A review in Maclean’s brought to my attention a book that came out two months ago: Hali Felt’s Soundings, a biography of Marie Tharp (1920-2006), who with her partner, Bruce Heezen, created the first global map of the ocean floor, discovered the Mid-Atlantic Ridge’s rift valley, and helped provide the evidence for plate tectonics. She’s a major figure in cartography and among women in science, so I thought I should bring this book to your attention, too. Another one to add to the to-read pile.
“Google Street View wasn’t built to create maps like this, but the geo team quickly realized that computer vision could get them incredible data for ground truthing their maps.” The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal gets an exclusive look at Google’s “Ground Truth” program, which uses Street View cars to check and improve map data. I can’t help but see giving press access to this as another example of Google explaining how hard making their maps is for competitive reasons.
A book has been brought to my attention that sounds relevant to my interests: Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City by Dung Kai-cheung, an English translation of which is now out from Columbia University Press.
From the publisher’s blurb: “Much like the quasi-fictional adventures in map-reading and remapping explored by Paul Auster, Jorge Luis Borges, and Italo Calvino, Dung Kai-cheung’s novel challenges the representation of place and history and the limits of technical and scientific media in reconstructing a history. It best exemplifies the author’s versatility and experimentation, along with China’s rapidly evolving literary culture, by blending fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in a story about succeeding and failing to recapture the things we lose. Playing with a variety of styles and subjects, Dung Kai-cheung inventively engages with the fate of Hong Kong since its British ‘handover’ in 1997, which officially marked the end of colonial rule and the beginning of an uncharted future.”
Online and print versions of a map of David Foster Wallace’s 1996 novel Infinite Jest are now available, the latter for purchase. Both are part of William Beutler’s Infinite Atlas Project, “an independent research and art project seeking to identify, place and describe every possible location in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.” Via AppNewser and Kottke.
IDV Solutions, source of that map of tornado tracks across the U.S., has released a map of the paths of all known hurricanes since 1851. An added twist is that this map uses a polar azimuthal equidistant projection centred on Antarctica, creating a point of view that is unexpected and that has already created a few double-takes. Via io9.
Susan Schulten, a history professor at the University of Denver, writes to let me know about her new book, Mapping the Nation: History and Cartography in Nineteenth-Century America, out this month from University of Chicago Press.
From the publisher’s page: “Today, statistical and thematic maps are so ubiquitous that we take for granted that data will be arranged cartographically. Whether for urban planning, public health, marketing, or political strategy, maps have become everyday tools of social organization, governance, and economics. The world we inhabit—saturated with maps and graphic information—grew out of this sea change in spatial thought and representation in the nineteenth century, when Americans learned to see themselves and their nation in new dimensions.”
This sounds very interesting. Her previous book, The Geographical Imagination in America, 1880-1950, came out in 2001. I may have to pick up both: maps and the history of mentalities is too much to resist.
I know that some love maps, some are indifferent, and some dislike them. That’s as it should be.
I personally like maps, because I’m geeky that way but also because I process information both visually and kinesthetically, and thus maps make it easier for me to negotiate certain kinds of plots. Yet with other stories, I don’t even think of wanting a map. I wonder if there is a kind of story that seems more to benefit by a map while others just don’t have any call for them.
There are narratives in which there are things about the world you can’t learn from the story but which you can glimpse if the book includes a map, so in that sense a map can add a bit of extra dimension to a world. One of the challenges of writing the Spiritwalker books in first person is that there is a lot of information about the world that can never get into the narrative because it isn’t something a) the narrator would reflect on much less know &/or b) that is necessary to the plot.
Previously: How Readers Use Fantasy Maps.
During The Map Room’s existence I frequently reported on Martin Waldseemüller’s 1507 map of the world, notable because it was the first with the name “America” on it. Dubbed, as a result, “America’s birth certificate,” the last known copy of the large, 12-section map is now on display at the Library of Congress, which paid $10 million for it.
But Waldseemüller also produced small gores, which are used to construct globes; these ones would have been about four inches across. Four of these gores were known to exist, but yesterday Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München announced that they had accidently turned up a fifth copy in their library collection. It differs from the other gores; they believe it to be from a later edition. It can be viewed online here. BBC News coverage. Thanks to Drew for the tip.
