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.
Canadian Geographic maps the decline of Canada’s caribou populations. “All of Canada’s caribou subspecies have increasingly been in the news as the animal’s national population, which once numbered in the millions, has declined drastically and quickly to little more than a million today. Experts are concerned some populations may not survive the threats they’re facing. One herd, British Columbia’s South Selkirk, had just three females left in April 2018.” [r/MapPorn]
It began with an osprey named Julie, who in 2015 migrated from the Detroit River in Michigan all the way to Maracaibo, Venezuela, stopping at wetlands and wildlife refuges along the way. Julie wore a GPS tracker. John Nelson took Julie’s data and created a series of maps of her journey that represent a brilliant use of negative space: aerial and satellite imagery is shown only along the paths she took; everything else is blanked out. It’s a linear map of a bird’s entire world. The Story Map goes into more detail; the accompanying text is frankly beautifully written. John explains how he made the maps here.
Out last month, the expensive, 600-page Routledge Handbook of Mapping and Cartography (Routledge). Edited by Alexander J. Kent (who co-wrote The Red Atlas) and Peter Vujakovic, the book “draws on the wealth of new scholarship and practice in this emerging field, from the latest conceptual developments in mapping and advances in map-making technology to reflections on the role of maps in society. It brings together 43 engaging chapters on a diverse range of topics, including the history of cartography, map use and user issues, cartographic design, remote sensing, volunteered geographic information (VGI), and map art.” [The History of Cartography Project]
New Academic Books
New academic books on maps and cartography published over the past couple of months include:
There are many circumstances where the amount of data vastly exceeds the ability to process and analyze it—and computers can only do so much. Enter crowdsourcing. Steve Coast points to Digital Globe’s Tomnod project, which basically crowdsources satellite image analysis. In the case of the current project to map the presence of Weddell seals on the Antarctic Peninsula and the ice floes of the Weddell Sea, users are given an image tile and asked to indicate whether there are seals in the image. It’s harder than it looks, but it’s the kind of routine task that most people can do—many hands, light work and all that—and it helps researchers focus their attention where it needs focusing. (A similar campaign for the Ross Sea took place in 2016.)
Another ongoing campaign asks users to identify flooded and damaged infrastructure and trash heaps in post-Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico.
Now that Where the Animals Go, a book that maps tracking data from field biologists’ research projects, is available in a U.S. edition (previously), it’s getting another round of media attention on this side of the pond. This CityLab piece interviews the authors and highlights several of the maps (and the studies behind them).
The Art of Cartographics (Goodman) is available now in the U.K. but won’t come out in North America until March 2018. The publisher describes it as “a stunning collection of maps designed in a unique way. […] This carefully curated book selects the most creative and interesting map design projects from around the world, and offers inspiration for designers and map-lovers alike. Covering themes including power, gentrification, literature, animals, plants and food, and showcasing handrawn, painted, digital, 3D sculpted and folded maps, Cartographics offers a slice of social history that is as beautiful as it is fascinating.” Buy at Amazon U.K. | Pre-order at Amazon
Also out next week: the National Geographic Atlas of Beer (National Geographic). I have no information about the quantity or quality of the maps therein, but according to the publisher the book does have some: “The most visually stunning and comprehensive beer atlas available, this richly illustrated book includes more beers and more countries than any other book of its kind. Including beer recommendations from Garrett Oliver, the famed brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery, and written by ‘beer geographers’ Nancy Hoalst-Pullen and Mark Patterson, this indispensable guide features more than 100 illuminating maps and over 200 beautiful color photos.” Buy at Amazon
I was three years old when this map was released. When I was at Moore Elementary (home of the fighting Armadillos!) in the late 1980s, and early 1990s, I specifically remembered this map because it was huge! The Natural Heritage Map of Texas is 4-feet by 4-feet, and it hung in the school cafeteria, to the left of the stage where so many school assemblies had occurred. The map is colorful, big and filled with animals. To be honest, at the time, the animals are what drew my attention, but the map always stuck in my mind because it was the first large wall map I had ever seen. More than anything, though, there was an ocelot in my face, and in the face of every other elementary student in the building who walked up to look at this map. At the time, I thought an ocelot was kind of like a mix between a house cat and a lion or a tiger, and a lion or tiger was really cool. I was hooked! I would always look at the ocelot, as well as the other animals, and the map, and think about what it all meant.
Migrations in Motion models the average directions wildlife will need to move in order to survive the effects of climate change. As Canadian Geographic explains, “As climate change disrupts habitats, researchers believe wildlife will instinctively migrate to higher elevations and latitudes, but for many species, that will mean navigating around, over or through human settlements and infrastructure.” The map, the design of which is modeled on the hint.fm wind map, covers both North and South America and does not purport to model the path of individual species; rather it’s an average based on computer modelling.