From Hereford Mappa Mundi to Google Maps

The Observer Arts & Media section has an interesting review of several upcoming books and exhibits that discuss the continued power of maps and cartography. Vanessa Thorpe’s article, “From Shopping to warfare, why maps shape our minds as well as our planet” provides a review Simon Garfield’s new book On The Map, Jerry Brotton’s new book A History of the World in Twelve Maps, and an upcoming exhibition of globes at the Royal Geographical Society in London. She succinctly discusses how cartography helps to shape commerce and politics from ancient times until today.

What I found most interesting were the World Views at the end of the article because of the way they were truncated. The history of mapping jumps from Atlas Maior (1665) to Google Maps (21st Century). It made me ask myself, “Is Google Maps really the biggest cartographic world view of the 21st century?” and “What would I think of as significant between 1665-today?”  It raises many interesting questions for geographers to discuss.

Maps, Mazes, and Cartography

Like a good maze, the connection between mazes and cartography might not be self-evident on first glance but from then on it seems obvious.  A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “This Is Amazing: Maker of Puzzle Finds Few Wanting to Try It: Creating the Largest Hand-Drawn Maze Presents Challenges; Dead Ends, Pancakes” by John Miller interviews Joe Wos, Director of the ToonSeum, a Pittsburgh cartoon museum, and creator of the world’s largest hand drawn maze – almost. It can’t be made official until someone actually solves it.

One person who declined the challenge is maze expert Adrian Fisher, the world’s leading maze designer, 600 mazes (43 of them mirror mazes) in 30 countries, and holistic city planner. He applies his spatial skills to physical mazes, labyrinths, landscape design, town planning and development, transport map concepts, and inventions such as the Mitre Tiling system and the 7-sided Fisher Paver system. According to the website, MirrorMaze, some of his designs are large enough to be seen on Google Earth.

In her book, Wanderlust: A History of Walking, landscape author Rebecca Solnit writes that ““A labyrinth is a symbolic journey or a map of the route to salvation, but it is a map we can really walk on, blurring the difference between map and world.” However, functionally, a maze and a map both give a bird’s eye view of the world and involve similar geographic ideas.  Dr. Joseph J. Kerski, USGS takes this concept further in his article, “Corn Mazes are Maps” for  the Fall 2011 Connecticut Geospatial Newsletter. He believes that corn mazes allows people to experience scale, relative and absolute location, land use, and other foundations of geography. In fact, the USGS published a 2012 handout on ” Ten Lessons for Teaching Geography Using Corn Mazes“.

A geographer might never look at their local corn maze, garden maze, or contemplation labyrinth the same after realizing the spatial connections between a maze and a map.


Wonderland Transit Map and other fictional places

Thinkgeek has a “Wonderland Transit Map” t-shirt, although they do add the caveat that static maps would probably be useless in the amorphous Wonderland.  It got me searching for t-shirts for fictional places that would be equally as useless for navigation.

I found a t-shirt for Neil Gaiman‘s “Neverwhere” which is a story set in a London Underground that is always changing. Of course, Terry Pratchett‘s Discworld is another constantly changing world, where maps don’t help.  A t-shirt map of Garrison Keillor‘s Lake Wobegon, a town so small it doesn’t need a map.   I couldn’t find a t-shirt but Catan from the Settler’s of Catan would be another place that a static map would be useless.

Dude, Where’s Your Map? Map Contests

ESRI recently sent out reminders about submitting static paper or interactive maps for the 2012 ESRI UC Map competition. This year they have added a User Software Applications contest for applications using Esri technology or customized Esri software product.  The map gallery and user software application fair are huge events with hundreds of submissions, but don’t let that discourage you from submitting to their or other upcoming map contests.

The North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS) is sponsoring its 14th Annual Student Dynamic Map Competition to promote cartographic excellence and innovation. There are two competition categories: narrative maps and interactive maps. Entries must be submitted by Friday September 14, 2012.

National Geographic has several map competitions for college and young professionals through the  Association of American Geographers/Cartography award, British Cartographic Society award, and the Cartography and Geographic Information Society (CaGIS) award

The Barbara Petchenik International World Map Design Competition has a new theme for their 2013 competition: My Place in Today’s World.  Many teachers worldwide use the competition as part of their geography or GIS curriculum. The rules for the 2013 competition can be downloaded in September.

And because I think that video game maps use many of the same geo-spatial skills and design techniques as other types of interactive maps, I have included video game layer map contests. The  Source engine based Multiplayer game, Nuclear Dawn, has a Nuclear Dawn map contestwith prizes due by June 25.  Beanstalk, a search engine optimization company, is promoting a contest to create Minecraft maps based on the beanstalk theme with prizes due by May 31st.

Whatever form they take map contests are a good way to encourage students, professionals, and the general public to think about maps in creative ways.


Zombies and Geospatial Analysis

If you have met me, you know that I would love to teach a geography class using  the book  World War Z by Max Brooks, a journalist who uses a zombie apocalypse to discuss current events and world geography. David Hunter, a middle school teacher in Seattle, Washington beat me to the punch. He is asking for help on Kickstarter to create a  Grade 5-8 Standards Based curriculum “Learning Geography skills through a Zombie Apocalypse Narrative”.  His concept is not as far fetched as it seems. At the WV Association for Geospatial Professionals conference this week Sheila Wilson, Executive Director of the GIS Certificate Institute (GISP) started off her talk with the CDC  Zombie Preparedness Guide. She talked about how in the guide a GIS team who were prepared to spatially analyze zombie hot spots, were prepared for anything.  According to Cartographia, Austin TX has been prepared for a zombie outbreak since 2007.

