The Atlas of Boston History, edited by Boston historian Nancy S. Seasholes, came out last week from the University of Chicago Press. It features 57 full-colour spreads—for a complete list, plus some examples, go here—that trace the city’s history from the post-glacial period to the present day through maps, photos, illustrations and accompanying text from three dozen different contributors. (The maps are original to this volume: this is a historical atlas, not a collection of old maps, in case that needs saying.) Looks impressive and interesting.
The New York Times maps ongoing wildfires in California—and the state of things is that I have to specify which: in 2019; the Easy, Getty and Kincade fires in Ventura, Los Angeles and Sonoma counties, respectively. The page also maps where PG&E engaged in preventative power outages to inhibit the spread of fires.
Updates to Google’s ad system did a number on the layout of this website, spraying ads everywhere, so I’ve disabled ads until I can get that sorted out.
They’ll probably have to come back at some point, because while I like the site without ads, it does cost me money to host this site, and time to work on it. If you like what I do here, this wouldn’t be a bad time to send a few dollars1 toward The Map Room’s hosting bills, or to me directly via Ko-Fi. (Both methods use PayPal; minimum of $10 and $3 respectively.)
As always, your support is not necessary, but it’s greatly appreciated, and I do not take it for granted.
The Australian government agency responsible for printing topographic maps will stop printing them as of December, ABC Australia reports. Geoscience Australia cites a lack of demand for paper maps, but as you can imagine there’s some pushback against the decision.
I have to confess that I’m fond of the National Geographic: compared to other atlases it does its own thing with political maps that eschew coloured relief and explain every little boundary dispute and controversy in little red letters. It’s also enormous, larger in dimension than the Times Comprehensive (though not as heavy) and with a list price of $215/£170 is slightly more expensive. National Geographic’s page doesn’t go into detail as to what changes were made for the 11th edition, which is a pity. (Does it have Eswatini and North Macedonia, for example?)
The Oxford Atlas of the World is a lot smaller and more affordable. At $90, it slots between the Times Universal and Concise atlases in terms of list price, though its page count is that of the more expensive Concise. It’s also updated every year; this year’s edition is the 26th. And the publisher’s page does list some of the updates. (Eswatini and North Macedonia? Yes!)
Hundreds of images span a century of passenger flight, from the rudimentary trajectory of routes to the most intricately detailed birds-eye views of the land to be flown over. Advertisements for the first scheduled commercial passenger flights featured only a few destinations, with stunning views of the countryside and graphics of biplanes. As aviation took off, speed and mileage were trumpeted on bold posters featuring busy routes. Major airlines produced highly stylized illustrations of their global presence, establishing now-classic brands. With trendy and forward-looking designs, cartographers celebrated the coming together of different cultures and made the earth look ever smaller.
But some of the maps in the book are really geometric and straightforward, like transit maps. I’m wondering, how are these airlines dealing with some of the problems of transit maps? For instance, how do you get a lot of lines to a central station, or a hub in terms of air travel?
Roberts: I’m not sure that they do. I’ve actually looked closely at a lot of these airline maps and tried to get my head around them, and actually some make no sense at all. They’re essentially unusable. And that’s the big irony with airline maps: Nobody’s ever used an airline map to plan a journey.
It seems to me that this is because airline maps aren’t transit maps, they’re pictorial maps. Pictorial maps were about promotion and decoration, not navigation.
A massive, six-by-two-metre textile tapestry map of the world is now installed in the departure area of Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 2. It’s called “Botanical Tapestry,” and it’s the work of Portuguese textile artist Vanessa Barragão. It took her 520 hours to make, using different techniques like latch hook, crochet and felt needle to achieve different textures; it also took 42 kg of recycled wool, plus another 8 kg of cotton and jute. [Geography Realm, My Modern Met]
Greg Miller’s crackerjack story in the November 2019 issue of Smithsonian magazine is about the quest to capture German geodetic data—and German geographers—during the dying days of the Second World War. Said data was a strategically critical treasure trove, of immense interest to the U.S. War Department, and the team led by Floyd W. Hough was in a race to find it before it was destroyed, carried away by the enemy, or fell into Soviet hands.
