Something I often do when reviewing a book is talk about it in terms of the expectations of its potential readers—particularly if readers might come to a book with expectations that the book does not meet, because the book is doing something different. If you’re expecting The Eternal City: A History of Rome in Maps, written by the art historian Jessica Maier and published last November by the University of Chicago Press, to be basically A History of Rome in 100 Maps, it isn’t: the count is more like three dozen. This doesn’t mean that The Eternal City is a slight book—it most certainly is not, though at 199 pages it’s a bit shorter than, say, A History of America in 100 Maps (272 pages).
But counting maps would miss the difference in Maier’s approach. To invoke xkcd, this is depth-first rather than breadth-first: there are fewer maps here, but they’re discussed in much more depth than the two-page spreads of the hundred-map books, and provided with much more context. This is a history of Rome in maps in which history, Rome and maps all get their proper share of attention.
Fire insurance maps are an invaluable resource for historical researchers: they’re extremely detailed snapshots of the built environment of virtually every city and town, and there are usually several such snapshots (I’ve seen at least three for my little village, for example), so you can chart a town’s growth over time at a level of detail an OS, quad or topo map can’t match.
The New York Times maps the distribution of COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles. “County officials recently estimated that one in three of Los Angeles County’s roughly 10 million people have been infected with Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. But even amid an uncontrolled outbreak, some Angelenos have faced higher risk than others. County data shows that Pacoima, a predominantly Latino neighborhood that has one of the highest case rates in the nation, has roughly five times the rate of Covid-19 cases as much richer and whiter Santa Monica.”
Markus Moestue’s Critical Tourist Map of Oslo turns the unremitting positivity of tourist maps on its head, painting the Norwegian capital’s landmarks and history in a bracingly negative light.
In most countries, what we are taught about our own nation in school does not correspond much to reality. And Norway is no exception. We are made to believe in myths surrounding our own nation and are given a perfect mirage of excellence and good intentions in our history lessons. Stories of abuse, greed and war are often swept under the carpet, and it seems that, by some twist of faith, we are born into the best country in the world, and that all other nations are beneath us. Is Norway really the most happy place, the most environmentally conscious, the most peace loving or the most ethical? Hardly!
In this map I aim to correct a few myths, point to some problematic aspects of Norway and Oslo. And I wish for this map to be a contrast to the mindless commercially motivated map you’ll receive at the tourist information centre.
In a short video, Markus tries to stunt-distribute the map on the streets of Oslo:
Mark Ovenden has made a career of publishing books about transportation systems and their maps that are both comprehensive and copiously illustrated. These include books about transit maps, railway maps and airline maps, as well as books about specific transit systems like the London Underground and the Paris Metro.
His latest, Underground Cities (Frances Lincoln, 22 Sep), is in some ways a natural progression from his past work: in the introduction he muses on the link between transit geekery and wondering about “what else lies down there beyond the walls” (p. 6). But in other ways this is quite a different book.
Ottawa Public Health has partnered with the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study to produce this interactive map of COVID-19 rates in Ottawa’s neighbourhoods. Both the map and its underlying data are subject to many caveats: the differences between rural and urban zones, between where people live and where people are tested, and other factors affecting testing and susceptibility. Most notably, the map is updated only monthly, so the current map (screenshotted above) does not take into account the rapid increase in positive cases over the past week or two as Ottawa entered the second wave. [Ottawa Citizen]
The Leventhal Center’s latest online map exhibition, Mapping a World of Cities, draws examples of city maps from ten map libraries and collections across the United States; those examples range from a 1524 map of Tenochtitlán (above) to a 1927 map of Chicago gangs.
Looking at maps helps us to understand the changing geography of urban life. Maps didn’t just serve as snapshots of how cities looked at one moment in time; in the form of plans, maps were also used to build, speculate, and fight over urban form. Historical maps reflect cities’ ethnic and economic transformations, systems of domination and oppression, sites of monumentality and squalor. They capture good times and bad, expansion, decay, and destruction. City dwellers take great pride in their cities, as part of a shared sense of place that embedded in a historical trajectory. Maps tell the stories of a city’s past, present—and perhaps its future.
The Library of Congress’s Geography and Map Division contributed five maps to the exhibition; see their post.
In the summer of 2019, a research project spearheaded by Monument Lab asked St. Louis residents and visitors to draw personal maps of the city’s monuments and important sites. “Some maps celebrate famous sites like the St. Louis Zoo and the statue of St. Louis himself atop Art Hill in Forest Park. Others point to things that have been removed from the landscape, like the mounds built by native Mississippians,” St. Louis Public Radio reports. “Another shows a street map of downtown St. Louis with notations for ‘incidents of racism, from microaggression to racial violence.’” A total of 750 people contributed maps, which you can see at this Flickr gallery as well as on the project website, which has accompanying data and analysis. [Osher]
Building Boston, Shaping Shorelines is a Harvard Map Collection exhibition going on now at Harvard Library’s Pusey Library Gallery. “This exhibition allows you to trace the projects to reclaim land and build the infrastructure that has produced a city out of a peninsula. Come learn how much of Boston is on man-made land and what impacts that has had and will have on the city.” There is no online version, but Harvard Magazine has a writeup. Until 1 May 2020.
Luxatlas.lu is a digital historical atlas of Luxembourg. A collaboration between the City of Luxembourg History Museum and the University of Luxembourg, the map presents historical building data atop of a series of maps and aerial photography layers dating back as far as 1820. In German (I’m pretty sure that isn’t Luxembourgish). [RTL Today, Tony Campbell]
The BAnQ has more than 20,000 maps in its digital collection, ranging from the 16th century to the present day; said holdings include maps from before the Conquest, maps of cities, towns and villages (many of them fire insurance maps), and historic topo maps.