The Social Life of Maps

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Elizabeth Mosier reports on a talk last Saturday by University of Delaware English professor Martin Brückner. “Using images from the exhibit he curated at Winterthur Museum (viewable online at http://commondestinations.winterthur.org), Brückner traced maps from production to purchase to public display and personal use, as they became fashionable objects in the period before and after the Revolutionary War,” Mosier writes.

In the 18th century, maps were everywhere: advertised with luxury goods in catalogs and with necessities in the newspaper, displayed in taverns and town halls and high-traffic areas in private homes, printed on parlor screens and ceramics and neckties—“cartifacts” serving no cartographic purpose. If political conflict built the market for maps, the cartouche—or decorative map title—refined it, adding beauty to the criteria for determining a map’s value. The brisk business in maps for navigating and decorating redefined what constituted their usefulness, in material and social terms. Owning a map meant economic status, educational achievement, and national identity; showing a map showed you belonged.

This is the “performative function” of maps, to create reality by plotting it.

geographic-revolution

Brückner is the author or editor of several books on the subject of the social history of maps in early America, including The Geographic Revolution in Early America: Early Maps, Literacy, and National Identity (UNC Press, 2006). I should really check his work (and Susan Schulten’s) out; my own graduate work was going to be on the social function of music, so the social function of maps is relevant to my interests for more than one reason. [via]

‘Could Society’s Embrace of GPS Be Eroding Our Cognitive Maps?’

Earlier this month in the New York Times, Greg Milner looked at something that was a frequent subject during The Map Room’s first life: people getting themselves lost by blindly following their GPS units (or satnavs, as the British call them).

Could society’s embrace of GPS be eroding our cognitive maps? For Julia Frankenstein, a psychologist at the University of Freiburg’s Center for Cognitive Science, the danger of GPS is that “we are not forced to remember or process the information—as it is permanently ‘at hand,’ we need not think or decide for ourselves.” She has written that we “see the way from A to Z, but we don’t see the landmarks along the way.” In this sense, “developing a cognitive map from this reduced information is a bit like trying to get an entire musical piece from a few notes.” GPS abets a strip-map level of orientation with the world.

[via]

pinpointMilner is the author of the forthcoming book Pinpoint: How GPS Is Changing Technology, Culture, and Our Minds (W. W. Norton, May 2016): pre-order at Amazon or iBooks.

For another look at how GPS may be affecting our brains’ ability to navigate, see “Global Impositioning Systems,” a long read by Alex Hutchinson in the November 2009 issue of The Walrus, which I told you about in 2011.

 

George Washington, Mapmaker

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George Washington, A plan of Alexandria, now Belhaven, 1749. Pen and ink, 36×44 cm. Library of Congress.

Last week, Slate’s Rebecca Onion looked at the surveying and mapmaking career of George Washington. Her main source is this page by the Library of Congress’s Edward Redmond. “Beginning with his early career as a surveyor and throughout his life as a soldier, planter, businessman, land speculator, farmer, military officer, and president, Washington relied on and benefitted from his knowledge of maps. Between 1747 and 1799 Washington surveyed over two hundred tracts of land and held title to more than sixty-five thousand acres in thirty-seven different locations,” Redmond writes. Here’s a list of Washington’s maps—drawn by him, drawn by others according to his sketches, or of property owned by him—held by the Library of Congress. [via]

Mainers Speak Out on the DeLorme Atlas

The issue of whether the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer will survive DeLorme’s purchase by Garmin continues to be of concern to Maine residents. The Bangor Daily News last Thursday:

Some Mainers consider DeLorme’s Atlas and Gazetteer their own backwoods bibles. The collection of maps works perfectly for planning expeditions afield, and can prompt plenty of discussion around a wood stove after a long day of hunting or fishing.

When the BDN asked for readers to share their thoughts on the iconic map book, dozens responded, telling us how much the maps have mattered to them.

[via]

Previously: ‘Keep Your Hands Off My Gazetteer’Maine Reacts to DeLorme’s Acquisition by Garmin.

Null Island

zero-zeroZero degrees longitude, zero degrees latitude is literally nowhere: situated in the middle of the open ocean, off the coast of Africa in the Gulf of Guinea, the only thing to mark its presence is a weather observation buoy [via]. But it’s also a significant set of coordinates, in that it’s the location you might get in the case of geocoding errors.

