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The Map Room - A Weblog about Maps

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A weblog about maps
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Yorktown Campaign Map of New York City Being Auctioned

mar 21-11-2017

On 5 December Christie’s will auction, as part of a lot of printed books and manuscripts, a map described as “an important manuscript map of New York City prepared by cartographers attached to Rochambeau’s forces during the Yorktown Campaign.” The 63×40-cm ink-and-watercolour map dates from 1781-1782 and is expected to fetch between $150,000 and $200,000. Christie’s item description is quite detailed.

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

Horror Vacui: The Fear of Blank Spaces

mar 21-11-2017
Olaus Magnus, Carta Marina, 1539. Detail. James Ford Bell Library.

In an article I published in 2013, I argued that one key difference between fantasy maps and the real-world medieval and early modern maps they purport to imitate is blank spaces: fantasy maps are full of blank spaces (that which is not in the story is not on the map), whereas real-world maps were covered in cartouches, sea monsters, inset illustrations and other embellishments. One of my sources for that article was a book by Chet Van Duzer: Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps (reviewed here).

Recently Van Duzer has been giving talks on the very subject of the lack of empty spaces on old maps. Which, as you can imagine, is very relevant to my interests. In October he spoke on the subject at the Barry Lawrence Ruderman Conference on Cartography, and earlier this month he gave a similar talk at the New York Map Society. Here’s the abstract from the Ruderman Conference:

Historians of cartography occasionally refer to cartographers’ horror vacui, that is, their fear or hesitancy to leave spaces blank on maps that might be filled with decorations. Some scholars have denied that this impulse was a factor in the design of maps, but the question has never been examined carefully. In this talk I will undertake such an examination, showing that horror vacui was indeed an important factor in the design of maps, at least for some cartographers, from the sixteenth to the early eighteenth century. Some of the factors that motivated cartographers’ concern about empty spaces will also be examined, as will maps by cartographers who evidently did not experience this fear. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries maps began to be thought of as more purely scientific instruments, cartographic decoration declined generally, and cartographers managed to restrain their concern about spaces lacking decoration in the interest of presenting their work as modern and professional.​

But since I couldn’t make it to those events, all I had was that tantalizing abstract. (Publish something!) Fortunately, we now have a little more: Greg Miller has written a piece about Van Duzer’s research over on the National Geographic All Over the Map blog.

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

Birds Discover Longitude

mar 21-11-2017

Eurasian reed warblers don’t need no stinkin’ marine chronometers. A new study suggests that the migratory birds make use of magnetic declination to determine longitude, “at least under some circumstances under clear skies. Experienced migrants tested during autumn migration in Rybachy, Russia, were exposed to an 8.5° change in declination while all other cues remained unchanged. This corresponds to a virtual magnetic displacement to Scotland if and only if magnetic declination is a part of their map. The adult migrants responded by changing their heading by 151° from WSW to ESE, consistent with compensation for the virtual magnetic displacement.”

Not, it would seem, accurate enough for the species to earn a chunk of the Longitude Prize, and it’s not like John Harrison should have been messing about with birds instead of clocks, but interesting all the same. [GeoLounge]

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

NACIS 2017 on YouTube

mar 21-11-2017

Presentations from NACIS’s 2017 annual meeting in Montreal were recorded and are now available on the NACIS YouTube channel. So if, like me, you weren’t able to attend, here you go. Next best thing.

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

Nowherelands

mar 21-11-2017

A book I missed hearing about earlier: Bjørn Berge’s Nowherelands: An Atlas of Vanished Countries 1840-1975 (Thames and Hudson, October 2017). Another in the line of books about obscure, unusual and out-of-the-way places, this one focuses on countries that really did exist, but only for a little while. From the publisher:

Some of their names, such as Biafra or New Brunswick, will be relatively familiar. Others, such as Labuan, Tannu Tuva and Inini, are far less recognizable. But all of these lost nations have fascinating stories to tell, whether they were as short-lived as Eastern Karelia, which lasted only a few weeks during the Soviet–Finnish War of 1922, or as long-lasting as the Orange Free State, a Boer Republic that celebrated fifty years as an independent state in the late 1800s. Their broad spectrum reflects the entire history of the 19th and 20th centuries, with its ideologies, imperialism, waves of immigration and conflicts both major and minor.

Via James Cheshire’s Ultimate Gift List for Map Lovers, which you should check out while I’m working on mine.

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

The Red Atlas

lun 20-11-2017

During the second half of the twentieth century, the Soviet Union’s military and civilian cartographers created topographical maps of the entire world of a very high standard of quality and accuracy. How they did so, and why, remains in large part a mystery, one that John Davies and Alexander J. Kent’s new book, The Red Atlas: How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World (University of Chicago Press, October) fails to solve completely.

The Red Atlas is not the definitive history of those Soviet mapping efforts because so much about those efforts remains a secret. The only reason we know about them is because, in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, so many physical copies of those once-highly secret maps fell into the hands of map collectors. The Red Atlas talks about that: for more than a decade, Davies and Kent have been studying those maps. (I’ve been following their work. See the links at the bottom of this post for my earlier posts on the subject.) What they know about the Soviet mapping efforts—sources, methods, their reason for doing it—is extrapolated from the final product of those effort: the maps. The Red Atlas is above all else an exercise in cartographic forensics.

Deciphering the Soviet maps is more than a matter of reading Cyrillic. Soviet maps were standardized, with consistent and highly specific use of symbols and labels that would not necessarily be obvious to the casual map reader. Because these maps had no casual readers: they were secret maps for official use only. You needed to be trained to create or use these maps; the handbook was 220 pages,1 and there were a number of training posters. Without that training, it would not be immediately obvious that, for example, an underlined town name meant that the nearby train station shared the name,2 or that navigable rivers were labelled in uppercase.

The level of detail required by those standards made compiling information in western countries something of a challenge. The extent to which the Soviet maps were copied from existing western sources, based on satellite reconnaissance or derived from on-the-ground observation and surveillance is something The Red Atlas delves into in some detail.

If The Red Atlas suffers from being too anglocentric—too focused on Soviet maps of the United States and Great Britain—it may be because the authors spent time comparing and contrasting the Soviet maps with their USGS and Ordnance Survey counterparts. On the one hand, the Soviet maps so resembled the Ordnance Survey’s work that the OS moved to block their use in the United Kingdom.3 On the other hand, there are differences, even outright errors, that come from the Soviets’ attempts to reconcile different sources (places that no longer existed, but appeared on older maps), linguistic or cultural confusion and misunderstanding, and differences in emphasis on the part of Soviet mapmakers (who assigned greater importance to railways and heavy industry than western mapmakers would).

And there is clear evidence that the Soviets did do their own mapmaking, such as military installations left blank on OS maps or under-detailed by the USGS mapped in intricate detail on the Soviet maps. There are also, here and there, attempts to include data that were standard on Soviet maps that did not normally appear on an OS Explorer or USGS quad map—notably bridge information (length, width, clearance, carrying capacity, what it’s built of), river flow direction and speed, and the width, in metres, of roads. That data could only come from on-the-ground surveying. As the authors speculate, these data suggest maps intended for administrative use rather than to support a military invasion.

The Red Atlas is a truly handsome book, filled with dozens of examples of Soviet mapmaking. For someone interested in the Cold War and spycraft, it’d make a hell of a gift this season. But as you have probably figured out by now, this is not, despite its name, a true atlas. We are given examples of Soviet cartography. Lots and lots of examples. The point of the book is to puzzle out, based on the too-fragmetary evidence in our hands, what Soviet cartography looked like, and how it (likely) was made. What we get is tantalizing. It isn’t enough. But, barring a sea change in Russia, it’s all we’re likely to get for some time.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

Previously: Soviet Topo Maps; Old Russian MapsSoviet Spies Map the WorldSoviet Mapping UpdateSoviet-Era Topo Maps of Russian CitiesSoviet Spy Maps, Redux.

Amazon | iBooks

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

Older Map Entries Now Available

lun 20-11-2017

Just to let you know: I’ve finally finished importing the map-related blog entries I made on my personal blog during The Map Room’s 2011-2015 hiatus. It was a slow process, but now it’s a finished one, and now these older posts will remain available. (The best way to browse old blog entries is to start at the archives page.)

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

London Underground Architecture and Design Map

lun 20-11-2017

Blue Crow Media’s latest map of urban architecture is the London Underground Architecture and Design Map, a collaboration between transit system guru (and friend of The Map Room) Mark Ovenden and photographer Will Scott. “The guide includes a geographical Underground map with featured stations marked, with corresponding photography and details on the reverse along with tips for where to find unique and unusual signage, roundels, clocks, murals and more. The map is protected by a slipcover featuring a distinctive die cut roundel.” Costs £9. More at Mapping London.

Previously: Architectural Maps of London.

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

Pledge Break

ven 17-11-2017

If you like what I do here and you have a couple of extra dollars, pounds, euros or kroner lying around, this would be an awfully good time to send them The Map Room’s way: sent directly to me via Ko-Fi or, if you don’t trust me to handle money, directly to my web hosting bill.

