenzahl, 1927-2020

Kenneth NebenzahlAntiquarian map and rare book dealer Kenneth Nebenzahl died last month at the age of 92, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. The author of numerous book about antique maps and map history, most recently (as far as I can tell) Mapping the Silk Road and Beyond: 2,000 Years of Exploring the East (Phaidon, 2011), Nebenzahl also founded the Kenneth Nebenzahl, Jr., Lectures in the History of Cartography, in memory of his son; several of said lecture series have been published by the University of Chicago Press. His obituary. [Tony Campbell]

James Niehues Creates an Amtrak Network Map Full of Ski Hills

James Niehues

James Niehues is legendary for his pictorial maps of ski resorts—a collection of them was published last year—so it’s no surprise that when Amtrak approached him to create a route map for their on-train magazine, The National, he remained true to his particular idiom, “taking a few liberties to highlight the country’s major ski regions—the Great Plains are shrunken, while the Rockies loom large. ‘I hope nobody takes it too seriously,’ he cautions.”

Previously: Book of Niehues Ski Resort Art Now Available; Crowdfunding a Book of James Niehues’s Ski Resort Art; A Video Profile of James Niehues, Ski Resort Map Artist; James Niehues Passes the Torch; James Niehues’s Ski Resort Maps; James Niehues Profile.

Now Live: The Map Books of 2020 Page

The Map Books of 2020 page is now live. It lists all the books scheduled to come out this year—at least the ones I’m aware of. I’ll do my best to keep this page as up to date as possible. If there’s a book coming out in 2020 that should be on this page, let me know: I’m keen to find out about any and all books on cartography, maps and related subjects that are in the works.

Map Books of 2020 (header image)

Inō Tadataka, Surveyor of Japan

National Diet Library

Britain had the Ordnance Survey, France the Cassini family. Japan had Inō Tadataka (伊能 忠敬, 1745-1818), who over a series of expeditions in the early 19th century conducted a systematic survey of Japan using modern techniques. Writing for Nippon.com, Inō’s biographer, Hoshino Yoshihisa, writes a long introduction to Inō’s life and work that is well worth the read. [Tony Campbell]

For more on the history of Japanese cartography, see Cartographic Japan, a collection of academic essays edited by Kären Wigen, Sugimoto Fumiko and Cary Karacas that was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2016.

99 Smartphones Create Virtual Traffic Jam

Simon Weckert created a virtual traffic jam in Berlin by pulling 99 used smartphones in a wagon: a large number of phones moving slowly looks like a traffic jam to Google Maps. “Through this activity, it is possible to turn a green street red which has an impact in the physical world by navigating cars on another route to avoid being stuck in traffic.”

Google’s statement to 9to5Google suggests that they’re taking Simon’s hack in stride: “Traffic data in Google Maps is refreshed continuously thanks to information from a variety of sources, including aggregated anonymized data from people who have location services turned on and contributions from the Google Maps community. We’ve launched the ability to distinguish between cars and motorcycles in several countries including India, Indonesia and Egypt, though we haven’t quite cracked traveling by wagon. We appreciate seeing creative uses of Google Maps like this as it helps us make maps work better over time.”

So people fed up with traffic being rerouted onto their residential streets could, conceivably, hack that traffic elsewhere—but not for much longer.

Unified Geologic Map of the Moon

A new unified geologic map of the Moon, based on digital renovations that updated 1970s-era geologic maps to match more recent topographic and image data gathered by lunar orbiters, was released by the USGS last month. The map is “a seamless, globally consistent, 1:5,000,000-scale geologic map”; the paper version (25 MB JPEG) provides azimuthal projections beyond the 55th parallels and an equirectangular projection between the 57th parallels. [Geography Realm]

Previously: Lunar Geology and the Apollo Program.

Apple’s New Maps Now Cover the Entire United States

Last year Apple rolled out its new map data in stages, with new coverage being added on a state-by-state or region-by-region basis. Yesterday Apple announced that its new map data now covers the entire United States (except, Justin O’Beirne points out, the territories). This is slightly later than the end-of-2019 target they’d been aiming for. Europe is scheduled to start receiving the new map data this year.

Matthew Panzarino, who broke the news in 2018 that Apple was building its own map data, said in a tweet that “Maps is probably the biggest software turnaround in Apple’s modern era—an interesting case study for a company that rarely needs turnaround efforts.”

Previously: Apple Maps Data Being Completely Rebuilt for iOS 12; A Look at the Rebuilt Apple Maps; Apple Maps at WWDC 2019: New Map Data, Look Around and More; Apple’s New Map Data Rolls Out Region by Region.