The Economist’s Interactive History of the Ordnance Survey

The Economist looks at the history of the Ordnance Survey in an interactive feature that shows the progress of the first 19th-century maps across Great Britain. Of course the definitive history of the Survey’s first century, as the Economist article readily allows, is Rachel Hewitt’s Map of a Nation (2010), which I reviewed here. [Maps Mania]

Tien Shan and Other Panoramic Maps by Eric Knight

Eric Knight, “Tien Shan” (2022).

Eric Knight’s amazing panoramic maps aren’t the mountain panoramas you’re used to (if, that is, your point of reference is Berann or Niehues). Knight, who’s produced detailed relief and panoramic maps for National Geographic (see this page for examples of his work) gives us maps of vast regions, viewed in some cases from such a height that the Earth’s curvature is visible: see for example the Alps, the Caucasus, and Tien Shan (above). Available in online zoomable versions and for sale as prints. [Cartoblography]

Lost Mines, Buried Treasure, and a Map

A 1952 pictorial map purporting to show the locations of lost mines and sunken treasures in the Americas led L. A. Times reporter Daniel Miller, who acquired a copy of said map a few years ago, down two separate rabbit holes: one in which he unburies the history of the mapmaker, John D. Lawrence, who was colourful in a very California way; the other in which modern-day treasure hunters are prospecting at one of the locations shown on Lawrence’s map: Mount Kokoweef. Miller speculates as to what Lawrence knew about the Kokoweef site; me, I’m always skeptical about reading too much into maps like this, which are often retellings of retellings of stories. Still a fascinating story.

Poems on Maps

The Leventhal Map Center looks at poems on maps. Not about maps, on maps. “It just so happens that many of the maps in our collection have poems inscribed on them, in legends, around borders, and hidden away in overlooked corners. We find them primarily on pictorial maps, and the poems are mainly by men from the 20th century literary canon, but the maps they are on cover a wide geographic range.”

Historical Highway Maps of Wisconsin

Wisconsin Official State Highway Map (1953)
Wisconsin Official State Highway Map (1953). Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Wisconsin’s Department of Transportation has released scans of every edition of its official state highway map back to 1918.1 Available for download at that link. Also available for download: this 12-page guide discussing the evolution of the state’s highway map (PDF). It covers all sorts of paratextual things such as safety messaging, the governor’s welcome message, tourism and slogans in addition to the development of the map itself. Well worth a read.

The most recent map available at the moment is the 2019-2020 edition; a 2023 edition of the map is at the printer’s and will be released this summer.

Previously: Historical Highway Maps of Manitoba.

The Rand McNally Road Atlas at 100

Rand McNally Road Atlas: 100th Anniversary (cover and sample pages)I spent an astonishing amount of my childhood just staring at an out-of-date copy of the Rand McNally Road Atlas. I suspect not a few of you did the same. The Atlas is still being published; the company argues that they provide a better understanding of route options (it gives the big picture to a fault) and serve as a backup when GPS or cell service fails. In fact, a special 100th anniversary edition of the Atlas is being published next month. It including some retrospective features looking back at its 100 years of publication and comes in the usual formats: standard, large scale (more pages) and easy to read (less detail). Not nearly as nostalgic as that retrospective book of atlas covers that came out in 2018, but then it’s just a collector’s edition of a working atlas.

Pre-order links:

The Moon in LEGO

A poster map of the Moon rendered in LEGO by Marc Sloan.
Marc Sloan (LEGO Ideas)

On the LEGO Ideas website, user-submitted projects that reach the 10,000-supporter level are evaluated by LEGO to determine whether it can become a shipping product. Which is to say that Marc Sloan’s 2,360-piece “The Moon: Earth’s Companion,” a Moon map poster rendered in LEGO, stands at least some chance of being something one could buy at some point. [Universe Today]

A Martian Mosaic at Five Metres per Pixel

Global CTX Mosaic of Mars (screenshot)

