In February 2019 a conference on the blurred line between factual and fictitious mapping in history, Mapping the Global Imaginary, 1500-1900, took place at Stanford University’s David Rumsey Map Center. Which I somehow missed. But no worries: videos of the conference panels are available online (see above for the first one), as is the talk by the keynote speaker, Sumathi Ramaswamy.
Two recent posts at the British Library’s Maps and Views Blog provide “a whistle-stop tour through maps held in the British Library that chart Antarctica’s gradual emergence from obscurity into light.” The first covers maps of Antarctica through the nineteenth century, when the continent went from unknown to unexplored; the second the twentieth century, where maps of the continent “[reflect] the switch made by cartography to digital data from the latter part of the twentieth century.”
Tom Patterson’s latest project is a map of the physical features of the contiguous United States.
This map showcases physical features—mountains, plains, rivers, lakes, etc.—of the 48 contiguous US states. Map colors reflect natural environments across the continent from the forested east to the snowcapped Rockies to the desert southwest. You will also find a smattering of cities and faint state lines for reference.
Emphasis on smattering: there are only enough human features—cities and borders—to orient the reader; the focus is on bodies of water and landforms.
It’s freely available and in the public domain: it can be downloaded, shared and modified.
“The Monsters of Maps,” a 10-minute video by Richard Tilney-Bassett, explores the late-19th- and early-20th-century phenomenon of “serio-comic” or caricature maps, which are no stranger to us here. In the video Richard wonders what a modern-day caricature map would look like; I’d point him to the work of Andy Davey (see here and here).
A blog post from the National Library of Wales explores how sensitive military and industrial sites were omitted from the published versions of Ordnance Survey maps.
The removal of military installations from OS maps was at its height in the 19th century and the World Wars, but throughout the Cold War and beyond, many sensitive sites were left off the maps entirely. It took the public availability of high-resolution satellite imagery at the turn of the 21st century to render this type of censorship largely ineffective, although labels are still omitted in some cases.
The Ordnance Survey did survey and map sensitive sites, but those maps were military-only. The differences between these military maps and the public maps make for a number of interesting comparisons: see the post for examples.
The Bodleian’s Map Room Blog (no relation) has a post about the “unsung heroes” of mapmaking: the engravers.
Until the nineteenth century, virtually all printed maps were produced by engraving the map on a sheet of copper—or later on, steel—as a mirror image of how the finished map would look. The plate was then inked and the image printed onto a sheet of paper in a printing press. This was incredibly skilled work, but often only very discreetly acknowledged, the engraver’s name appearing in tiny, modest letters in the bottom margin.
Identifying the engravers for cataloguing purposes—something a library like the Bodleian tries to do—can be a challenge.
Yesterday’s Guardian had an interview with Slovak designer Martin Vargic, whom you may remember for his 2015 book Vargic’s Miscellany of Curious Maps [Amazon, Bookshop]. In this interview, Vargic talks about his various projects—he’s been doing this since he was eight, and was a teenager when Miscellany was published. One imagines there’s a bit of a career ahead for him.
Meanwhile, Andrew Liptak wrote about Vargic’s “Map of the Literature II” at Tor.com last October. In November Vargic’s second book, Vargic’s Curious Cosmic Compendium, came out in the U.K. from Michael Joseph.
Previously: Vargic’s Miscellany of Curious Maps.
As I’ve said before, the subject of empty spaces on maps is of considerable interest to my own research on fantasy maps: fantasy maps tend to be full of empty spaces not germane to the story, whereas real-world maps were covered in cartouches, sea monsters, and ribbons of text. As a result I’m very interested in what Van Duzer has to say about the subject, and have been looking for something exactly like this recorded talk for some time.
I wasn’t disappointed. Van Duzer lays out, with some particularly over the top examples, how empty spaces on maps were consumed (his term) by text, ships, sea monsters and other embellishments that were designed for that very purpose. Some of those embellishments were absolutely enormous, others curiously redundant: a single map does not need four identical scales or a dozen or more compass roses, for example. “Everything we’re seeing here was a choice on the part of the cartographer,” he says at one point; “all this information could be disposed differently.”
Previously: Horror Vacui: The Fear of Blank Spaces.
In the travel section of yesterday’s New York Times, map illustrator Nate Padavick offers a way to make lemonade from travel-restriction lemons with a short guide to making an illustrated map (pictorial map, map illustration—the terms are roughly interchangeable) of a favourite place—a neighbourhood, a vacation spot, “a place you’ve never been.”
The rigid and scientific rules of cartography simply do not apply here! Nope. While an illustrated map is often a wildly useless tool for providing directions, it can be a beautiful and highly personal reflection of a place you, friends and family know quite well. It can tell a story, a personal history, or be a unique lens through which one can experience a special place. An illustrated map can be loose and hand-drawn, filled with fun drawings and doodles that together make a sometimes inaccurate, but always spot on record of a memory or a place from one’s own perspective.
“Mapping a Better Tomorrow” is a 30-minute film produced in 1971 to explain the work of the U.S. Army Topographic Command (TOPOCOM). After explaining maps from first principles, it covers the state of the art in terms of cartography, computer mapping, photogrammetry and surveying circa 1971, including the production of topographic maps, maps of the Moon and maps of, erm, southeast Asia. Since U.S. government publications are public domain, it’s available in several locations, including the Internet Archive (above), DailyMotion and Vimeo.
TOPOCOM itself had a short history. Created in 1968 (PDF) as the successor to the U.S. Army Map Service, it lasted less than four years before being merged into the Defense Mapping Agency (DMA) in 1972. Which in turn was merged into the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) in 1996. Which in turn was renamed the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) in 2003.
Tomorrow (23 April 2020), the Library of Congress will be livestreaming No One Was Immune: Mapping the Great Pandemics from Columbus to COVID-19, in which John Hessler and Marie Arana will “discuss the sweep of history from the 1500s smallpox pandemic that decimated the indigenous population of the Americas to the meticulous work that is being done now to map COVID-19.” To be streamed on the Library’s Facebook page and YouTube channel at 7 PM EDT. [WMS]
As you probably know, I’m keenly interested in fiction where maps are part of the story. The latest example of this comes from my friend Fran Wilde, whose story, “An Explorer’s Cartography of Already Settled Lands,” went live on Tor.com this morning. This is a story that challenges our ideas of what a map is for and what a map does—what a map maps—as travellers from another world discover that their destination is already inhabited, and try to map themselves into a safe space in between the settled areas—which is a real twist on the colonial uses of maps in history. It can be read for free online; an ebook is also available at a nominal cost.
(See also my in-progress list of fiction about maps.)
Map Time is “a series of short conversations with experts on maps and mapping from across the globe” hosted by the Harvard Library and the Leventhal Center on Instagram Live. Held every Thursday at noon, through August. Schedule and upcoming speakers here. Past talks are available on YouTube.
How to Do Map Stuff is a full day of live online mapping workshops that will take place on Wednesday, 29 April. Coordinated by Daniel Huffman, speakers will host their own livestreams at announced times (the working schedule is here).