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.
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.
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.
George III was apparently an avid map collector. At his death his collection numbered some 55,000 maps: the maritime and topographic maps were given to the British Library; the military maps were kept by George IV for his own use. “Not all of them were collected by George III in the first instance: like most collectors, he not only purchased individual items but also acquired the collections of others.” [Tony Campbell]
Yesterday Priore and Schulman pled guilty: Priore to one count of theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property, Schulman to a charge of forgery and another of theft by deception and receiving stolen property. (They were facing a total of 10 and 20 charges respectively, but the remaining charges were dismissed as part of a plea agreement.)
Sentencing is scheduled to take place on April 17; each man faces up to 20 years in prison (the plea deal does not include sentencing).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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]
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.
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.