Everything’s Coming Up Spilhaus

John Nelson

John Nelson reports that the Spilhaus projection will be supported in the next version of ArcGIS—version 2.5, to be released in a few months. This odd projection, which centres Antarctica on a world map showing the oceans as a single, uninterrupted body of water; went viral last year. Requests for ArcGIS support soon followed. Thing is, ArcGIS support requires the math behind the projection: figuring out that math took some sleuthing. The Spilhaus is, it turns out, basically an oblique aspect of the Adams World in a Square II projection.

Previously: About the Spilhaus Projection.

When Artists Drew Maps: A New Exhibition in Paris

A new exhibition opens today at the Archives Nationales in Paris: Quand les artistes dessinaient les cartes (“When Artists Drew Maps”), an exploration of vues figurées —what we might refer to today as chorographic maps or panoramas—drawn by artists from the 14th to the 16th century. “Presented for the most part for the first time to the public, these works shed new light on the landscapes and scenes of everyday life at the turn of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.”1 Nearly 100 original maps on display. At the Hôtel de Soubise site in Paris until 7 January 2020, 8€/5€. [Tony Campbell]

The New York Subway Map Gets More Rethinking

John Tauranac is having second thoughts. Tauranac is the former MTA map designer whose committee replaced Massimo Vignelli’s diagrammatic subway map with a more geographical one in 1979; that map, with modifications and updates, is still in use today. He now thinks the map needs an overhaul, according to the New York Post, and at 80 he thinks he’s the one to do it. The Post article includes some of his suggestions; the MTA is, shall we say, not eager for his help.

(Tauranac has been active on this file for a while: he released his own subway map in 2008: it’s a folded map that is geographical on one side and diagrammatic on the other. It seems to be out of print, but I still have a copy in my files.)

And a perusal of my own archives will tell you that the project to reimagine and rethink the New York subway map has been going on a very long time. Last May Jun Seong Ahn posted a rethinking of the subway map—not as the usual poster, but as a wide horizontal map posted above the heads of commuters, as you commonly see in other cities:

Jun Seong Ahn

Debates about the New York subway map generally involve posters on trains and in stations—flat, paper, static maps. Meanwhile the MTA is moving to digital displays over the next few years, which may afford train and station maps the opportunity to be as dynamic and changing as the maps on riders’ phones. So far, though, the maps are low-resolution and static.

Previously: New York Subway Maps; Tauranac’s New York Subway Map; Mark Ovenden: The French (Re-)Connection; A Talk About Designing the New York Subway Map on Dec. 7; Debating the New York Subway Map; New York Subway Line Posters; Anthony Denaro’s Map of All of NYC’s Transit; New York Subway Track Map.

Scottish Witches

witches logoThe University of Edinburgh’s online Witches map is the result of a data and visualization internship project—the intern cheekily referred to as the Witchfinder General—to put the data from the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft Database on the map. Nearly four thousand people were accused of witchcraft in Scotland between 1563 and 1736; nearly 85 percent were women. The mapped data includes where the accused lived, where they were detained, where they were put on trial, and where they died, when that data is available. Story at The Scotsman.

New at Tor.com: ‘Where Do Fantasy Maps Come From?’

New from me at Tor.com this morning, the latest instalment in my series on the history and design of fantasy maps. “Where Do Fantasy Maps Come From?” looks at the influences on and origins of the fantasy map style—the existing traditions, stretching back as far back as the sixteenth century, that the fantasy map drew upon when it came into being in the early to mid-twentieth century. (Tolkien couldn’t have made it up out of whole cloth, after all.)

This is a speculative piece that draws upon a large and diverse number of sources—everything from Forlani to Berann, from bird’s-eye views of cities to children’s book illustrations—to come up with … well, something interesting, at least. To do proper justice to the subject would require a Ph.D. dissertation. This is a start.

Mapping Star Wars

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (screenshot)

From a certain point of view, The Force Awakens is the story of how a rare and valuable map was kept out of the hands of an unscrupulous and extremely motivated collector. While a map served as the MacGuffin of Episode 7, maps of the Star Wars universe have been a thing for a while, at least in terms of supporting material.

According to this 2015 article on the Star Wars website about the history of maps of the Galaxy Far, Far Away, the first official map was produced in 1998. Since then the Star Wars galaxy’s map has been surprisingly consistent despite the addition of a huge amount of material (movies, TV shows, ancillary books and comics) and the canon shift that took place when Disney bought Lucasfilm: older maps—such as fan websites like Modi’s or W. R. van Hage’s, or the 2009 Star Wars: The Essential Atlas (updated with online appendices)—may not include planets that appear in later movies and TV shows (e.g., Jakku, Scarif or Lothal), but what does appear stays in the same place from map to map (i.e., Tatooine and Coruscant are in the same place). Jason Fry’s System Database keeps track of things.

The most up-to-date map I’ve been able to find is Henry Bernberg’s interactive Star Wars Galaxy Map, which has several advantages. Built using ArcGIS—he’s a GIS professional—and hosted using Carto, it has toggleable layers and is searchable (many maps online are simple images, which is tricky when you’re looking for a specific planet). It is, in other words, a useable map, which is a rare thing in science fiction and fantasy, and almost essential when dealing with an imaginary universe of Star Wars’ size.