The Global CTX Mosaic of Mars, produced by CalTech’s Bruce Murray Laboratory for Planetary Visualization, is a 5.7-terapixel mosaic of the Martian surface at a resolution of five metres per pixel. The mosaic is available in a number of different formats (via ArcGIS Online, KML, shapefiles), as well as via this online viewer; and the Lab is quite transparent about how they constructed it from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Context Camera (CTX) data. [Maps Mania/La Cartoteca]

How Google Deals with Fake Content on Google Maps

In a blog post last Friday, Google offers some detail on how it combats fraudulent user-submitted content on Google Maps. These include fake business profiles, fake reviews, contributed photos with fake phone numbers—it’s basically about business listings. (There was a time, of course, when fake user-submitted content was to the map itself.) They report something like 115 million reviews, 200 million photos and 20 million fake business profiles—no wonder they’re using machine learning to deal with it all. (Compare with Google’s February 2021 post on the same subject: the numbers are up.)

Previously: Millions of Business Listings on Google Maps Are Fake: WSJ; How Many Fake Business Listings Are There on Google Maps?

Twenty Years

Today is The Map Room’s 20th anniversary.

The rule of thumb is that an item is vintage if it’s more than 40 years old, and antique if it’s more than 100 years old. (That tan-coloured Replogle globe with South Sudan on it? Not antique.) Time runs faster on the web, though: something 20 years old feels geologically ancient. Running a 20-year-old blog in 2023 feels like keeping a pet coelacanth: you’re keeping a living fossil alive.

As social media approaches what may well be its extinction event, there’s been a lot of talk about “bringing back blogs.” Um, blogs never went away: just marked its 25th anniversary, and there are still plenty of websites out there powered by WordPress or something similar that don’t call themselves blogs. What faded away, I think, was the idea of, and self-identification as, a blogger. Lots of people started blogs in the format’s early years but didn’t keep up with them; social media was a better fit for what they wanted to do. Not many people start a blog qua blog to be a blogger nowadays. But institutions still post updates in blog form, and experts share their insights on platforms that blur the lines between blog, social media and newsletter.

(Certainly the map blog never went away: we still have general-interest blogs like Maps Mania and Lat × Long; industry and academic figures like Matthew Edney, Kenneth Field and James Killick regularly post commentary and links; and plenty of working cartographers share their latest creations on blogging platforms as well.1)

The Map Room is not an institution, nor am I an expert. No really: I’m not. The idea that someone with an intense interest in a subject but not much knowledge could start a blog as a way to explore the subject—“an exercise in self-education” is what I called it—was something that made sense in 2003. It might be a bit more archaic now.2 I am also, twenty years on, rather more self-educated: I understand what I’m linking to more than I used to, and I’ve seen enough to know when to be skeptical. I’ve called bullshit on more than one occasion. I still can’t make a map of my own (there’s an alternate universe in which I’m making a perfectly happy living as a freelance cartographer), but my appreciation for them is all the richer for having spent two decades at this.

The Michigan Mitten, Orthorectified

The lower peninsula of the U.S. state of Michigan is often called the mitten, for its resemblance to a human hand, and apparently Michiganders indicate where they’re from by using their hands as a rudimentary map of the state. The upper peninsula too. See Strange Maps. Now John Nelson has taken this entirely too far: he’s made the Michigan hand map geographically accurate.

Some Map How-to Videos

Most of their videos are a few years old, but I only recently stumbled across the YouTube channel of New World Maps. They have a number of short, practical videos aimed at map buyers and map owners who want to display their maps: tips for framing maps, for flattening maps so they can be framed (above), for dealing with small chips and tears (at least on inexpensive maps), among other subjects. Useful—and not just for maps.

Confused by Cartographic Conventions

Daniel Huffman writes that “there are certain cartographic conventions out there for which I don’t understand the logic.” (Such as that thematic or choropleth maps should be on equal-area projections.) “I do not suggest that these conventions are wrong; only that I lack a clear, intuitive rationale for following them, and so haven’t always incorporated them into my own practice. Maybe you can help explain them, or maybe you’re confused, too.”