Note: Much apologies for skipping the September issue of Monthly Maps. To compensate, here’s a double issue filled with fantastic cartographies.
Guernica Magazine has published an excerpt of an interview with Denis Wood, iconic critical cartographer, from his last book titled “Everything Sings: Maps for a Narrative Atlas“. Let us begin this double issue with Wood’s penetrating analysis of what maps do:
Denis Wood: Maps are just nude pictures of reality, so they don’t look like arguments. They look like “Oh my god, that’s the real world.” That’s one of the places where they get their kick-ass authority. Because we’re all raised in this culture of: if you want to know what a word means, go to the dictionary; if you want to know what the longest river in the world is, look it up in an encyclopedia; if you want to know where some place is, go to an atlas. These are all reference works and they speak “the truth.” When you realize in the end that they’re all arguments, you realize this is the way culture gets reproduced. Little kids go to these things and learn these things and take them on, and they take them on as “this is the way the world is.”
The fabulous neogeographers at the Oxford Internet Institute used Alexa data to identify the most visited websites in each country, and mapped it as an old colonial style choropleth map of ‘Internet empires’. Do not miss another map included in the same page, which uses hexagonal cartograms to qualify the most-visited websites in each country by the population of Internet users in the same country.
As two South Asian countries celebrate their independence days in August, I decided to focus on ‘political maps’ in this *Monthly Maps* post. This means that some of the exciting maps and map news we came across in August, which did not directly speak of politics, will become part of the September post.
We begin with a fascinating map of the Bangladesh-India border along the Indian district of Cooch Behar depicting various ‘enclaves’ (parcel of Bangladeshi territory within Indian territory, and vice versa) along the border lands. This pre-1971 map (hence referring to Bangladesh as East Pakistan) posted by Frank Jacobs on the Strange Maps blog is a great example of the deeply geopolitical nature of the lines and the names that annotate and constitute maps, and also of the territorial mess often created by such politics.
Maps have also played a key political role as a tool for government to uniquely identify and classify not only national borders but also various forms of landed properties and their relationship with the government. This 1855 “vice” map of the Chinatown in San Francisco was created by the municipal government to locate places of gambling, prostitution and opium “resorts”, as part of the anti-Chinese movement and propaganda in California. Interestingly, the map fails to capture the vertical dimension of urban spaces and only identifies the usage pattern of the ground floor spaces.
Military requirements have been perhaps the most crucial driver for development of modern cartographic techniques and instruments. Jeremy Crampton recently shared a ‘jaw-dropping “OSS Theater Map”‘ produced by the Office of Strategic Affairs (predecessor of Central Intelligence Agency of USA) during the World War II. Crampton explains that the ‘unusual projection’ utilised by this map is targeted at solving a classic cartographic problem of finding a projection to represent earth’s surface as a square grid (just like how modern web-map tiles work) while not distorting the actual spherical shape form of the surface.