Review: A History of the World in Twelve Maps

If somebody who was vaguely interested in maps wanted a book to get them started, I think I might point them toward A History of the World in Twelve Maps, written by Renaissance Studies professor Jerry Brotton. This book first appeared in September 2012 in Great Britain, where it’s now out in paperback. The U.S. edition came out last month in hardcover.

It’s a history of cartography that takes a rather unique approach: instead of providing a straight narrative history, Brotton focuses on twelve maps (or, more precisely, mapmaking endeavours), ranging from Ptolemy’s Geography to Google Earth. But Brotton does a lot more than talk about just twelve maps.

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The Journal of Unlikely Cartography

When it comes to maps and fantasy, I’m particularly interested in the ways that maps are used in the course of a story, as opposed to appearing at the front of the book for reference purposes. I’ve posted many examples over the past few years and have a bunch more in my to-read pile.
It looks like next year will add considerably to that list: Unlikely Story is publishing a single-issue Journal of Unlikely Cartography. The call for submissions:

From pirate maps leading to buried treasure to painstakingly-drawn maps of continents that never were, there are endless unlikely possibilities in the world of cartography. Send us your story of a rogue GPS taking a driver down non-existent roads, show us what lies in those unexplored territories labeled “here there be monsters,” give us haunted globes, star charts written in disappearing ink, and spiraling lines on crumbling parchment leading to the center of the labyrinth. As always, we want gorgeously-told tales, gripping characters, and unique worlds to explore. Genre doesn’t matter to us, along as your tale involves maps or cartography in some integral way.

Pays 5¢/word on publication, deadline February 1. I have had considerable difficulty in submitting to anthologies in the past (I write fiction very slowly; the story never quite gels in time for the deadline), but I really, really, really need to submit something to this.

Unfathomable City

Book cover: Unfathomable City Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas, by Rebecca Solnit and Rebecca Snedeker, came out last month from University of California Press. At first glance it looks like it does for New Orleans what Solnit’s previous work, Infinite City, did for San Francisco: it’s a collection of essays and maps that, as before, displays two complementary or contrasting things on the same city map. In my review of Infinite City I suggested that not every city could sustain a project like this, though San Francisco obviously could; it seems to me that New Orleans is a natural followup.

Review: Barrington Atlas iPad App

Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World (screenshot)

The Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World was a landmark in historical cartography: an atlas that pinpointed locations from classical antiquity on modern maps. The result of more than a decade’s work and $4.5 million in funding support (here’s the project website), the print version of the Barrington Atlas, which came out in 2000, was both enormous and expensive: larger than either the National Geographic or Times Comprehensive atlases,1 and priced at an eye-popping $395.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, there’s an iPad version of the Barrington Atlas, which (they say) contains the full content of the $395 print atlas and costs only $20 (iTunes link). On that basis it’s a no-brainer: $20 is better than $395. (95 percent off!) Classicists with iPads who don’t buy this app have something wrong with them. But how does it work as a map app?

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How to Make a Fantasy Map

Map from The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley; map by Isaac Stewart

So today Tor.com posted something very much relevant to my interests: a piece by illustrator Isaac Stewart that describes his process for creating a map for a fantasy novel. In this case, The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley, who very helpfully provided a sketch from which Stewart could work.

This is utterly fascinating for me, because a significant gap in my research into fantasy maps has been the process of creating them. It’s sort of left me feeling like a wine taster that has no idea how wine is made. Stewart (who has also done work for Brandon Sanderson’s novels: his maps for The Alloy of Law have already caught my attention) takes us through every step, from inspiration through Photoshop.

Earlier this year I published an article pointing out that the main difference between historical and fantasy maps was information density: a real medieval map is full of detail, because cartographers don’t dare waste vellum; fantasy maps are relatively sparse—largely, I suspected, because only so much detail can legibly fit on a map printed for a mass-market paperback. That was an educated guess on my part; it’s interesting to see it confirmed:

A map meant to fit in a hardcover book (and subsequently a paperback) can’t be as detailed as a real-world map and still be legible. Even though I treat the map as a product of its fantasy world, it has to be understandable to modern audiences. Usually this means I can’t copy the exact style of my reference, but I can use it for inspiration.

I’ll be referring to Stewart’s post often, I think.

The United Watershed States of America

United Watershed States of America 2

In 1879, surveyor (and future USGS director) John Wesley Powell proposed that the boundaries of future western states be determined by watersheds, in order to avoid water use conflicts. John Lavey takes this proposal to its logical conclusion, imagining a U.S. in which all 50 states follow watershed boundaries. Via io9.

Previously: Fifty Equal States Redux.

Maps of Mercury

H-12 Michaelangelo

The USGS has released quad maps of the planet Mercury as a set of PDF files: “The 1:5 million-scale series of Mercury maps divides Mercury into 15 quadrangles, H-1 through H-15 (five Mercator, eight Lambert Conformal, and two Polar Stereographic quadrangles). The base mosaic was produced with orbital images by the MESSENGER Team and released by NASA’s Planetary Data System on March 8, 2013. This new global mosaic includes 100% coverage of Mercury’s surface.”

Two Detailed Rail Maps

Northeast Rail Map

A couple of supremely detailed rail maps to bring to your attention, both of which show every line and station of long-distance, regional and commuter rail networks. There’s one for California, which uses a Beck-like, diagrammatic design, and one for the Northeast Corridor (see above), which opts for geographic accuracy. Despite the differences there’s a lot of overlap on the two design teams. Creative Commons licensed, with printed posters available.

The Barrington Atlas Comes to the iPad

At a list price of $395, the print version of the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World (Princeton University Press, 2000), was more expensive than some iPads. Which makes the forthcoming iPad version of the Atlas, described in the announcement as “complete content of the classic reference work,” a veritable bargain at only $20.

In 102 interactive color maps, this app re-creates the entire world of the Greeks and Romans from the British Isles to the Indian subcontinent and deep into North Africa. Unrivaled for range, clarity, and detail, these custom-designed maps return the modern landscape to its ancient appearance, marking ancient names and features in accordance with modern scholarship and archaeological discoveries. Geographically, the maps span the territory of more than seventy-five modern countries. Chronologically, they extend from archaic Greece to the Late Roman Empire.

It’ll be available on November 21: plenty of time for me to get a new iPad Air by then (it works on all iPads except the original).

Previously: Barrington Atlas.

World of Equal Districts

World of Equal Districts
I’ve seen a lot of maps that redraw national or subnational boundaries in the name of equal population (here’s a recent example) but the World of Equal Districts is the first I’ve seen to do it for the entire planet: it divides the world into 665 districts, each of which has around 10 to 11 million inhabitants. This is the electoral district map for a planetary parliament. [Boing Boing/MetaFilter]

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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