That bill, by the way, is about to go up. This blog has been on the edge of need-to-upgrade/don’t-need-to-upgrade since I restarted it nearly two years ago, but it looks like I’ve done all the optimizations I can under shared hosting. It’s time to get a VPS. Which will cost a little more.

Given the dreadful state of online advertising (my ad income is one-twentieth what it was a decade ago), blogs like The Map Room will increasingly have to rely on reader support. I’m not very comfortable with periodic pledge breaks like these, so I’m exploring the idea of setting up a membership system, which if I go for it would launch some time in early 2018. The trick with me using systems like Memberful or Patreon is that a blog like The Map Room isn’t really geared toward members-only content: I’m a link aggregator, not a content producer. But if I can make this project a bit more financially viable, I can spend time on it rather than other work.

Your support, as always, is not required, but it is deeply appreciated.

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

James Clark’s Revised Map of Current and Proposed Railways in Southeast Asia

ven 17-11-2017
James Clark

James Clark has updated his map of current and proposed railways in southeast Asia (see previous entry). The new version clearly delineates between current and proposed lines. “The black lines on the map represent railways that are currently operating, while the red lines are proposed lines. As with the subway map, proposed can mean anything from lines currently under construction, in feasibility study stage, or an on-the-record election promise from a pork-barrelling politician.”

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

Google Maps Gets a New Look

ven 17-11-2017
Google

Google is rolling out changes to the look of Google Maps: a new colour scheme in which icons for similar points of interest get similar colours (orange for food and drink, green for outdoors), and a map that changes to highlight different things if you’re driving or taking transit. To be rolled out over the coming weeks. More at The Verge.

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

Laura Biss’s MapLab

ven 17-11-2017

CityLab’s Laura Biss has announced MapLab, a biweekly newsletter that will include “featurettes on newsworthy mapping efforts, fascinating cartographers, snippets of history, eye-popping data visuals, and intriguing map links.” More info, how to sign up, and the first issue, here.

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

Londonist Mapped

ven 17-11-2017

Londonist Mapped: Hand Drawn Maps for the Curious Explorer came out last month from AA Publishing. (It’ll be out in North America next February.) Londonist describes their book thusly: “The book presents dozens of beautiful maps of the capital, from historic plans to specially commissioned art. Here you’ll find maps of lost Victorian buildings, little-known musical history, subterranean London and many more. The book also includes a reprint of our popular Anglo-Saxon London map.” I wonder if it includes “Bridges of London.” [WMS]

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

Future and Alternate Melbourne Transit Networks

jeu 16-11-2017
Adam Mattison

Geospatial scientist Adam Mattison also dabbles in maps of a more speculative bent, including maps imagining Melbourne’s future transit network, including a tram network map of 2048, a metro map of 2070, and the above train network map of 2070. There’s some alternate history as well: maps of transit systems that might have been, but weren’t. For some reason this was picked up by the news section of Australian property and real estate portal Domain. [WMS]

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

More Fantasy Map Generators

jeu 16-11-2017

Maps Mania has a roundup of fantasy map generators—applications that generate maps of imaginary cities or landscapes algorithmically. Sometimes even with names. Two of them I’d previously heard of: Uncharted Atlas, a Twitter bot that tweets out a new map every hour, and the Medieval Fantasy City Generator, which generates a random medieval city layout. Two were new to me: Azgaar’s Fantasy Map Generator, which comes complete with documentation and an accompanying blog; and Oskar Stalberg’s City Generator, which doesn’t.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. If fantasy map generators can produce a map that is at least credible in comparison to the human-made product, what does that say about that human-made product in terms of the imagination and creativity that went into it?

Previously: The Medieval Fantasy City GeneratorUncharted Atlas.

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

Picturing America: The Golden Age of Pictorial Maps

jeu 16-11-2017

With Picturing America: The Golden Age of Pictorial Maps (University of Chicago Press, March 2017), Stephen J. Hornsby makes the case for the pictorial map as a distinct and significant genre of mapmaking that is worthy of study and preservation.

Because pictorial maps were artistic rather than scientific, Hornsby argues, they were ignored as a subject of cartographic study—“treated as ephemera, the flotsam and jetsam of an enormous sea of popular culture.”1 As such they have not been preserved to the same extent as more strictly cartographic maps. (Being printed on cheap acid paper didn’t help.) But as products of popular culture they were distinctive—and ubiquitous. “By World War II,” he writes, “pictorial maps had created a powerful visual image of the United States and were beginning to reimagine the look of the world for a mass consumer audience.”2 They were so prevalent, I suppose, that they were invisible. Taken for granted. It frequently falls to the historian of popular culture to point out that the common and everyday is, in fact, significant. That’s what Hornsby is doing here.

