Earlier this year, the New Yorker published a profile of Molly Burhans. Burhans is the founder of GoodLands, a Catholic organization focusing on mobilizing the land and resources of the Church to address climate change and other environmental issues. Burhans, whose background is in GIS, began by wanting to analyse the Church’s property holdings; she soon found out that the Church’s own record-keeping was somewhere between out of date and nonexistent—and certainly not digital.
In the Office of the Secretariat of State that day, Burhans met with two priests. She showed them the prototype map that she had been working on, and explained what she was looking for. “I asked them where their maps were kept,” she said. The priests pointed to the frescoes on the walls. “Then I asked if I could speak to someone in their cartography department.” The priests said they didn’t have one.
Burhans, who became known as the Map Lady at the Vatican, was asked if she’d be willing to create a cartography institute at the Vatican; plans to develop one have been waylaid by the COVID-19 pandemic (Burhans came down with a significant case herself.) Fascinating piece depicting the gap between modern data and an ancient institution, and the notion of using data as a force for progress. Thanks to John Greenhough for sending me a copy of this article; apologies for taking months to post about it.