What an Atlas Does

Chris Wayne’s article for Directions Magazine, “Stories and Lies: What an Atlas Reveals,” does something interesting that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen before (which at this point is saying something): it talks about atlases as a class, exploring what they do and how they’re arranged. For example: “Page pairs are arguably the most effective format for blending narrative and cartography. With two facing pages, a self-contained story is told; then each page pair becomes a building block in the epic of the atlas itself.” In other words, it looks at atlases as objects in themselves. [WMS]

Pandemic Mapping and Posterity

The flurry of COVID-19 maps that have emerged in the first half of this year will be something that future cartographers and librarians will look back on, both in terms of historical records that need preserving, which is the subject of this CityLab interview with Library of Congress map librarian John Hessler, and in terms of best practices for disease mapping—what to do and what not to do when mapping a pandemic—which is the subject of this Financial Times video interview with Kenneth Field. (Both from early May; I’m playing catchup right now.)

Bending Lines, an Online Exhibition from the Leventhal Center

Bending Lines: Maps and Data From Distortion to Deception, the latest exhibition from the Leventhal Map and Education Center at the Boston Public Library, is a wide-ranging, comprehensive look at the relationship between maps and the truth. We expect maps not to lie, but maps have misled, propagandized or at the very least provided a particular perspective for as long as there have been maps.

Every map is a representation of reality, and every representation, no matter how accurate and honest, involves simplification, symbolization, and selective attention. Even when a map isn’t actively trying to deceive its readers, it still must reduce the complexity of the real world, emphasizing some features and hiding others. Compressing the round globe onto a flat sheet of paper, and converting places, people, and statistics into symbols, lines, and colors is a process inherently fraught with distortion. […]

In Bending Lines: Maps and Data From Distortion to Deception, we explore the many ways in which maps have “bent” reality and created a picture of the world that is oftentimes more real than reality itself. Some of the maps in this exhibition are deliberately nefarious, created by people or institutions who are trying to mislead or persuade. But for many of the others, the relationship between map and truth is more ambiguous. Some maps dim a certain type of truth in order to let another type of interpretation shine through, while others classify and categorize the world in ways that should raise our skepticism. And for some of the maps shown here, the persuasive goal isn’t trickery but liberation, as they seek to raise awareness of truths that were previously obscured or oppressed.

This exhibition was to have launched last month, but thanks to the pandemic has had to go fully online. Tackling everything from persuasive cartography to map projections to the sort of thing Mark Monmonier talks about in How to Lie with Maps, it’s an enormous undertaking in more than one sense. CityLab’s Laura Biss interviews the Leventhal’s curator, Garrett Dash Nelson, about the exhibition.

Update, 2 July: Harvard Magazine looks at the exhibition.

Tom Patterson’s Physical Map of the Contiguous United States

Physical Features Map of the Contiguous United States
Tom Patterson

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.

A U.S. Army Film from 1971: ‘Mapping a Better Tomorrow’

“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.

Map Talks Online, Past and Future

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).

Presentations made at last year’s British Cartographic Society/Society of Cartographers conference were recorded on video. The BCS reports that they’re now available online via this web page.

Landforms of Michigan

Daniel Huffman, “Landforms of Michigan” (2020).

Daniel Huffman finally finished a map he’d been working on, off and on (though mostly off), for years. Landforms of Michigan appeared in draft form on this 2016 blog post about mapping terrain using Photoshop layers; last week, Daniel says, “I finally overcame my inertia enough to finish it.” It’s available as a large poster on Zazzle.

Brewer Wins Miller Medal

O. M. Miller MedalBelatedly noted, thanks to a story in Penn State News last month: Cynthia Brewer was awarded the American Geographical Society’s O. M. Miller Cartographic Medal at the AGS’s symposium last fall. Brewer, a geography professor at Penn State since 1994, is the author of Designing Better Maps: A Guide for GIS Users (previously) and the creator of the ColorBrewer colour design tool for cartographers. The Miller medal is no minor award: this is only the eighth time it’s been awarded since it was created in 1968; past recipients have included Waldo Tobler, Arthur Robinson, Mark Monmonier and, in 2017, John Hanke and Brian McClendon (basically, the team behind Google Maps). Brewer is the first woman to receive the award.

‘Cartograph’: History of a Back Formation

Inspired by its appearance in a recent science fiction novel,1 Matthew Edney explores the history of the odd word “cartograph”—a back formation of “cartography” whose existence suggests circumstances in which “map” is somehow insufficient. Edney traces three kinds of uses of the term: one referring to an early 20th-century instrument; one as a synonym for pictorial maps in the mid-20th century; and one, post-1980, that refers to map products that don’t, for some reason, adhere to Western cartographic ideals. (This piece expands on Edney’s book-length critique of the normative ideal of cartography, Cartography: The Ideal and Its History, which I reviewed here last October.)

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.

Cartography: The Ideal and Its History

Cartography (cover)
Amazon
Apple Books
Bookshop

Matthew H. Edney’s Cartography: The Ideal and Its History (University of Chicago Press, April) is a full-throated jeremiad against the concept of cartography itself—the ideal of cartography, which after 237 densely argued pages Edney says “is quite simply indefensible.” Or as the subtitle to the first chapter states: “There is no such thing as cartography, and this is a book about it.”

On the surface this is a startling argument to make, particularly for Edney, who holds two roles that are very much about cartography and its history: he’s the Osher Professor in the History of Cartography at the University of Southern Maine (where, among other things, he’s affiliated with the Osher Map Library) and the current director of the History of Cartography Project. With this book, Edney is essentially undermining the foundations of his own profession.

Continue reading “Cartography: The Ideal and Its History”

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.