Sea Monsters and the Carta Marina

Carta Marina (top)

Book cover: Sea Monsters (Nigg)It looks like 2013 is the Year of Sea Monsters on Maps. Earlier this year we saw Chet Van Duzer’s Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps (my review); now comes a new study that focuses on a single sixteenth-century map and its many illustrations of seagoing critters: the Carta Marina (1539) by Swedish ecclesiastic Olaus Magnus. Joseph Nigg’s Sea Monsters: The Lore and Legacy of Olaus Magnus’s Marine Map was published last month in the United Kingdom by Ivy Press; in the United States and Canada it’s available from the University of Chicago Press under the title Sea Monsters: A Voyage around the World’s Most Beguiling Map. From the University of Chicago Press page:

Nearly two meters wide in total, the map’s nine wood-block panels comprise the largest and first realistic portrayal of Northern Europe. But in addition to these important geographic elements, Magnus’s map goes beyond cartography to scenes both domestic and mystic. Close to shore, Magnus shows humans interacting with common sea life—boats struggling to stay afloat, merchants trading, children swimming, and fisherman pulling lines. But from the offshore deeps rise some of the most magical and terrifying sea creatures imaginable at the time or thereafter—like sea swine, whales as large as islands, and the Kraken. In this book, Nigg provides a thorough tour of the map’s cartographic details, as well as a colorful look at its unusual pictorial and imaginative elements. He draws on Magnus’s own text to further describe and illuminate the inventive scenes and to flesh out the stories of the monsters.

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My New Article on Fantasy Maps: ‘Here Be Blank Spaces’

NYRSF logo My short essay on fantasy maps, “Here Be Blank Spaces: Vaguely Medieval Fantasy Maps” appears in issue #300 of The New York Review of Science Fiction, out today. I wrote it in response to several books I read rather closely together earlier this year: Reinhart’s Art of the Map, Van Duzer’s Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps, and especially Ekman’s Here Be Dragons (links to my reviews). Taken together, these books highlighted a key difference between fantasy maps and their real-world counterparts from medieval and early modern Europe: fantasy maps are full of blank spaces; real-world maps were not.

Issue #300 of the NYRSF should be available to subscribers now. If you’re not a subscriber, you’re in luck: issue #300 is being made available for free (it’s the NYRSF‘s 25th anniversary, and the publishers are offering it to celebrate and in hopes that you’ll subscribe). Download it from this page. I’ll eventually have it up in the Articles section as well.

Update 8/28: Read the article here.

Ian Silva’s Koana Islands

Koana Islands (Ian Silva)

Wired Map Lab has the story of Ian Silva, who’s been posting astonishing road and transit maps of the imaginary Koana Islands to Reddit; the Islands now have their own section on the site, replete with a travel guide. It’s as serious an undertaking as William Sarjeant’s Rockall, Jerry Gretzinger’s Ukrainia, or Austin Tappan Wright’s Islandia.

I admit it: I love geofiction—creating imaginary worlds through maps—and I always get excited when I encounter a great new mapmaker. This is no exception.

The World on an Egg, circa 1504

In an article published this week in the Washington Map Society‘s journal, The Portolan, map collector Stefaan Missinne has announced the discovery of a small, engraved globe that he says is the first to depict the New World. From the WMS’s press release:

The previously-unknown globe, which is about the size of a grapefruit, was made from the lower halves of two ostrich eggs, and dates from the very early 1500s. Until now, it was thought that the oldest globe to show the New World was the “Lenox Globe” at the New York Public Library, but the author presents evidence that this Renaissance ostrich egg globe was actually used to cast the copper Lenox globe, putting its date c. 1504. The globe reflects the knowledge gleaned by Christopher Columbus and other very early European explorers including Amerigo Vespucci after whom America was named.

