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]

Maine Reviews Registry Containing Racist Place Names

The Portland Press-Herald: “State officials have removed an official registry of Maine islands for review after the Press Herald inquired about how at least five privately owned islands and ledges still have names incorporating racial slurs, decades after they were forbidden under state law.” The registry is the Coastal Island Registry, which lists state- and privately owned islands; a 1977 Maine law explicitly banned place names with the n-word, and was later amended to include slurs against indigenous peoples. [Osher Map Library]

Previously: Racist Place Names in Quebec, Removed in 2015, Remain on Maps; Washington State Senator Seeks Removal of Offensive Place Names; Review: From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow.

Racist Place Names in Quebec, Removed in 2015, Remain on Maps

Despite the fact that Quebec’s Commission de toponomie removed 11 offensive place names, some involving the n-word or its French equivalent, in 2015, those names still appear on maps from third parties, including Google Maps. The commission says it asked Google to remove the names, but as the person behind a new petition to get the names changed points out, the offensive names have, with one exception, only been removed, not replaced. (The commission says they’re working on it.)

I imagine what’s at play here is that Google and other mapmakers would honour a request to change a name, but not to leave a previously named place unnamed; but then again I’d have thought they wouldn’t be so tone deaf. I expect this to change presently.

Previously: Le Jardin au Bout du Monde.

Online Map Tracks Nitrogen Dioxide Concentrations

Screenshot

A new online map tracks tropospheric global nitrogen dioxide concentrations—which we’ve seen drop sharply this year as the pandemic shut down economic activity. “This online platform uses data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite and shows the averaged nitrogen dioxide concentrations across the globe—using a 14-day moving average. Concentrations of short-lived pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide, are indicators of changes in economic slowdowns and are comparable to changes in emissions. Using a 14 day average eliminates some effects which are caused by short term weather changes and cloud cover. The average gives an overview over the whole time period and therefore reflects trends better than shorter time periods.” [ESA]

Previously: Mapping the Lockdown-Related Drop in Emissions; Emissions Drop Due to Coronavirus Outbreak.

Remains of Lost Fortifications in Gibraltar Found Thanks to 18th-Century Map

The remains of a fortified wall, originally part of Gibraltar’s northern defences but since lost to rubble, vegetation and time, was re-discovered and excavated thanks to an eighteenth-century map of the territory held by the British Library.

The map clearly indicated the location of the Hanover Wall, which had stretched from the Tower of Homage—the Moorish castle at the pinnacle of the defences—down to the Hanover Batteries lower down the Rock, but whose location had been lost. The Hanover Wall appears (under another name) on other maps at least as far back as 1627, when Spain held Gibraltar.

Workers directed by Carl quickly found the remains of the wall, which remained intact, although fully submerged under dirt and foliage. The efforts of these men revealed the long-lost wall, a critical part of the Northern Defences which had been lost amidst the rapid changes in Gibraltar throughout the 20th Century.

Real-Time Transit Maps on Circuit Boards

Traintrackr circuit board maps
Traintrackr

Harry Beck’s original London tube map was inspired by circuit diagrams, so it’s only fitting that TrainTrackr’s tracking maps showing the real-time positions of trains on the London Underground and Boston MBTA are literally circuit boards, using LEDs to indicate train positions. (They also have an LED map showing rainfall data in the British Isles.) Prices range from £99 to £249 (US$149 to $315). [Mapping London]

John G. Bartholomew, 100 Years After His Death

John G. BartholomewA short piece in the Edinburgh Evening News last April noted the 100th anniversary of the death of John G. Bartholomew (1860-1920), the fourth of six generations of mapmaking Bartholomews; their firm, John Bartholomew and Son, was responsible for the Times atlases before they were taken up by HarperCollins.

Speaking of his ancestor’s legacy, great-grandson, John Eric Bartholomew, told the Evening News that the fact John George Bartholomew is recognised as the man credited with being the first to put the name Antarctica on the map remains a great source of pride.

Little known is that, in 1886, Bartholomew had a brief flirtation with considering the name “Antipodea” for oceanographer John Murray’s map depicting the continent, before settling for Antarctica.

More about John G. Bartholomew at the Bartholomew family’s website and the NLS’s Bartholomew Archive. [WMS]

Previously: Robert G. Bartholomew, 1927-2017.