Hence the invention of Null Island, an imaginary place to flag geocoding failures. It shows up in version 1.3 of Natural Earth, for example, as an island one square metre in size, but coded so that it would never appear in an actual map. Gary Vicchi explains Null Island in more detail. As is the way of fictional places, Null Island has grown in the imagination: it has its own website, replete with sections on its history, geography, people and economy, and its own flag.

Around Switzerland in 80 Maps

The Local profilesaround-switzerland-80-maps Lausanne-based game and book company Helvetiq, which last year published Diccon Bewes’s Around Switzerland in 80 Maps. Those maps range, according to the publisher, “from the circular island map of 1480 to the birth of modern Swiss cartography; from the British rail plan for Switzerland to a Soviet map of Basel during the Cold War; from the 1970s Zurich map for men to the vision of a Greater Switzerland with 40 cantons.” Buy at Amazon. [via]

The Maps of James Robertson

robertson-aberdeen
Detail from James Robertson, Topographical and military map of the counties of Aberdeen, Banff and Kincardine, 1822. Map on six sheets, 173×206 cm. National Library of Scotland.

An exhibition of the maps of James Robertson (1753–1829)on display at the Arbuthnot Museum in Peterhead, Scotland, wraps up this Saturday. The maps, on loan from the National Library of Scotland, include four maps of Jamaica, where Robertson worked as a land surveyor, and a controversial map of Aberdeenshire that, according to The Press and Journal, “was riddled with ‘inaccuracies’ and spelling mistakes, and sparked a legal dispute which raged until his death in 1829.” [via]

DC Public Library Adds Historic Maps to Online Portal

platte-grond-washington
Platte grond van de stad Washington, 1793. Printed map, 8¾″×11″. DC Public Library, Special Collections, Washingtoniana Map Collection.

Last week, DC Public Library announced “the release of a century of historic Washington, D.C. maps in Dig DC, the online portal to DCPL Special Collections. These maps cover the District of Columbia and the region from the 1760s to the Civil War. To see them, head on over to the Maps: City & Regional collection on Dig DC!” Of the 8,000 or so maps in the library’s Washingtoniana Map Collection, 250 have been digitized so far; they’re working on scanning the entire collection. [via]

‘Keep Your Hands Off My Gazetteer’

DeLorme publishes other state atlases and gazetteers, but the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer is the one that started it all, the one Mainers rely on heavily, the one they’re worried might disappear now that DeLorme’s been bought by Garmin. Hence screeds like Troy Bennett’s (I should warn you, there are song lyrics):

Is there any other publication so complete, showing roads, trails, campgrounds, public reserve land, rivers, coves, islands and city streets? Am I the only one who didn’t know what an esker was before they picked up a Gazetteer? I doubt it.

If the new owners kill the map that helps define the state, what will happen to us? How will we know the Crocker Cirque even exists, let alone how to find it. (Map 29, D3, by the way.)

So, I’m looking at you, Garmin, out there in Kansas: Keep your hands off my Gazetteer.

Of course, nothing’s happened yet, and nothing may necessarily happen, but Maine losing the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer would be like London losing the A to Z or Winnipeg the Sherlock atlas: paper maps that are local, idiosyncratic, and essential. [via]

Previously: Maine Reacts to DeLorme’s Acquisition by Garmin.

Mapping Pluto’s Geology

pluto-geology
Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

New Horizons mission scientists have created a geological map of a portion of Pluto’s terrain. “This map covers a portion of Pluto’s surface that measures 1,290 miles (2,070 kilometers) from top to bottom, and includes the vast nitrogen-ice plain informally named Sputnik Planum and surrounding terrain. As the key in the figure below indicates, the map is overlaid with colors that represent different geological terrains. Each terrain, or unit, is defined by its texture and morphology—smooth, pitted, craggy, hummocky or ridged, for example. How well a unit can be defined depends on the resolution of the images that cover it. All of the terrain in this map has been imaged at a resolution of approximately 1,050 feet (320 meters) per pixel or better, meaning scientists can map units with relative confidence.”

pluto-geology-key
Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.