Ostrich egg globe
The Portolan (Washington Map Society)

The Lenox Globe—also known as the Hunt-Lenox Globe—was cast in 1510; interestingly, prior to this announcement, it was the only map or globe to contain the phrase hic sunt draconeshere be dragons. This globe has the phrase as well. In the Washington Post coverage, two map experts—John Hessler and Chet Van Duzer—are quoted expressing a certain amount of skepticism (especially about the purported da Vinci connection). I also suspect caution is warranted here: the history of antique maps contains several examples of groundshaking discoveries that turn out to be dubious at best.

Tube Map Live

Tube Map Live icon Andy Drizen’s Tube Map Live (iTunes), a free iOS app (native iPhone and iPad versions) that shows the real-time positions of London Underground trains on the iconic Tube map, using official data. Hypnotic visualization, but the app essentially promotes Drizen’s £1.99/$2.99 Tube Tracker: tapping on trains or stations calls up an advertising popup. Via TUAW.

Pluto’s Problematic Cartography

We’re still two years from the New Horizons flyby of Pluto, but the cartography of the solar system’s most famous dwarf planet—based on Hubble imagery—is already several kinds of problematic, as Emily Lakdawalla explains in a post that also explains how the cartography of other worlds is done. (Key challenges include defining the north and south pole—which one is which?—as well as a prime meridian.)

A Fantasy Map of Ireland

Fantasy map of Ireland Another data point for our consideration of what people think a fantasy map looks like, from the author of the Maptitude tumblelog: a fantasy map of Ireland, replete with, as you would expect, forests and hills. It departs from the fantasy map paradigm by using colour: red for political boundaries, blue for water. It also uses a vaguely uncial script: something we’ve seen in the movie versions of The Lord of the Rings, but less often in fantasy book maps. Not inappropriate for Ireland, though.

Previously: A Fantasy Map of Great Britain; A Fantasy Map of Australia; A Fantasy Map of the U.S.

Wired Map Lab

Two years ago, after I brought The Map Room to a close, despondent readers asked me where they could go for their map fix, now that I was denying it to them. At the time I couldn’t point to a map blog that covered maps in general, rather than a specific niche (e.g., online maps but not antique maps). Last month, though, saw the launch of Wired Map Lab, a member of the evil empire of Wired‘s science blogs. Looks like it’s off to an ambitious start.

Close Up at a Distance

Book cover: Close Up at a Distance Briefly noted: Laura Kurgan’s Close Up at a Distance: Mapping, Technology, and Politics (Zone Books, March 2013), a different look at maps built with satellite imagery, GIS and GPS data. “Poised at the intersection of art, architecture, activism, and geography, her analysis uncovers the implicit biases of the new views, the means of recording information they present, and the new spaces they have opened up. Her presentation of these maps reclaims, repurposes, and discovers new and even inadvertent uses for them, including documentary, memorial, preservation, interpretation, political, or simply aesthetic.” Via Human Scale Cities.

A Fantasy Map of Great Britain

Fantasy map of Great Britain (Samuel Fisher)

It turns out that Samuel Fisher has also created a fantasy map of Great Britain, in addition to his Australian fantasy map and one version of the U.S. fantasy map. Again: an important data point for understanding what people think a fantasy map looks like. (His lettering is a dead ringer for Christopher Tolkien’s on the Middle-earth map.) Via Fuck Yeah Cartography.

A Fantasy Map of Australia

Fantasy map of Australia (Samuel Fisher)

Like the fantasy map of the United States we saw last year, Samuel Fisher’s fantasy map of Australia is relevant to my interests because it shows what people think a fantasy map should look like—how it should be styled, what elements it should contain, and so forth. In this case, oblique mountains and forests drawn as stands of individual trees make their usual appearance; the labels are hand-drawn; and the colour scheme runs from cream to taupe. Via Maps on the Web.

Smoke and Smog

Sediment, Smoke, and Stained Ice in Quebec

Forest fires near Eastmain, Quebec had a dramatic impact on air quality around here last week; I woke up hacking and wondering why. (Air filters to maximum!) The above photo, taken by the MODIS sensor aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite on June 28, gives some idea of the situation on the eastern shores of James Bay. (The photo also shows a brown-stained James Bay, the result of tannin-stained water from bogs spilling into the bay in spring.) Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory.