It’s become a commonplace that modern technology has eroded our ability to navigate: that relying on GPS and smartphones is destroying our brains’ abilities to form cognitive maps and that we’d be utterly lost without them.1 I’m not sure I subscribe to that point of view: plenty of people have been getting themselves lost for generations; relying on an iPhone to get home is not much different from nervously having to follow someone’s scribbled directions without really knowing where you’re going.
For my part, I can’t get lost. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible for me to get lost: that has, in fact, been known to happen. I mean that I can’t allow myself not to know where I am under any circumstances. I’ve got a pretty good cognitive map, but if I’m in a strange city without a map of said city, I’m deeply uncomfortable if not upset; provide me with a map to get my bearings with and I’m immediately at ease. In my case, having an iPhone—with multiple map applications—means I don’t have to get to the nearest map outlet as soon as freaking possible. It’s not, in other words, an either-or situation.
John Edward Huth is firmly in the former camp. He’s a particle physicist at Harvard who’s worked on the Higgs boson who for years has been running an interesting side gig: he teaches a course on what he has called “primitive navigation”—the ancient means of navigating the world that existed prior to the advent of some later technology. The course, and the accompanying book, The Lost Art of Finding Our Way (Belknap/Harvard University Press, 2013), are an exercise in recapturing those methods.
Laura Vaughan’s Mapping Society: The Spatial Dimensions of Social Cartography (UCL Press, 3 September) “traces the evolution of social cartography over the past two centuries. In this richly illustrated book, Laura Vaughan examines maps of ethnic or religious difference, poverty, and health inequalities, demonstrating how they not only serve as historical records of social enquiry, but also constitute inscriptions of social patterns that have been etched deeply on the surface of cities.” Available in the U.K. in hardcover (£45) or paperback (£25), but you can also download the PDF for free: the book is published under a Creative Commons licence.
Manchester: Mapping the City (Birlinn, 4 October), the latest in Birlinn’s line of cartographic histories, is the result of years of research and collecting by authors Terry Wyke, Brian Robson and Martin Dodge. “This book uses historic maps and unpublished and original plans to chart the dramatic growth and transformation of Manchester as it grew rich on its cotton trade from the late 18th century, experienced periods of boom and bust through the Victorian period, and began its post-industrial transformation in the 20th century.” The book’s home page has sample chapters and links to Mancunian maps online. More from the University of Manchester. [Tony Campbell]
Another excerpt from the forthcoming book The Writer’s Map, this time in the Guardian, in which three authors talk about their favourite literary maps: Robert Macfarlane on the map in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Frances Hardinge on the map of Tove Jansson’s Moominland, and Miraphora Mina on the Harry Potter Marauder’s Map. In each case the maps are points of departure: Macfarlane gets all scholarly and theoretical, Hardinge and Mina more personal.
In The Spectator, Travis Elborough reviews Thomas Reinertsen Berg’s Theatre of the World: The Maps that Made World History (Hodder & Stoughton, 6 September). This is a translation (by Alison McCullough); the original book appeared in Norwegian as Verdensteater: Kartenes historie last year. Elborough, who is himself an author of map books,1 calls the book “impressively global and touchingly parochial, as his native Norway and Scandinavia in general often and unashamedly take centre stage in the narrative. (A note in the foreword explains that the book has to a certain extent been de-Norwegianised for the English edition.)” But then he goes on to lament the omission of thoroughly British-centric content. Go figure.
Theatre of the World is out now in the U.K.; the U.S. edition, published by Little, Brown, and with its title thoroughly Americanized as Theater of the World, comes out on December 4th.
The physical atlas’s four volumes include one for First Nations, one for the Inuit, one for the Métis, and one focusing on Truth and Reconciliation. It has a list price of C$99.99 (online sellers will have it for less) and comes out in one week, on September 25th: Amazon. A French-language version comes out next month, on October 23rd: Amazon.
The online version of the atlas has the text but very little in the way of maps: I can only assume that this is not the case for the book versions. The companion app, for iOS and Android, does little more than link to the web version and includes a location finder for land acknowledgment.
Mark Monmonier’s How to Lie with Maps has always been about how to read maps, not how to make them. The map-using public is inclined not only to believe what’s on the map, but to trust it: why would so many people willingly drive their cars into ditches, if they didn’t trust their cars’ navigation systems more than their own eyes? Monmonier prescribes “a healthy skepticism” about maps, and this book is a tool to that end: “I want to make readers aware that maps, like speeches and paintings, are authored collections of information and are also subject to distortions arising from ignorance, greed, ideological blindness, or malice.”1 The book is essentially a cheat sheet, showing all the ways that maps can be made to shade, or at the very least, select the truth. At the minimum, mapmakers must decide what to include or exclude, and those decisions may not necessarily be honest or fair.
The first edition of How to Lie with Maps came out in 1991, the second in 1996. (See my review of the second edition here.) Since then the cartographic landscape is much changed: the map a person may use most frequently may come via their phone rather than paper. But the advice found in this book is still valid. What goes for a paper map is still relevant to the map you call up on your iPhone. And so now, 22 years later, we have a third edition of How to Lie with Maps, which came out from the University of Chicago Press last April. For the most part it’s familiar territory. Other than a nip and tuck here and there and a few new chapters at the end, it’s largely the same book it was in 1996. How does it measure up in the present moment?
Mostly well, with some caveats. The core message of How to Lie with Maps will not become obsolete until maps do, which is to say never; but the examples and emphases are starting to become a bit dated. The reader might have to do a little more work in some cases to see the applicability of a chapter—to translate it into familiar terms—but that effort will be rewarded. For example, I think that everyone working with web-based maps should become quite familiar with chapter 3, “Map Generalization,” for its insights on what to include and exclude at different scales. The chapter on data maps, discussing the use of choropleths, cartograms and other data visualizations, is absolutely essential: so many of the maps being circulated as memes are data maps of some kind, and anything that improves the critical eye with regard to such maps is going to help.
But that chapter on data maps does get a bit lost in the weeds, especially for the general reader. And I’d have liked to have seen something on heat maps akin to this xkcd cartoon:
Bad internet maps have been described as a “social media plague”: they’re popular, they’re insidious, and they’re often not even wrong. But they’re not specifically dealt with in How to Lie with Maps, and that’s a blind spot: in the era of fake news, hoaxes and state-sponsored mendacity, maps that go viral are the ones most in need of a vaccination campaign.
Instead, the new chapters focus on image maps (satellite and aerial imagery), prohibitive cartography (which seems out of place here, and seems more a summary of Monmonier’s other work) and “fast maps,” which is more about web-based mapping than the stuff that gets shared on social media. The new chapters are noticeably more concise than the old. The net effect is a book that is still important, still relevant and still badly needed, but whose updates don’t quite bring it up to the present.
Adam Dant’s Maps of London and Beyond (Batsford, 7 June) is a collection of the artist’s “beautiful, witty and subversive” maps. From the publisher: “Traversed by a plethora of colourful characters including William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Mary Wollstonecraft and Barbara Windsor, Adam Dant’s maps extend from the shipwrecks on the bed of the Thames to the stars in the sky over Soho. Along the way, he captures all the rich traditions in the capital, from brawls and buried treasure to gin and gentlemen’s clubs.”
Dant’s maps have been appearing on the Spitalfields Life blog for several years: start with this post and follow the links. They’re also the subject of at least two exhibitions in London right now: one at The Map House, which runs until the 14th; and one at Town House, which runs until the 22nd.
The big book coming out this month, in all senses of the word, is Cartography. by our friend Kenneth Field (Esri Press, 28 June). “This sage compendium for contemporary mapmakers distills the essence of cartography into useful topics, organized for convenience in finding the specific idea or method you need. Unlike books targeted to deep scholarly discourse of cartographic theory, this book provides sound, visually compelling information that translates into practical and useful tools for modern mapmaking. At the intersection of science and art, this book serves as a guidepost for designing an accurate and effective map.” A hardcover edition is also available.