Drawing mainly on the holdings of the Library of Congress’s Geography and Map Division, which served as the final home of pictorial map collections assembled by librarians like Ethel M. Fair and Muriel H. Parry, Hornsby explores the history of the pictorial map genre from the 1920s to the 1960s. Influenced by nineteenth-century advertising and bird’s-eye maps, as well as the work of MacDonald Gill, the illustrators of pictorial maps—Charles H. Owens, Jo Mora, Ernest Dudley Chase, George Annand, Ilonka Karasz, C. Eleanor Hall—created advertisements, posters, brochures, and maps for news organizations. In many ways their work was the infographics of their time; like medieval mappae mundi or early modern maps with sea monsters, pictorial maps were able to impart a good deal of qualitative information that would otherwise be unmappable, and with a distinctive artistic flair.3

Charles Vernon Farrow, A Map of the Wondrous Isle of Manhattan, 1926. Pictorial map, 94 cm × 57 cm, David Rumsey Map Collection.

After fifty-four pages of essay describing and analyzing his subject matter, Hornsby moves on to six sections of plates, beautifully reproduced, organized by theme rather than by date or artist: Maps to Amuse (maps featuring cartoons, maps that exaggerate one state at the expense of the rest); Maps to Instruct; Maps of Place and Region (including city maps that can be seen as the direct successor to bird’s-eye maps, only with a lot more colour and whimsy); Maps of Industry (tourism maps, rail and shipping maps, industrial promotion), Maps of War (where oblique views of the globe came into fashion), and Maps for Postwar America.

That last section highlights an important fact about pictorial maps: they were very much a generational project. Pictorial maps waned as these illustrators retired or passed on and as photography gained traction in commercial art.4 Which highlights Hornsby’s point that pictorial maps were a coherent genre, born out of common influences and the creation of a specific group of people, at a specific moment of time. Picturing America recaptures that whimsical, vibrant, beautiful moment.

For more on Picturing America, see All Over the Map’s profile from last March.

I received a review copy from the publisher.

Amazon | iBooks

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

Osher Map Art Exhibition Opens Today

jeu 16-11-2017

Opening today at the Osher Map Library in Portland, Maine and running until 10 March 2018, an exhibition of cartographic art called Go Where the Map Takes You: The Intersection of Cartography and Creativity. “Maps show many versions of our world, for many purposes, but their simplest purpose is to show the way from one place to another. The artists in this exhibition have used the techniques of mapping, and maps themselves, to show the way to the metaphorical and the metaphysical. We invite you to explore these artworks and see where they lead you.” Featuring several familiar artists.

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

Mapping the Results of Australia’s Same-Sex Marriage Referendum

mer 15-11-2017
Sydney Morning Herald (screenshot)

When it comes to maps of the results of Australia’s same-sex marriage referendum (or, to be more precise, postal survey), it’s a mixed bag. At the official end, the Australian Bureau of Statistics provides infographics, but no maps. The Sydney Morning Herald provides a map of the results by district (see screenshot above), but it’s boolean (yes/no) rather than a choropleth or heat map. For that, you’ll want to look at The Australian’s interactive map (they also have a map showing yes/no by constituency, centred on Sydney, whose western districts voted against the most).

Finally, this map by “lunatic map maker” Matthew Isbell is making the rounds; I want to make sure he’s correctly attributed.

Australia's citizens have voted YES on marriage equality. Map of the results is below.

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

Google Using Street View Cars to Map Air Pollution

mer 15-11-2017
Google

Google is using its Street View cars, now equipped with air-quality sensors, to measure air pollution in California on a block-by-block level.

Earlier this year, we shared the first results of this effort with pollution levels throughout the city of Oakland.

We’re just beginning to understand what’s possible with this hyper-local information and today, we’re starting to share some of our findings for the three California regions we’ve mapped: the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and California’s Central Valley (the Street View cars drove 100,000 miles, over the course of 4,000 hours to collect this data!) Scientists and air quality specialists can use this information to assist local organizations, governments, and regulators in identifying opportunities to achieve greater air quality improvements and solutions.

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

Fantasy Maps as Memory Palace

mer 15-11-2017

On Obsidian Wings, a post on why I need maps in fantasy novels: “Two books I recently read made me realize that I don’t just like maps, they’re part of how my mind works. For me, a map is a type of memory palace, linking up all kinds of information for easy retrieval. Without one, I don’t just feel lost, I feel dumb—because my memories are disorganized and harder to recall.” An interesting take on the usefulness of fantasy maps. [Skiffy and Fanty]

Catégories: Sites Anglophones