New Editions of World Atlases

World atlases are still a thing, and the first of this month saw the publication of two new editions of venerable world atlases.

First, the National Geographic Atlas of the World, a new edition of which comes out every four years. This year’s is the 11th.

I have to confess that I’m fond of the National Geographic: compared to other atlases it does its own thing with political maps that eschew coloured relief and explain every little boundary dispute and controversy in little red letters. It’s also enormous, larger in dimension than the Times Comprehensive (though not as heavy) and with a list price of $215/£170 is slightly more expensive. National Geographic’s page doesn’t go into detail as to what changes were made for the 11th edition, which is a pity. (Does it have Eswatini and North Macedonia, for example?)

The Oxford Atlas of the World is a lot smaller and more affordable. At $90, it slots between the Times Universal and Concise atlases in terms of list price, though its page count is that of the more expensive Concise. It’s also updated every year; this year’s edition is the 26th. And the publisher’s page does list some of the updates. (Eswatini and North Macedonia? Yes!)

As for the Times line of atlases, the most recent to be updated was the third-tier Times Universal Atlas ($50/£80), the 4th edition of which came out in August. Prior to that, the 5th edition of the affordable Times Desktop Atlas ($35/£20) was released in February. The 15th edition of the top-of-range Times Comprehensive Atlas ($200/£150) came out in the fall of 2018: I reviewed it here.

Out Today: Airline Maps

Airline Maps

Out today: Airline Maps: A Century of Art and Design (Particular Books/Penguin), Mark Ovenden and Maxwell Roberts’s book about the history of the airline map—those maps showing where an airline flies that you often see in in-flight magazines.

Hundreds of images span a century of passenger flight, from the rudimentary trajectory of routes to the most intricately detailed birds-eye views of the land to be flown over. Advertisements for the first scheduled commercial passenger flights featured only a few destinations, with stunning views of the countryside and graphics of biplanes. As aviation took off, speed and mileage were trumpeted on bold posters featuring busy routes. Major airlines produced highly stylized illustrations of their global presence, establishing now-classic brands. With trendy and forward-looking designs, cartographers celebrated the coming together of different cultures and made the earth look ever smaller.

CityLab has an interview with Ovenden and Roberts about their book. One exchange stuck out:

But some of the maps in the book are really geometric and straightforward, like transit maps. I’m wondering, how are these airlines dealing with some of the problems of transit maps? For instance, how do you get a lot of lines to a central station, or a hub in terms of air travel?

Roberts: I’m not sure that they do. I’ve actually looked closely at a lot of these airline maps and tried to get my head around them, and actually some make no sense at all. They’re essentially unusable. And that’s the big irony with airline maps: Nobody’s ever used an airline map to plan a journey.

It seems to me that this is because airline maps aren’t transit maps, they’re pictorial maps. Pictorial maps were about promotion and decoration, not navigation.

Ovenden is known to us here at The Map Room: he’s published books about transit map design such as Transit Maps of the World (2007, updated 2015), Paris Underground (2009) and (Great) Railway Maps of the World (2012). Roberts is the author of Underground Maps After Beck (2005) and Underground Maps Unravelled (2017). Taking to the air is a bit of departure for both authors, then.

For another book on this subject, see Paul Jarvis’s Mapping the Airways, which came out in 2016 (previously).

Vanessa Barragão’s Botanical Tapestry

Vanessa Barragão, ”Botanical Tapestry,” 2019. Wool, cotton and jute, 6 m × 2 m. Heathrow Airport, Terminal 2.

A massive, six-by-two-metre textile tapestry map of the world is now installed in the departure area of Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 2. It’s called “Botanical Tapestry,” and it’s the work of Portuguese textile artist Vanessa Barragão. It took her 520 hours to make, using different techniques like latch hook, crochet and felt needle to achieve different textures; it also took 42 kg of recycled wool, plus another 8 kg of cotton and jute. [Geography Realm, My Modern Met]

The Secret Mission to Seize German Map Data in World War II

Greg Miller’s crackerjack story in the November 2019 issue of Smithsonian magazine is about the quest to capture German geodetic data—and German geographers—during the dying days of the Second World War. Said data was a strategically critical treasure trove, of immense interest to the U.S. War Department, and the team led by Floyd W. Hough was in a race to find it before it was destroyed, carried away by the enemy, or fell into Soviet hands.

Little is publicly known about the true scope of the information that Hough and his team captured, or the ingenuity they displayed in securing it, because their mission was conducted in secret, and the technical material they seized circulated only among military intelligence experts and academics. But it was a vast scientific treasure—likely the largest cache of geographic data the United States ever obtained from an enemy power in wartime.

The data seized by Hough’s team went on to form the basis of the ED50 geodetic datum, which in turn led to the Universal Tranverse Mercator system.

More Canadian Election Maps

I hit “Publish” too soon last night. Kenneth Field and Craig Williams put together a series of maps showing the Canadian election results in a number of different ways: we have a value-by-alpha map, a proportional symbol map, and two kinds of dot density maps: one showing the winners, one showing all votes per constituency. (One dot equals 100 votes; the dots are spread evenly across constituencies, even when people aren’t. You can’t have everything.) And it’s on the Lambert, not the Mercator.

Speaking of the Mercator. Maps Mania’s roundup of Canadian election results maps notes that the Canadian media’s interactive maps (e.g. CBC, Global, Globe and Mail) invariably resorted to Web Mercator, largely because of the mapping platform used. (In-house infographics team? Don’t be ridiculous.) Web Mercator is singularly bad for Canadian election maps, because Nunavut: it’s the largest electoral district by area (1.9 million km2) and the smallest by population (31,906). It’s enough of a distortion on the Lambert: Mercator makes it worse.