Borders, Trade and Diplomacy
June saw the publication of a new paperback edition of Jerry Brotton’s Trading Territories: Mapping the Early Modern World (Reaktion, 18 June), in which the author “shows that trade and diplomacy defined the development of maps and globes in this period, far more than the disinterested pursuit of scientific accuracy and objectivity, and challenges our preconceptions about not just maps, but also the history and geography of what we call East and West.” Amazon
Carving Up the Globe: An Atlas of Diplomacy, edited by Malise Ruthven (Belknap/Harvard University Press, 18 June), “illustrates treaties that have determined the political fates of millions. In rich detail, it chronicles everything from ancient Egyptian and Hittite accords to the first Sino–Tibetan peace in 783 CE, the Sykes–Picot Agreement of 1916, and the 2014 Minsk Protocol looming over the war in Ukraine. But there is more here than shifting territorial frontiers. Throughout history, diplomats have also drawn boundaries around valuable resources and used treaties to empower, liberate, and constrain. Carving Up the Globe encompasses these agreements, too, across land, sea, and air. Missile and nuclear pacts, environmental treaties, chemical weapons conventions, and economic deals are all carefully rendered.” Amazon
Henricus Martellus’s World Map at Yale (c. 1491): Multispectral Imaging, Sources, and Influence by Chet Van Duzer (Springer, 25 June) reports on the results of multispectral imaging of a map previously thought illegible due to faded text. “This volume provides transcriptions, translations, and commentary on the Latin texts on the map, particularly their sources, as well as the place names in several regions. This leads to a demonstration of a very close relationship between the Martellus map and Martin Waldseemüller’s famous map of 1507. One of the most exciting discoveries on the map is in the hinterlands of southern Africa. The information there comes from African sources; the map is thus a unique and supremely important document regarding African cartography in the fifteenth century. This book is essential reading for digital humanitarians and historians of cartography.” Amazon
Map Books of 2018 Updated
The Map Books of 2018 page has been updated to include several new forthcoming books and to reflect changes to previously announced publication dates (which happens quite a lot, it seems).
I trained as a historian of the French Third Republic, so Kory Olson’s The Cartographic Capital: Mapping Third Republic Paris, 1889-1934 (Liverpool University Press, 4 May), which “looks at how government presentations of Paris and environs change over the course of the Third Republic (1889-1934),” would have very much been up my alley twenty years ago. “The government initially seemed to privilege an exclusively positive view of the capital city and limited its presentation of it to land inside the walled fortifications. However, as the Republic progressed and Paris grew, technology altered how Parisians used and understood their urban space.” Amazon
Chris Barrett’s Early Modern English Literature and the Poetics of Cartographic Anxiety (Oxford University Press, 22 May) is about “the many anxieties provoked by early modern maps and mapping in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. A product of a military arms race, often deployed for security and surveillance purposes, and fundamentally distortive of their subjects, maps provoked suspicion, unease, and even hostility in early modern Britain. […] This volume explores three major poems of the period—Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590, 1596), Michael Drayton’s Poly-Olbion (1612, 1622), and John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667, 1674)—in terms of their vexed and vexing relationships with cartographic materials.” Amazon, iBooks
Zayde Antrim’s Mapping the Middle East (Reaktion, 1 April) “explores the many perspectives from which people have visualized the vast area lying between the Atlantic Ocean and the Oxus and Indus river valleys over the past millennium. By analysing maps produced from the eleventh century on, Zayde Antrim emphasizes the deep roots of mapping in a world region too often considered unexamined and unchanging before the modern period. Indeed, maps from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, coinciding with the eras of European colonialism and the rise of the nation-state, have obscured this deeper past and constrained future possibilities.” Amazon
Jeremy Black’s Mapping Shakespeare: An Exploration of Shakespeare’s Worlds Through Maps (Conway, 10 April) “looks at the England, Europe, and wider world in which Shakespeare worked through maps and illustrations that reveal the way that he and his contemporaries saw their land and their place in the world. It also explores the locations of his plays and looks at the possible inspirations for these and why Shakespeare would have chosen to set his stories there.” Amazon, iBooks