Bending Lines: Maps and Data From Distortion to Deception, the latest exhibition from the Leventhal Map and Education Center at the Boston Public Library, is a wide-ranging, comprehensive look at the relationship between maps and the truth. We expect maps not to lie, but maps have misled, propagandized or at the very least provided a particular perspective for as long as there have been maps.
Every map is a representation of reality, and every representation, no matter how accurate and honest, involves simplification, symbolization, and selective attention. Even when a map isn’t actively trying to deceive its readers, it still must reduce the complexity of the real world, emphasizing some features and hiding others. Compressing the round globe onto a flat sheet of paper, and converting places, people, and statistics into symbols, lines, and colors is a process inherently fraught with distortion. […]
In Bending Lines: Maps and Data From Distortion to Deception, we explore the many ways in which maps have “bent” reality and created a picture of the world that is oftentimes more real than reality itself. Some of the maps in this exhibition are deliberately nefarious, created by people or institutions who are trying to mislead or persuade. But for many of the others, the relationship between map and truth is more ambiguous. Some maps dim a certain type of truth in order to let another type of interpretation shine through, while others classify and categorize the world in ways that should raise our skepticism. And for some of the maps shown here, the persuasive goal isn’t trickery but liberation, as they seek to raise awareness of truths that were previously obscured or oppressed.
This exhibition was to have launched last month, but thanks to the pandemic has had to go fully online. Tackling everything from persuasive cartography to map projections to the sort of thing Mark Monmonier talks about in How to Lie with Maps, it’s an enormous undertaking in more than one sense. CityLab’s Laura Biss interviews the Leventhal’s curator, Garrett Dash Nelson, about the exhibition.
BBC Four is rebroadcasting The Beauty of Maps, a four-episode series that coincided with the 2010 Magnificent Maps exhibition at the British Library. Two episodes broadcast so far, with the third this evening and the fourth tomorrow. They’ll be on iPlayer for the next month.
Meanwhile, the British Library’s 2016 Maps and the 20th Century exhibition (previously) is now available in virtual form—as in, you can “walk” through a virtual recreation of the physical exhibition. Articles related to the exhibition are available here, and of course the companion volume, Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line, edited by Tom Harper, is still available: Amazon (Canada, UK), Bookshop.
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.
A new exhibition opens today at the Archives Nationales in Paris: Quand les artistes dessinaient les cartes (“When Artists Drew Maps”), an exploration of vues figurées —what we might refer to today as chorographic maps or panoramas—drawn by artists from the 14th to the 16th century. “Presented for the most part for the first time to the public, these works shed new light on the landscapes and scenes of everyday life at the turn of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.”1 Nearly 100 original maps on display. At the Hôtel de Soubise site in Paris until 7 January 2020, 8€/5€. [Tony Campbell]
Mapping the Moon in Black and White, an exhibition curated by the Harvard Map Collection at Harvard’s Pusey Library, “guides you through the mutually reinforcing efforts to map the Moon using orbital imagery and the race to walk on the Moon. At ‘Mapping the Moon in Black and White,’ you will also learn how these mapping efforts sat within larger critiques of the Space Race, especially from Civil Rights organizations like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Black Panther Party.” Runs until 31 October 2019; a reception and curatorial talk will take place on 18 September.
In case the Talking Maps exhibition (previously) was insufficient cause for you to visit the Bodleian Library in Oxford this year, here’s another. The Sheldon Tapestry Map of Oxfordshire, one of four tapestry maps of English counties commissioned in the late 16th century by Ralph Sheldon, is on display at the Bodleian’s Weston Library. The tapestry is partially complete—intact it would have measured 3.5 × 5.5 metres—and on display for the first time in a century, having gone through a “painstaking” restoration. BBC News, Londonist.
The Oxfordshire tapestry map replaces a display of the Worcestershire tapestry map that had been running for the past four years: both were donated to the Bodleian by Richard Gough in 1809. The Bodleian acquired a sizeable section of the Gloucestershire map in 2007 (it went on display the following year); other parts are in private hands. The fourth tapestry map, of Worcestershire, is the only one that is completely intact and not missing any pieces: it’s owned by the Warwickshire Museum, where it’s on display at the Market Hall Museum.