Apple Maps Updates Coming in iOS 14 This Fall

Updates to Apple Maps announced at WWDC last month include electric vehicle routing, cycling directions, traffic and speed camera notifications, and the ability to derive your location when GPS signals are weak by scanning the buildings in your area (presumably limited to cities with Look Around). In addition, Apple’s new, built-from-the-ground-up map data, which as of last January now covers the entire U.S., will be coming to Canada, Ireland and the U.K. later this year. The updates are a part of iOS 14, which launches in the fall. More at Engadget and The Verge.

Update, 7 Aug: MacRumors has a piece on what’s new in iOS 14 Maps.

Meander

Meander, created by Robert Hodgin, is “a procedural system for generating historical maps of rivers that never existed.” That statement takes some unpacking. It creates maps inspired by Harold Fisk’s 1944 map of the historical path of the Mississippi River with the Houdini 3D animation app. It starts with an input guideline; the river flows and meanders and oxbows from there. Then the system creates land plots that follow the path of the river. And then it creates a road network on top of that. And then it generates names for all these procedurally generated map features. In other words, Meander doesn’t just procedurally generate a river, it generates the entire country it runs through. Whoa.

Using Google Maps to Create a Real-World Paracosm

Brendan Koerner’s 12-year-old son has been spending the lockdown planning a summer road trip in great detail using Google Maps. As it turned out, his son was doing something more than, and other than, simply planning a trip: he was using maps to create a paracosm, one based in data and real locations rather than fantasy space.

In the days that followed, I’d often catch my son on Google Maps with pen in hand, jotting down increasingly specific bits of information that he considered essential to his plans: the names of bridges that span the Susquehanna River, the phone numbers for motor inns in Greater Pawtucket, the best things to eat while watching the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. (The stadium’s clam chowder has received lavish online praise.) As I watched him get lost in the pleasure of these tasks, I realized that he was under no illusions about the trip’s actual odds of taking place. He was immersing himself in Google Maps not because he expected we’d be attending a Norwich Sea Unicorns game anytime soon, but so he could build himself a sanctuary—a space where he’s in charge of how an uncertain future will unfold.

Getting lost in maps is an activity I expect a lot of us recognize, and have done ourselves, though the particulars are probably unique to each of us. (Random thought: Is this one reason why fantasy novels come with maps? Are the maps doing more of the work than we thought?)

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.)

The Impact of NOAA’s Height Modernization Program

The New York Times (Jonathan Corum), based on NOAA and NGS data

Last month the New York Times covered a subject that you’d expect to be too technical for the general reader: NOAA’s efforts to recalibrate elevation data as part of its update to the National Spatial Reference System, expected in 2022 or 2023. The height modernization program corrects local elevation data—which was last updated in 1988—by using GPS and gravity mapping. The Times article looks at the real-world implications of this effort, which will have the greatest impact the further west and north you go (see map above), from bragging rights about mountain elevation to whether your community is in a floodplain. [MAPS-L]

Previously: NATRF2022 Datum Coming to North America in 2022.

Antietam Battlefield Map Shows Burial Locations

Map of the Battlefield of Antietam (1864)
S. G. Elliott, “Map of the Battlefield of Antietam,” 1864. Map, 87 × 66 cm. New York Public Library.

A map of the battlefield of Antietam held by the New York Public Library that shows the location of graves of soldiers killed in the 1862 U.S. Civil War battle is the subject of a piece in today’s Washington Post.

Civil War historians are hailing it as an important new way to visualize the toll of the huge battle outside Sharpsburg, Md., in 1862.

“Every one of us who’s looked at this absolutely flips out,” said Garry Adelman, chief historian for the Washington-based American Battlefield Trust, which works to preserve historic battlefields. “This will reverberate for decades.”

The map is the only one of its kind known to exist. It was digitized by the New York Public Library, which owns it, and was spotted online by local historians a few weeks ago.

The map doesn’t just mark graveyards, it notes the burial locations of specific regiments and brigades—and in 45 cases, individual soldiers.

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.

The Topologist’s Map of the World

The Topologist’s Map of the World

Tom created the Topologist’s Map of the World to show how countries connect to each other. Deliberately emulating the style of a T-O map, Tom started with a Voronoi diagram and finished the map in Inkscape. Exclaves are ignored (too complicated), and islands encircle the rest of the map. Among Tom’s observations: “Some countries get really distorted—mostly when they find themselves near the centre of a continent. I’d often thought of Germany as the centre of Europe, but here, Austria and Hungary get really stretched out because they end up bordering countries on opposite sides of the continent.” [r/MapPorn]