Atlas Obscura has the odd and fascinating story of how a Venetian named Nicolò Zeno created an island in the middle of the North Atlantic called Frisland, in an apparent attempt to claim that Venetian explorers had discovered the New World. After it appeared on Zeno’s 1558 map, it persisted on other maps for a century afterward (it was even claimed for England in 1580), and the existence of Frisland itself was not fully debunked for a long time after that. “The answer to Zeno’s enduring success lies not with his works, but with his audience. For centuries, people believed Zeno because they wanted to believe him. That was Zeno’s true stroke of genius. He created a story too tantalizing for people to ignore.”
Here’s a video of Steven Feldman’s informative and entertaining talk at FOSS4G in Boston last August: “Fake Maps, Very Dishonest” looks at the ways in which maps, through ignorance, incompetence or deliberate intent, can mislead, misinform, misfire and miss the point. Very much in the vein of Monmonier’s How to Lie with Maps, or Andrew Wiseman’s “When Maps Lie,” but very much aimed at working mapmakers. Slides of Steven’s presentation are available here (there are some that didn’t make it into the actual talk). Slides and videos of other FOSS4G presentations are also available online. [Benjamin Hennig]
Last year I told you about The Un-Discovered Islands, a book by Malachy Tallack that told the stories of some two dozen islands that were once thought real but are now no longer on the map. It existed only as a British edition, though a U.S. edition was said to be forthcoming. That U.S. edition is coming next month from Picador, so readers in North America will be able to lay hands on a copy more easily, should they wish. [Amazon]
Meanwhile, Tor.com has published an excerpt online.
A map error has left a community centre in Burlington, Vermont scrambling to make up a nearly $2-million financial shortfall.
Specifically, the center had banked on equity from New Market Tax Credits to fund the final construction payment of $1.7 million. Its leaders believed the new building at 505 Lake Street fell in a qualifying U.S. Census tract for the federal program, according to the letter.
An online map based on the building address showed it within the tract, but it turned out that the building is actually just outside it.
Also from last week: someone on Facebook circulated a map showing the path of Hurricane Irma hitting Houston, prompting the National Weather Service to issue a warning on Twitter about fake forecasts (real forecasts only go out five days). Media factchecking service PolitiFact has the details. Fun fact: making a counterfeit or false weather forecast is an offense in the United States.
The CBC comedy show This Hour Has 22 Minutes has a sketch on the matter of Prince Edward Island being left off maps of Canada.
Canada is apparently suffering from an outbreak of maps that omit Prince Edward Island, and islanders are upset about it: culprits include a map at Vancouver’s airport, and a t-shirt sold by Hudson’s Bay Company. To be sure, in neither case are the maps meant for navigation, but this is a country where regional representation is a touchy subject.
Hundreds of thousands of Indiana state highway maps that misspelled the new governor’s name are being destroyed and reprinted at the vendor’s expense. (WTHR’s coverage does not indicate what the spelling error was.) Misspelling the boss’s name is obviously politically awkward; I can’t help but suspect that actual cartographic errors would be let through with a sticker or an errata notice instead. [MAPS-L]
Edward Brooke-Hitching’s new book, The Phantom Atlas: The Greatest Myths, Lies and Blunders on Maps (Simon & Schuster UK, November) is a book about fictitious and erroneous places that were presented on maps as real—“non-existent islands, invented mountain ranges, mythical civilisations and other fictitious geography.” Places like the Mountains of Kong, or the open ocean at the North Pole, or California as an island. Both the Economist’s 1843 Magazine and the Guardian have excerpts and examples from the book.
The hardcover seems to be available only in the U.K. right now, or through third-party resellers on Amazon. The ebook, however, is more widely available: here are links for the Kindle and iBooks. [Ian McDonald/WMS]
Related: Map Books of 2016.
The Spectator reviews Malachy Tallack’s new book, The Un-Discovered Islands. “This book is an account of 24 non-existent islands, yet is suffused with the same elegiac frostiness as before. Tallack’s style is precise without being perjink, and the overwhelming feeling is of something lost, or disappearing. It’s just this time, what is lost never was.” [WMS]
Previously: Mapping Scottish and/or Nonexistent Islands.
Most maps published by the Canadian government, including the poster-sized map I have on my wall, claim a vast tract of the Arctic Ocean, all the way up to the North Pole—basically everything east of 141 degrees west longitude—as Canadian territory. The National Post’s Tristin Hopper argues that this is a mistake. Canada doesn’t even officially claim that (briskly melting) expanse of ice.
The incorrect Canadian maps are all based on the old-fashioned “sector theory” of claiming the Arctic. Back when the Arctic Ocean was largely an inaccessible chunk of ice that swallowed explorers, polar nations were generally content with dividing it up like the slices of a pizza that had the North Pole at its centre. […]
Nevertheless, while various expansionist Canadian politicians have enthusiastically touted some version of the sector theory over the years, it has never been officially adopted as Canadian policy.
(I seem to have a number of other Canada-related items in my queue. Let me get to them next.)
NPR reports on the disappearance of national forests from Google Maps, and the trouble with accurately displaying green spaces on maps.
Typically, mint green highlights designate publicly owned wild spaces on Google’s maps. But as of this writing, some of those public lands have gone gray. The locations are still searchable, but if you don’t already know the park or forest exists, and where exactly, you might not be able to find it.
No green space is safe: Many of the missing parks are national forests, but some are state forests, Bureau of Land Management recreation areas, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas. Some, like the Blue Hills Reservation in Massachusetts, are just a few thousand acres. Others, like the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania, are over 500,000.
As the Disputed Territories site, which catalogues how Google manages various contested borders, points out, “Google’s maps of disputed territories differ depending on who’s looking at them.” As we’ve seen recently with regard to Crimea, that doesn’t always keep Google out of trouble. An online petition asking Google to label Palestine on Google Maps has garnered more than 300,000 signatures since March. The petitioners accuse Google of removing Palestine at Israel’s insistence; but, as the Guardian reports, “the truth is, it was never labelled by Google in the first place.” (The West Bank and Gaza Strip had their labels removed by a bug; Google’s restoring them.)
In a follow-up piece for the Guardian, Leigh Alexander writes:
The swiftness of the backlash, though, is not just about the wish for justice on behalf of an occupied people, but about the belief—now punctured—that our technology is neutral, that it presents an unbiased, infallible version of the world. […]
While it might seem imperialistic for Google to decide how the US should see the rest of the world, perhaps it would be equally troubling to see the company wade into global verdicts on the righteousness of every international occupation. That it allows its sketch of the geopolitical climate to reflect the perspective of who is viewing it, rather than impose the prevailing popular opinion in the west, may not be neutral or unbiased, but it is probably the most fair.