As for cartograms, Ken hated the one I posted last night; Keir points to Luke Andrews’s Electoral Cartogram of Canada, which is a bit nicer, and uses only one hexagon per riding instead of seven. Keir also points to this animation that shifts between a geographical map and a cartogram. It’s hard to recognize Canada in cartograms, because it’s difficult for us to grasp just how many people live in southern Ontario.

Previously: A Cartogram of Canada’s Election Results.

A Cartogram of Canada’s Election Results

This cartogram shows the seat-by-seat results of the federal election held last Monday in Canada. It was uploaded to Wikipedia by user Mark Gargul to illustrate the 2019 Canadian federal election article, and it’s a welcome departure from the usual election results maps in this country.

(An example of the usual results map is Elections Canada’s official map of the unofficial results, in PDF format.)

Canadian election results maps generally use geographic maps, usually the Lambert conformal conic projection that most maps of Canada use (though sometimes it’s the Mercator!) rather than cartograms. Which means that Canadian maps suffer from the same “empty land doesn’t vote” problem that U.S. maps have, though it’s mitigated by the fact that vast rural and northern seats are often won by different parties: you don’t have the same sea of one colour that you get in the States.

That said, Canada is overwhelmingly urban, and so are its electoral districts. Most election results maps resort to using multiple inset maps to show the urban results. (Elections Canada’s map has 29 of them.) Gargul’s cartogram sidesteps both problems neatly; on the other hand, it’s next to impossible to find your own damn constituency (it’s hidden in the mouseover text). If the disadvantage of empty-land election results maps is that the colours aren’t representative, their advantage is that you can tell what regions voted for whom, at least if you know your geography.

H-Maps, a New Discussion List About Map History

Despite the imminent shutdown of Yahoo Groups, and the lamented demise of MapHist in 2012, discussion lists are still a thing, it seems: H-Net, that venerable purveyor of academic discussion lists since I was in academia, has, with the collaboration of the International Society for the History of the Map, launched H-Maps, “an international digital forum in the historical study of the making, circulation, use and preservation of maps from the ancient to the contemporary period.” Scholarly in focus, to be sure.

Tony Campbell lists other discussion lists related to map history here.

Book of Niehues Ski Resort Art Now Available

The Man Behind the Map, the coffee table book of Jim Niehues’s ski resort maps whose crowdfunding campaign I told you about last year, is now available for sale.

The Man Behind the Maps (cover)The book is nearly 300 pages long, contains more than 200 ski resort maps, and costs $90. That seems high, but printing a full-colour book in small or print-on-demand batches doesn’t come cheap.

Previously: Crowdfunding a Book of James Niehues’s Ski Resort Art; A Video Profile of James Niehues, Ski Resort Map Artist; James Niehues Passes the Torch; James Niehues’s Ski Resort Maps; James Niehues Profile.

The Washington Post Maps Fall Foliage

Washington Post

Fall foliage maps, which show the best times and places to observe autumn leaves, have been a thing for a good long while. The Washington Post’s take on them is something earnestly next level, with a detailed explanation of the biology and satellite images showing the change in colour across the United States. (I don’t need fall foliage maps: I live on an acre of beech and maple forest and get all the fall colours right outside my window, though here in Canada the leaves are almost all on the ground by now.)

A Fantasy Maps Update

It’s been a while since my last post. That’s because I spent most of last week with my head down, working on a presentation about fantasy maps for a science fiction/fantasy convention that took place over the weekend. The presentation was called “The Territory Is Not the Map: Exploring the Fantasy Map Style,” and it drew on the arguments I made in recent Tor.com articles and in this post. Will I let you see it at some point? Possibly, though not likely in its current form: the paint was barely dry on it when I delivered it, though it was quite well received.

Meanwhile, a couple of other things. Here’s a piece by the author Lev Grossman about the urge to map fictional places. It’s excerpted from his essay in Deserina Boskovitch’s Lost Transmissions: The Secret History of Science Fiction and Fantasy (which came out last month from Abrams).

It didn’t matter that these places didn’t exist, what mattered was how much people wanted them to. Fictional maps are a visual trace of the ridiculous, undignified passion that we pour into worlds that we know aren’t real. They seem to confirm the ridiculous faith we place in novels—to see one is to say, silently and only to yourself, See? I knew it was real!

And the author Diane Duane has a simply massive collection of links to digital mapmaking resources in re fantasy maps, from map generators to tools to tutorials.

Mapping Ottawa’s LRT

OC Transpo

Ottawa’s new light rail line opened to the public last month, more than a year overdue, and this week the bus routes change to account for that fact. The new system network map (downtown inset above) strongly resembles the map released last year, which showed what the bus routes would have been had the LRT opened back then, somewhat less late, but there are some subtle changes here and there.

Meanwhile, planning is under way for the next stage of LRT construction. The City of Ottawa has an interactive map showing where the new (and existing) lines will be going: it’s a track network map that shows every crossover and platform, and goes a long way toward satisfying my curiosity.

Remember MapQuest?

Search Engine Land: “Earlier this week Mapquest was sold by corporate parent Verizon to System1, an ad-tech company you’ve probably never heard of for an undisclosed amount, which was ‘not material enough for Verizon to file paperwork.’ That’s a metaphor for how far Mapquest has fallen since its heyday as the dominant online mapping site roughly a decade or so ago.” Verizon got MapQuest as part of its purchase of AOL in 2015. [Brian, James]

We Are Here: An Atlas of Aotearoa (New Zealand)

Today* is the publication date for We Are Here: An Atlas of Aotearoa (Massey University Press), a visual atlas of New Zealand by geographer Chris McDowall and designer Tim Denee. An excerpt of the book can be viewed online here. The authors have open sourced the code and data that went into making the book: it’s all available here.

* Well, yesterday: it’s already tomorrow in New Zealand.