‘With Savage Pictures Fill Their Gaps’: Chet Van Duzer on Horror Vacui

Chet Van Duzer’s presentation about the lack of empty spaces on old maps—horror vacui—at the November 2017 meeting of the New York Map Society has now been uploaded to YouTube.

As I’ve said before, the subject of empty spaces on maps is of considerable interest to my own research on fantasy maps: fantasy maps tend to be full of empty spaces not germane to the story, whereas real-world maps were covered in cartouches, sea monsters, and ribbons of text. As a result I’m very interested in what Van Duzer has to say about the subject, and have been looking for something exactly like this recorded talk for some time.

I wasn’t disappointed. Van Duzer lays out, with some particularly over the top examples, how empty spaces on maps were consumed (his term) by text, ships, sea monsters and other embellishments that were designed for that very purpose. Some of those embellishments were absolutely enormous, others curiously redundant: a single map does not need four identical scales or a dozen or more compass roses, for example. “Everything we’re seeing here was a choice on the part of the cartographer,” he says at one point; “all this information could be disposed differently.”

Previously: Horror Vacui: The Fear of Blank Spaces.

Map Talks Online, Past and Future

Map Time is “a series of short conversations with experts on maps and mapping from across the globe” hosted by the Harvard Library and the Leventhal Center on Instagram Live. Held every Thursday at noon, through August. Schedule and upcoming speakers here. Past talks are available on YouTube.

How to Do Map Stuff is a full day of live online mapping workshops that will take place on Wednesday, 29 April. Coordinated by Daniel Huffman, speakers will host their own livestreams at announced times (the working schedule is here).

Presentations made at last year’s British Cartographic Society/Society of Cartographers conference were recorded on video. The BCS reports that they’re now available online via this web page.

Star Maps: History, Artistry, and Cartography

Two editions of Star Maps

The March 2020 issue (PDF) of Calafia, the journal of the California Map Society, has as its theme the mapping of space. It also has something from me in it: my review of the third edition of Nick Kanas’s Star Maps: History, Artistry, and Cartography. An excerpt:

It’s important to remember a book’s target audience—its imagined ideal reader. In the case of Star Maps this is Kanas’s younger self, who came to map collecting via his lifelong interest in amateur astronomy. “I was frustrated that there was not a single book on celestial cartography that could inform me about the various aspects of my collecting,” he writes in the preface to the first edition. “What I needed was a book that not only was a primer for the collector but also had sufficient reference detail to allow me to identify and understand my maps. Nothing like this appeared, so I decided to write such a book some day” (p. xxi). In other words, for a compendium this is a surprisingly personal book, one that reflects his own journey into the subject and, presumably, his interests as a collector.

I’ll post the full review on The Map Room once I’ve checked my draft against the published copy. In the meantime, check out the issue of Calafia (PDF) in which it appears. (Update, 24 Jun 2020: Here it is.)


Star Maps: History, Artistry, and Cartography
3rd edition
by Nick Kanas
Springer Praxis, Sept 2019
Amazon (Canada, UK) | Apple Books | Bookshop

Bert Johnson, 1946-2019

Hubert O. (Bert) Johnson, longtime stalwart of the Washington Map Society and indefatigable administrator of its Facebook group, died earlier this month of a heart attack. He was 73.

Bert and I only knew each other online, and that mostly via what we posted. In fact, we made a regular habit of stealing each other’s links. He’d share many of The Map Room’s posts on the WMS Facebook group, and many of my posts had their origins in something Bert posted on the WMS Facebook group.

An obituary and funeral details are still to come.

What Happened to the Society of Cartographers?

The Society of Cartographers posted a notice on Twitter announcing the formal dissolution of the Society after its upcoming (and now presumably final) Annual Summer School Conference. That conference will be held in conjunction with the British Cartographic Society’s Annual Conference on 11 and 12 September at the Ordnance Survey’s Southampton headquarters.

Apart from reactions like Kenneth Field’s, there is no other information about the Society’s dissolution available online, though I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s been discussion in members-only areas. What on earth happened? (Comments open.)

Previously: Whither the BCS?

ISHMap Symposium in Portland, Maine

Registration is now open for the 2018 Symposium of the International Society for the History of the Map. It takes place from 21 to 23 June 2018 at the Osher Map Library in Portland, Maine, and it’s free to attend. (Like many academic events, registration is so that they have a number to plan for.) Here’s the preliminary program.