Beyond the Two-Degree Limit

Washington Post: Temperature change map
Washington Post

Two degrees Celsius. That’s the redline. The average global temperature increase we need to keep below, according to the 2015 Paris Agreement. But as the Washington Post points out in two heavily mapped stories—one for the United States, one for the entire world—that show the change in average temperatures since the late 1800s, there are places on the planet that have already blown past that two-degree limit. [Maps Mania]

Himalayan Ice Loss Measured with Cold War Spy Photos

Satellite imagery only goes back so far. To measure the rate of ice loss across the Himalayan glaciers, researchers turned to recently declassified spy satellite photos from 1975. The photos were used to create a digital elevation model (above) which was compared with more recent data. They concluded that the rate of ice loss was accelerating: it was twice as much from 2000 to 2016 than it was from 1975 to 2000. Columbia University, Science News. [Geography Realm]

Mapping Heat Islands in U.S. Cities

NOAA/Portland State University/Science Museum of Virginia

The temperature on a hot summer day in a single city can vary by as much as 11 degrees Celsius depending on where you are—whether you’re near green spaces that cool down the surrounding areas, or pavement and concrete, which absorb heat and radiate it. That’s the heat island effect, and mapping it is the focus of a project led by Portland State University researchers, funded in part by NOAA, and conducted by on-the-ground volunteers who have been taking temperature measurements across a number of U.S. cities. Those measurements have been cross-referenced with other data about the neighbourhoods, which will help cities figure out how to keep their citizens cool during heat waves—which, let’s face it, are going to be a lot more common going forward. National Geographic, New York Times.

P. J. Mode Interviewed

James Gillray, “The Plumb-Pudding in Danger,” 1805. Print, 26 × 36 cm. P. J. Mode Collection, Cornell University Library.

JSTOR Daily interviews P. J. Mode, the map collector (and donor) behind Cornell University Library’s P. J. Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography. Mode began collecting maps in 1980, and proceeded in the usual manner until stumbling across what would become his niche.

When I was looking at those maps in dealers’ shops or catalogs, I often saw other maps that I thought were fun and interesting. I didn’t quite understand them all—unusual maps, strange maps of different kinds. The kind of maps that dealers refer to as “cartographic curiosities” (which basically means, “This doesn’t fit into one of my pigeon-holes…”). These were kind of fun and interesting, and they were inexpensive so, on a lark, I would buy them when I saw them and then I would kind of try to figure out what they were.


Previously: Persuasive Cartography; Another Look at Persuasive Cartography; Persuasive Cartography Collection Expands.

Mapping Carbon Dioxide Emissions: Worldmapper’s Cartograms

From last April: Worldmapper’s cartograms showing where in the world CO2 emissions are coming from, both in terms of overall emissions (by area) and per capita (colour). China, the U.S. and India are the largest emitters, but on a per capita basis the U.S. emits twice as much CO2 as China and eight times as much as India. Additional cartograms looking at the increase or decline in CO2 emissions (from 1990 to 2015) show increases mainly in China and the rest of Asia, and declines in Europe and the former Soviet bloc (a lot of the latter due to post-Soviet deindustrialization).

The Incredibly Granular Maps of Data.Pour.Paris


Data.Pour.Paris is a collection of interactive maps about the city of Paris. It’s a lot more interesting—and granular—than it appears at first glance, though. The traffic and real-time metro maps you might expect, but the map of street lights drills down to individual streetlights—and their wattage. Public order complaints are mapped individually, and there’s even a map of the 2018 Paris marathon that tracks the progress of individual runners. They’re the work of French engineer Benjamin Tran Dinh, and they’re neat. They speak as much to the availability of such data as the ability to map it. [Maps Mania]

Previously: Le Grand Paris en Cartes.

‘A Defilement of a Sacred Trust’

I hadn’t planned on posting anything about Trump’s Sharpie-adjusted hurricane forecast map: there was nothing useful for me to add to the discussion, and presumably you’d all heard about it already and didn’t need me to tell you. But it turns out something map-related can, and has, been said about the issue.

Charles Blow was once in charge of the New York Times graphics department, and an art director at National Geographic. His response to Trump’s marked-up map was “visceral”:

Because of this unyielding commitment to accuracy, I believe cartography enjoys an enviable position of credibility and confidence among the people who see it. If you see it mapped, you believe.

That is precisely what you want the case to be, particularly in natural disasters. This cartography should be devoid of any attempt to deceive. Its only agenda should be to inform and enlighten.

That’s what made Trump’s marked-on map such a blasphemy: It attacked, on a fundamental level, truth, science and public trust. It wasn’t just a defacement of a public document, it was a defilement of a sacred trust.

Blow’s reaction is predicated in the notion that maps can’t lie, or at least don’t, or at least shouldn’t. Enter Mark Monmonier, the author of How to Lie with Maps (reviewed here), who was interviewed by CityLab about this kerfuffle. Even Monmonier, who has no illusions about maps’ claims to accuracy and objectivity, and who literally wrote the book on how hazard mapping can be misleading, seems to be sputtering:

Usually, attempts to falsify tend to happen before maps are published, and don’t try to contradict established scientific facts. You can put a spin on something by influencing the appearance of a map before it’s published. You can put a spin on things by determining what is and is not going to be mapped. Something that might put your administration in an unfavorable view, for example: Those maps won’t be part of the plan. […]

But the Trump map is unusual. I cannot find anything truly comparable. We had a map that was already out there that he actually mutilated, and in a very obvious way. This guy shows absolutely no subtlety at all. And then people try to make excuses for him. I have never seen anything like this.

Trump’s little stunt has revealed something very interesting about how we see maps.