Inside NOAA During Trump’s Sharpie Mapmaking Period

Remember the nuttery surrounding President Trump, his erroneous warning that Hurricane Dorian would hit Alabama, and his Sharpie-adjusted hurricane map? That was two whole months ago. It all put NOAA and the National Weather Service in an awkward spot. Mother Jones put in a Freedom of Information Act request for their internal emails and found out just how uncomfortable things were inside NOAA during that period.

Previously: Trump, Maps and Manipulation; ‘A Defilement of a Sacred Trust’.

Old Maps of Montreal

Map of the City of Montreal (1843)
Adolphus Bourne, Map of the City of Montreal, 1843. 36 × 23 cm. Collection Saint-Sulpice, BAnQ.

MTLBlog digs into the digital holdings of the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) to present some vintage maps of Montréal.

The BAnQ has more than 20,000 maps in its digital collection, ranging from the 16th century to the present day; said holdings include maps from before the Conquest, maps of cities, towns and villages (many of them fire insurance maps), and historic topo maps.

Humboldt’s Maps

David Rumsey Map Collection

Writing for Smithsonian.com, Greg Millar looks at the maps of pioneering naturalist Alexander von Humboldt.

What’s often omitted, however, in discussions of Humboldt’s scientific legacy is the role that his pioneering maps and scientific illustrations played in shaping his thinking. By creating visualizations of data that had previously been bound up in tables, Humboldt revealed connections that had eluded others, says historian Susan Schulten of the University of Denver. “He’s really a visual thinker,” she says.

According to Schulten, Humboldt was one of the first scientists to use maps to generate and test scientific hypotheses. One example was his use of what he called “isotherm” lines to indicate regions of the globe with the same average temperature. These lines are ubiquitous on weather maps today, and they seem so obvious we take them for granted. But when Humboldt published a map using them in 1817, it caused scientists to rethink the widely held assumption that the average temperature of a region depends primarily on its latitude. The isotherm lines on Humboldt’s map had ups and downs that deviated from lines of latitude. This prompted him and others to look for explanations, and eventually led to an understanding of how ocean currents, mountain ranges, and other features of geography contribute to local climates.

For more on Humboldt generally, Andrea Wulf’s biography, The Invention of Nature, is a marvellous read.

The Writer’s Map Wins a World Fantasy Award

The Writer’s Map (cover)The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands, which I reviewed on Tor.com last year, has won a World Fantasy Award for its editor, Huw Lewis-Jones.

The 2019 World Fantasy Awards were announced yesterday at the World Fantasy Convention, held this year in Los Angeles; Lewis-Jones won in the Special Award—Professional category.

Winners in each category are decided by a panel of judges.

Previously: The Writer’s Map; More from (and on) The Writer’s Map; Essays on Literary Maps: Treasure Island, Moominland and the Marauder’s Map; David Mitchell on Starting with a Map.

GPS Units: Still a Thing

Wirecutter’s Medea Giordano argues that even in the age of smartphones with built-in map apps, there’s still a place in your car for a dedicated GPS device: “there are cases when a phone just doesn’t cut it—say, in rural areas where coverage is questionable, or if you simply don’t want to drain your phone’s battery and data plan. Or when you’ve just found it frustrating to use a phone for long trips, like I have.”

Mapping the Canadian Election Results: Technical Details

Bothered by the widespread use of Web Mercator by Canadian news outlets to show last week’s election results, Kenneth Field has posted an article that aims to address the problem. Static maps of Canada tend to use a conic projection like the Albers or the Lambert, and that’s the case for print election maps as well. Online interactive maps, on the other hand, use off-the-shelf tools that use Web Mercator, which results in the sparsely populated territories looking even more enormous. But that doesn’t have to be the case, says Ken, who shows us, with a few examples, how use ArcGIS Pro to create interactive maps using a conical projection.

Meanwhile, Mark Gargul writes in response to Ken’s critique of his cartogram of the election results. Mark describes himself as an amateur and readily admits that other cartograms are “clearly more aesthetically pleasing. On the other hand, I was going for something different with my cartogram—specifically, to try to preserve riding-adjacency as much as possible.”

The other thing Mark was going for in his cartogram was to indicate the urban-rural split: metropolitan areas are given a black border: it’s easy to see which ridings are in Montreal or Toronto; seats that are partially urban and partially rural straddle those borders.

So it’s doing several things at once that may not be immediately apparent.

Previously: A Cartogram of Canada’s Election Results; More Canadian Election Maps.

Charles Booth’s London Poverty Maps

Charles Booth’s London Poverty Maps (Thames & Hudson, October) is a look back at Booth’s idiosyncratic and judgey block-by-block survey of poverty and the social classes of late 19th-century London (his maps described the “lowest class” as “vicious, semi-criminal,” for example). The final maps, hand-coloured, are famous in map terms: there was an exhibition back in 2011. The book adds preparatory maps, “selected reproductions of pages from the original notebooks, containing anecdotes related by Londoners of every trade, class, creed and nationality together with observations by Booth’s interviewers that reveal much about their social class and moral views.” Plus essays and infographics to put the whole thing in a modern context. Mapping London has a review.

Related: Map Books of 2019.

The Atlas of Boston History

The Atlas of Boston History (book cover)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.

Related: Map Books of 2019.

Ads and Support

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.

Australia to Eliminate Paper Topographic Maps

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.

(The Canadian government tried something similar back in 2006, but the decision was overturned after a public outcry.)

New Editions of World Atlases

World atlases are still a thing, and the first of this month saw the publication of two new editions of venerable world atlases.

First, the National Geographic Atlas of the World, a new edition of which comes out every four years. This year’s is the 11th.

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!)

As for the Times line of atlases, the most recent to be updated was the third-tier Times Universal Atlas ($50/£80), the 4th edition of which came out in August. Prior to that, the 5th edition of the affordable Times Desktop Atlas ($35/£20) was released in February. The 15th edition of the top-of-range Times Comprehensive Atlas ($200/£150) came out in the fall of 2018: I reviewed it here.

Out Today: Airline Maps

Airline Maps

Out today: Airline Maps: A Century of Art and Design (Particular Books/Penguin), Mark Ovenden and Maxwell Roberts’s book about the history of the airline map—those maps showing where an airline flies that you often see in in-flight magazines.

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.

CityLab has an interview with Ovenden and Roberts about their book. One exchange stuck out:

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.

Ovenden is known to us here at The Map Room: he’s published books about transit map design such as Transit Maps of the World (2007, updated 2015), Paris Underground (2009) and (Great) Railway Maps of the World (2012). Roberts is the author of Underground Maps After Beck (2005) and Underground Maps Unravelled (2017). Taking to the air is a bit of departure for both authors, then.

For another book on this subject, see Paul Jarvis’s Mapping the Airways, which came out in 2016 (previously).

Vanessa Barragão’s Botanical Tapestry

Vanessa Barragão, ”Botanical Tapestry,” 2019. Wool, cotton and jute, 6 m × 2 m. Heathrow Airport, Terminal 2.

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]