Talking Maps, opening today at the Bodleian Libraries, is a major new map exhibition featuring maps from the Bodleian’s collections.
Highlights on show include the Gough Map, the earliest surviving map showing Great Britain in a recognizable form, the Selden Map, a late Ming map of the South China Sea, and fictional maps by C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Map treasures from the Libraries’ collection will be shown alongside specially commissioned 3D installations and artworks, and exciting works on loan from artists and other institutions.
Mapping Memory: Space and History in 16th-century Mexico, a new exhibition at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin, presents “a selection of maps, known as Mapas de las Relaciones Geográficas, created by Indigenous artists around 1580. These unique documents show some of the visual strategies used by native communities for the endurance and perseverance of their cultures throughout the so-called colonial period and well beyond.” Opened 29 June; runs until 25 August.
Opening today at Hughenden Manor: a permanent exhibition on the secret wartime mapping activities that took place at the Buckinghamshire mansion during the Second World War.
In rooms never before opened to the public, the installation features original photographs, records and memories of personnel involved at the time.
In newly accessible spaces used by the mapmakers themselves, the interactive exhibits shed light on how Hillside played such a significant role in shaping the outcome of the war. […]
Codenamed ‘Hillside’, Hughenden played such a critical role supporting the pilots of nearby Bomber Command that it was on Hitler’s list of top targets.
Around 100 personnel were based here, drawing up the maps used for bombing missions during the war, including the ‘Dambusters’ raid and for targeting Hitler’s mountain retreat Eagle’s Nest. Skilled cartographers produced leading-edge maps from aerial photographs delivered by the RAF’s reconnaissance missions.
The BBC News story provides more detail: some 3,500 hand-drawn target maps were produced at Hughenden Manor during the War.
With the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 almost upon us, there’s been an uptick in moon-related content, which includes moon-related map content. For example:
New Exhibition. Opening today at The Map House in London, The Mapping of the Moon: 1669-1969, an exhibition of three centuries of lunar cartography. “The exhibition includes rare early 17th and 18th Century observations of the moon from astronomers such as Athanasius Kircher and Jean-Dominique Cassini, important maps produced by NASA for lunar exploration, globes and signed material by astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean and Jim Lovell.” Runs until 21 July. [ARTFIXDaily]
New Map. The July 2019 issue of National Geographic has a new map of the Moon that updates the 1969 painted version (see above) with a mosaic based on Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter imagery. I don’t know whether that means a physical version of the map will be included with the issue as an insert, but I hope it does.
New Way to Navigate. NASA has a post on using GPS on the Moon. Now, I’d thought that using GPS on another world would require the deployment of a GPS satellite constellation around said world. No, this is about using Earth-orbiting GPS signals for lunar navigation, which simulations suggest is possible. The mind boggles.
An exhibition at BNU Strasbourg, Hors du Monde: La Carte et l’Imaginaire, explores the role of imagined places on maps, from monsters on Renaissance maps to California-as-an-island to fantasy maps. The press dossier (PDF; in French) serves as a fairly detailed guide. Opened 18 May; runs until 20 October 2019. Admission 3€.
During the 19th century, the United States expanded dramatically westward. Immigrant settlers rapidly spread across the continent and transformed it, often through violent or deceptive means, from ancestral Native lands and borderlands teeming with diverse communities to landscapes that fueled the rise of industrialized cities. Historical maps, images and related objects tell the story of the sweeping changes made to the physical, cultural, and political landscape. Moving beyond the mythologized American frontier, this map exhibition explores the complexity of factors that shaped our country over the century.
As usual, there’s a comprehensive online version, which is peppered with acknowledgements of the very white, very settler-colonialist perspective of the maps on display. Which are, of course, justified, but as far as I can see they’re asterisks and asides on an otherwise unchanged exhibit.