ISHMap is still in the middle of its constitutional crisis, which is affecting the organization of this conference; here are the unpleasant details from the perspective of the Edney faction, which is running the conference.

Previously: What the Hell Is Going On with the International Society for the History of the Map?

What the Hell Is Going On with the International Society for the History of the Map? 

A power struggle involving two factions of the International Society for the History of the Map has drawn the attention of, of all places, Deadspin’s The Concourse. The factions are, on the one hand, Dr. Zsolt G. Török, the former president who maintains control of the original ISHMap website; and, on the other, a new executive, chaired by Matthew Edney and elected at an AGM after Török failed to hold an online election, who maintain that Török vacated his post by failing to renew his membership. The latter group has a temporary website here, which outlines their position and details how the organization arrived at what they describe as the “constitutional crisis of 2017.” Both sides claim to be in charge of the society. One imagines the cartographic community splitting into pro- and anti-Török factions: Team Török and Team Edney. It’s the People’s Front of Judea vs. the Judean People’s Front all over again. [WMS]

Whither the BCS?

If you’re going to rant, do it at length. Kenneth Field takes 16,000 words to lay out his concerns about the British Cartographic Society.

BCS is failing. Let’s ask the hard questions that need asking and make the Society actually mean and offer something going forward for UK cartography … or reconsider the very purpose of the society and seek an alternative. I’d like to see profound change in what is offered; a society that makes me want to belong and which is the place I go to for my daily cartographic shot. I want to go beyond the scant reward of a re-branded society who think newly monogrammed pencils, pens and rulers will keep me interested. At the moment I see an error-strewn and content-less web site, a late Journal which is getting thinner, a conference that is costly and not particularly interesting and a rhetoric that says everything is rosy and dynamic. It really isn’t.

My fundamental pitch is that I’m convinced BCS is on its last legs. We (as in the community of cartographers and map-makers) should look towards forming a new society. The best approach in my mind is one that merges BCS with the other cartography society—the Society of Cartographers. BCS and SoC need to get round the table, cast aside personality and work towards a solution for the betterment of cartography as a whole. Form a brand new society that brings everyone together and starts afresh with a blank piece of paper rather than everyone’s well-worn prejudices. Deal pragmatically with the contested issues. Cartography has changed so much that the question has to be asked why shouldn’t the professional organisations that are clinging to some desire for relevance just disband, reform and go again?

It’s a mix of institutional critique and airing of personal grievances. I’m not a BCS member, nor can I assess the veracity of Field’s claims (the BCS itself has a rather formal rebuttal here). But what he describes—too many committees (especially for society with only around 700 members), too much dysfunctional ossification (the Iron Law of Institutions may also be applicable here)—is rather common, even endemic, in organizations. But I’ve also seen organizations reinvent themselves and be the stronger for it.

(Field’s work has been featured here previously: Kenneth Field’s Map of MarsGreen MarsEnd of the Line: A Tube Map of Tube Maps.)

Free Workshop on How to Value Antique Maps

The Fry-Jefferson Map Society is hosting a free workshop on how to value antique maps. It takes place at the Library of Virginia in Richmond on Saturday, 5 November 2016 and is led by Eliane Dotson, co-owner of Old World Auctions. I’d attend this if I could; I used to get a lot of questions from readers asking how much their maps were worth, enough that I had to add it to the FAQ, so I’d love to know a little about it. [WMS]

Exhibitions, Events, Meetings and Societies

Every so often I think about creating directories of map societies or a calendar of upcoming events. That way lies madness, especially since I’d be reinventing the wheel. John Docktor already maintains calendars of exhibitions and meetings and events; sure, I’d like them to be machine-readable (i.e., have the ability to add events to your phone’s calendar), but he’s the one doing the work, so I’ll shut up now. As for map societies, Tony Campbell lists the international societies, while James Speed Hensinger maintains indexes of the local map societies.

There may be other resources out there along these lines; let me know about them and I’ll post them.

And Now Some Map News from Denver

The Denver Post has a piece that is simultaneously a profile of Christopher Lane, proprietor of the Denver-based Philadelphia Print Shop West (which sells its share of antique maps) and a look at the Rocky Mountain Map Society’s upcoming Map Month. Its theme, “Illusions, Delusions & Confusions,” will be explored by a series of lectures at the Denver Public Library running from 2 May to 9 June and two concurrent exhibitions on myths in maps at Denver’s Central Library and at the Map Library of the University of Colorado Boulder: brochure, program (PDF). [via]