Joking aside, I think that the zombie apocalypse creates a “sandbox” for researchers, educators, and society to analyze and understand complex, interconnected geospatial issues in a non-threatening way.  I’m not the only one who feels this way. Edward Gonzalez-Tennant a geography professor at Monmouth University is hopefully going to be presenting a paper on “Popular Culture and GIS: Using Geospatial Technologies to Model and Prepare for the Zombie Apocalyze.” at the 2012 ESRI Education User’s Conference (EDUC). There is also a 2012 ESRI International User’s session dedicated to Health, Behavior, and Zombies.  Preparing for zombie outbreaks on Earth is inspiring geospatial professionals to innovate and think big much like Star Trek has inspired decades of engineers.

If you want to experience your own zombie attack, Class 3 Outbreak is a zombie outbreak simulator played via Google maps at hundreds of locations world wide.

King’s College [geography] quiz

In December, the Guardian UK website posted the questions for the notoriously difficult King William’s College quiz or General Knowledge Paper (GKP) given to students (and parents) at King William’s College on the Isle of Man.  In another article on, “The Story of the King Wiliams’s College Quiz” quizmaster Dr Pat Cullen discusses the impact of the Internet on the 106 year old quiz and attempts to Google and social media proof the quiz to keep it intellectually challenging. MacLean’s Canada article on the history of the quiz is simply titled, “The World’s Most Difficult Quiz. Really.

While only section 2 relates specifically to geography and cartography, I estimated that about 70  of the 180 questions could be considered geo-spatial.  These range from questions such as, “4 Who first used continuous and broken lines to indicate fenced and unfenced roads?”  to  5 Where did close neighbours claim the invention of a device for observing at a distance?  The answers to last year’s questions were posted in February, so you will have to wait a while if you get stumped.

The quizmaster Dr. Pat Cullen doesn’t live in a dusty library tower, he is also a birder and citizen scientist for the Isle of Man which is home to several rare species of birds.

What people do with maps in the era of GPS and Web Maps

In the era of GPS and Web Mapping you might think that paper(physical, concrete things you hold in your hands) maps are on their way out. I don’t necessarily agree, paper maps are very useful when you’re away from our friend electricity and are certainly handy in emergencies.

Beyond that I’ve started to notice, perhaps a bit late, that paper maps have started to take on another life as a creative medium. A few post’s back I highlighted AxisMaps where the maps were transformed into a piece of art. And if you leave the house more often than I do, you’ve probably noticed the topographic map stationary sets. Today I found another unique use of maps at CityFabric, where metropolitan areas are screen printed onto tote bags and t-shirts, complete with a pin to highlight a favorite location.

I know there are a lot of neat geographic themed gifts out there, but I think I’d like to hear from our readers and listeners if they have seen, heard, witnessed any novel uses of geographic data (not just gifts or nick-knacks).  I mean it. Find some really weird or unique use of geographic data and send a photo or link in and I’ll compile a post of all the neat stuff you find!


Holiday Gift Idea for Your Favorite Cartographer – Typographic Topography

Axis Maps presents a series of maps where all of the features, be they roads, rivers, rails, etc… are converted to text. At a distance it appears to be a “normal” map but on closer inspection the features are really linear iterations of the features name.  Click the image below or the link at the beginning to check them out for yourself.

If you have a carto-fan in your life, this would make a great holiday gift!

Is Geography realism on greeting cards important?

A recent article in The Guardian, “Your Moons are Rubbish, Astronomer tells Christmas Card Artists“, by science Ian Sample was entertaining but also raised several serious scientific questions. Peter Barthel from the Kapteyn Astronomical Institute at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands wrote an article for the  journal Communicating Astronomy with The Public on astronomical realism in holiday cards.  He found that many cards depicted the moon in ways that were not realistic for the time of night being portrayed.  When asked “so what?”, he thinks that realism adds to instead of detracts from the wonder and “Moreover, understanding leads to knowledge which lasts”.

His remarks started me thinking about how geography is portrayed in greeting cards and what are the most common themes. The National Environmental Education Foundation has a good handout on the difference between the North Poles,  the Antarctic, the Artic and how polar bears and penguins don’t live together in the same place.  In order to conduct my own informal research, I went to Blue Mountain Cards and Hallmark Cards online to review all of their cards for geographic fallacies. I gave up after the first few pages because of the predominant lack of geography in the cards.

The News and Geography Awareness

Matthew Erickson, deputy graphics director at The New York Times, has a great post about  “When Maps Shouldn’t Be Maps” or how location can be represented by a broad range of geovisualizations. He discusses that while using a map is often the right choose when presenting information that geovisualizations can add to the story. He has some great examples with explanations.  His blog post is timely because the theme of Geography Awareness Week this year is about geography in your community. Reading or watching the news is often the easiest way for people to get involved in their local geography, so it is nice when journalists understand the many ways they can present geospatial information. I think journalists are often an overlooked source for great neo-geography.