Hotter than usual? Yes. This map shows how much land surface temperatures during the week of June 17-24, 2012 have been above or below the average for 2000-2011. Now this map measures something very specific: land surface temperatures (LSTs) aren’t the same as air temperatures: “LSTs indicate how hot the surface of the Earth would feel to the touch. From a satellite vantage point, the ‘surface’ includes a number of materials that capture and retain heat, such as desert sand, the dark roof of a building, or the pavement of a road. As a result, daytime land surface temperatures are usually higher than air temperatures.” Via Bad Astronomy.
I knew that Swedish literary scholar Stefan Ekman has been studying fantasy maps—see, for example, this blog post of his—but I only found out today (thanks to the Locus forthcoming books listings) that he has a book coming out on the subject: Here Be Dragons: Exploring Fantasy Maps and Settings will be published by Wesleyan University Press in January 2013.
The publisher calls it the “first in-depth study of the use of landscape in fantasy literature”; here’s an excerpt from their description:
In Here Be Dragons, Stefan Ekman provides a wide-ranging survey of the ubiquitous fantasy map as the point of departure for an in-depth discussion of what such maps can tell us about what is important in the fictional worlds and the stories that take place there. With particular focus on J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Ekman shows how fantasy settings deserve serious attention from both readers and critics. Includes insightful readings of works by Steven Brust, Garth Nix, Robert Holdstock, Terry Pratchett, Charles de Lint, China Miéville, Patricia McKillip, Tim Powers, Lisa Goldstein, Steven R. Donaldson, Robert Jordan, and Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess.
I’m not sure I can overstate how much I’m looking forward to reading this. Once I do, I’ll tell you all about it.
So last week Google held a press event outlining several upcoming features and innovations in Google Maps, including the ability to use maps offline on Android (i.e., without a network connection), some pretty impressive 3D imagery, and shrinking the Street View camera so that it’ll fit in a backpack. The event was widely seen as a way to grab some of the limelight prior to Apple’s announcement of its own built-in maps for iOS, which came today (more on which in a moment).
When Rachel Hewitt’s Map of a Nation was published in the U.K. in 2010, I despaired of ever being able to lay hands on a copy easily. A book documenting the first century or so of the history of the Ordnance Survey, Britain’s national map-making body, is not likely to have much commercial potential outside Britain:
no surprise that a U.S. edition has not come out. [Update: A paperback edition became available in the U.S. in 2013, after this review was posted.] But I recently discovered that, like at least one other book otherwise unavailable on this continent, it is available to North Americans as an ebook (and has been for a year: see how observant I am). So spent the $10, downloaded it to my Kindle, and settled in to read a book I’d heard about for years but didn’t imagine I’d be able to lay hands on without some effort.
Inasmuch as a history of field surveying and copper-plate engraving can be made anything other than dull, Hewitt has managed to produce a narrative that fairly crackles with interest. She starts at the bloody Battle of Culloden, not only as a way of setting the stage for the Military Survey of Scotland, a predecessor to the OS, but also as a rationale for mapping the whole of Britain’s territory in the first place. From there we’re led through the Scottish Highlands, joint French-British observations to measure the distance between their observatories, the triangulation of Britain and the survey of Ireland. The narrative closes with the publication of the last maps of the First Series and the expansion of the OS’s works into city maps. Along the way we get glimpses into the equipment used in the survey, such as the theodolite, and the mapmaking process; there’s a lovely section on how the OS dealt with Irish placenames, and digressions into art and poetry.
It does read a bit traditionally, in the sense that it is an institutional history seen through the lens of those in charge. It’s a history of those making the maps; the impact of those maps is less thoroughly covered. And if you ask me, it ends too soon — just as the OS is getting started. A lot more could still be written, I think.
There are rumours that for iOS 6, the next version of the operating system for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, Apple will replace Google Maps with an in-house mapping application with an impressive 3D mode; the app will apparently “blow your head off,” to quote John Paczkowski’s source. Much is being made of the 3D mapping possibilities, thanks to Apple’s acquisition of C3 Technologies. My interest, and my concern, is with the base mapping data. If this is going to be a flagship product, and signs point to that being the case, Apple can’t use OpenStreetMap (as it does with the iOS iPhoto app), at least not exclusively: it’s still not ready. It would be better, but not cheaper, if Apple used Navteq or Tele Atlas map data directly; when Google abandoned them for their own map data, Google Maps’ quality did not universally improve. (AppleInsider, Daring Fireball, TUAW.)