Little is publicly known about the true scope of the information that Hough and his team captured, or the ingenuity they displayed in securing it, because their mission was conducted in secret, and the technical material they seized circulated only among military intelligence experts and academics. But it was a vast scientific treasure—likely the largest cache of geographic data the United States ever obtained from an enemy power in wartime.
Speaking of the Mercator. Maps Mania’s roundup of Canadian election results maps notes that the Canadian media’s interactive maps (e.g. CBC, Global, Globe and Mail) invariably resorted to Web Mercator, largely because of the mapping platform used. (In-house infographics team? Don’t be ridiculous.) Web Mercator is singularly bad for Canadian election maps, because Nunavut: it’s the largest electoral district by area (1.9 million km2) and the smallest by population (31,906). It’s enough of a distortion on the Lambert: Mercator makes it worse.
As for cartograms, Ken hated the one I posted last night; Keir points to Luke Andrews’s Electoral Cartogram of Canada, which is a bit nicer, and uses only one hexagon per riding instead of seven. Keir also points to this animation that shifts between a geographical map and a cartogram. It’s hard to recognize Canada in cartograms, because it’s difficult for us to grasp just how many people live in southern Ontario.
This cartogram shows the seat-by-seat results of the federal election held last Monday in Canada. It was uploaded to Wikipedia by user Mark Gargul to illustrate the 2019 Canadian federal election article, and it’s a welcome departure from the usual election results maps in this country.
Canadian election results maps generally use geographic maps, usually the Lambert conformal conic projection that most maps of Canada use (though sometimes it’s the Mercator!) rather than cartograms. Which means that Canadian maps suffer from the same “empty land doesn’t vote” problem that U.S. maps have, though it’s mitigated by the fact that vast rural and northern seats are often won by different parties: you don’t have the same sea of one colour that you get in the States.
That said, Canada is overwhelmingly urban, and so are its electoral districts. Most election results maps resort to using multiple inset maps to show the urban results. (Elections Canada’s map has 29 of them.) Gargul’s cartogram sidesteps both problems neatly; on the other hand, it’s next to impossible to find your own damn constituency (it’s hidden in the mouseover text). If the disadvantage of empty-land election results maps is that the colours aren’t representative, their advantage is that you can tell what regions voted for whom, at least if you know your geography.
Despite the imminent shutdown of Yahoo Groups, and the lamented demise of MapHist in 2012, discussion lists are still a thing, it seems: H-Net, that venerable purveyor of academic discussion lists since I was in academia, has, with the collaboration of the International Society for the History of the Map, launchedH-Maps, “an international digital forum in the historical study of the making, circulation, use and preservation of maps from the ancient to the contemporary period.” Scholarly in focus, to be sure.
Tony Campbell lists other discussion lists related to map history here.
Fall foliage maps, which show the best times and places to observe autumn leaves, have been a thing for a good long while. The Washington Post’s take on them is something earnestly next level, with a detailed explanation of the biology and satellite images showing the change in colour across the United States. (I don’t need fall foliage maps: I live on an acre of beech and maple forest and get all the fall colours right outside my window, though here in Canada the leaves are almost all on the ground by now.)
It’s been a while since my last post. That’s because I spent most of last week with my head down, working on a presentation about fantasy maps for a science fiction/fantasy convention that took place over the weekend. The presentation was called “The Territory Is Not the Map: Exploring the Fantasy Map Style,” and it drew on the arguments I made in recent Tor.com articles and in this post. Will I let you see it at some point? Possibly, though not likely in its current form: the paint was barely dry on it when I delivered it, though it was quite well received.
It didn’t matter that these places didn’t exist, what mattered was how much people wanted them to. Fictional maps are a visual trace of the ridiculous, undignified passion that we pour into worlds that we know aren’t real. They seem to confirm the ridiculous faith we place in novels—to see one is to say, silently and only to yourself, See? I knew it was real!