Cartography: Mapping the World We Live in, and Ourselves

The earliest map known to man comes from the 6th century BCE in Ancient Babylon. Little can be understood from its cryptic descriptions of islands and places where “not even the sun reaches,” but its importance still holds.

Cartography has been something that has fascinated and compelled humans for thousands of years, from Magellan circumnavigation to Google Maps we have always been obsessed with places we have never seen. But there is more to the connection between the human spirit and the map, more than just a desire to go somewhere different. Maps show us things about ourselves, they can give information about the religions or the cultures or the history of the world we live in. Or they can show our desires, because not every map is made of a real place-fictional worlds like Middle Earth have compelled people and allowed them to fantasize about what could be for years.

Maps are a reflection of the human spirit, and throughout time they have allowed for us to reach within ourselves and see what it really is that makes us human.

John Green TED Talk

“it just felt like I was creating my own hurdles, and then jumping over them myself, instead of feeling the excitement of being part of a community of learners, a community of people who are engaged together in the cartographic enterprise of trying to better understand and map the world around us.” -John Green

In his TED talk John green introduces the idea of a paper town, a fictional town put onto a map by cartographers so that they could ensure their maps were not being copied. One famous paper town is the town of Agloe New York which was invented by the General Drafting Company, who, when they saw the town on a Rand McNally map decades later, was certain they had been robbed. However they had not been, because so many people had gone to the place labelled as Agloe New York, that a town actually did spring up at the intersections of two dirt roads.

John Green argues that cartography can be a metaphor for learning in many ways, most principally, the desire to find out more deep and precise knowledge is like the drive to map the blank spaces on the world.

A common theme in the talk is the idea of a learning community, a community of people that push each other to learn and to gain deeper understandings of the world around them. Where we once had the Parisian Salons of the Enlightenment or the Algonquin Round Table, we now have the internet. While the internet may, to most, seem like a place full of white noise and distractions from the academic fields we dread studying in school, Mr. Green introduces several communities on platforms like Tumblr, Reddit, and YouTube which all serve to help people gain better understandings and learn more.

John Green introduces one interesting fact of cartography, a town which was invented on a map and then thrust into the real world, as a metaphor for the ways in which we learn. The way we map the world affects the ways in which we view it and experience it because it is very rare that we go to an unmapped place. Studying and seeking knowledge maps the blank spaces. Learning and introducing ourselves into these new learning communities to be found online allows for us to find deeper understandings of the world we live in.

Green, John. “The Nerd’s Guide to Learning Everything Online.” TED. Nov. 2012. Lecture.

The Imago Mundi

Cartography nerds may find themselves asking the question, what was the first map ever created? Or rather, what is the oldest map that cartography experts are aware of? This is the Imago Mundi, a clay tablet dated to Babylon in the 7th or 6th century BCE.

This article highlights a new discovery of a missing piece of the ancient map. A piece of clay was discovered that filled in the text for region 2 of 7 on this tablet. The regions have cryptic descriptions such as “beyond the flight of birds” and it is likely we will not understand these without a better understanding of Babylonian mythology.

This article discusses the clay tablet in some detail, particularly the ways in which experts have attempted to discover things about ancient Babylon through it. One important piece of information given on the tablet is that it refers to many other cities in the area, from Assyria south of the Euphrates to the Urartu tribe in Turkey. The mention of these cities and tribal groups can help date this tablet to the 9th century BCE, however the clay has been dated to the 6th which means this map must be a copy of a map made several hundred years earlier. This shows cartography experts that Babylonians felt this information was valuable over a long period of time. Another area this map sheds light on is the way that regions are labelled outside of babylon. For example there are many monsters alluded to that give insight into an ancient mythology.

This article was written for the International Journal for the History of Cartography in 1996. At the time the discovery of a missing piece of the tablet was big news for cartographers. The author first draws the readers in with a connection to the cartography journal that shares a name with this tablet. the focus then gets more and more narrow as the article progresses and the reader becomes more interested.

Smith, Catherine. “Imago Mundi’s logo the Babylonian map of the world.” The International Journal for the History of Cartography. 29 Jul. 2008.

The Son Doong Cave

In may of 2015 National Geographic released a travel/adventure piece in a style never before seen on its scale. They had managed to create and interactive multimedia experience that allowed readers to have a self guided tour through the Son Doong caves in Vietnam. These are some of the biggest caves on earth, stretching over 2.5 miles, and tall enough to fit an entire New York City block with 40 story tall buildings.

Martin Edstrom heard about the caves, which had recently been discovered, and about the plans to turn these into a tourist destination. This is an immediate red flag to a lot of people, one which means construction, t-shirts, and the demolition of this beautiful work of nature, so Edstrom set out to immortalize these caves with new 360-Degree photographic technology.

The project was a long time coming because it called for extremely detailed planning and for technologies not found in many parts of the world, such as an adequate way to light such a large space. The lighting could only be achieved through specialized lights manufactured for the team in the Netherlands. Edstrom also had to jump through many diplomatic hoops to get the Vietnamese government to allow them to work in the caves.

Despite all of the Martin Edstrom and his team at National Geographic were able to create an experience and map a piece of nature that may soon be lost in the trap of tourism.

This article shows the ways in which modern technology can push cartography forward into the current day. It may seem like the days of intricate hand drawn maps are gone, and they are, but the days of interactive virtual tours that allow a person to get even closer to the remote locations they are looking for are just beginning.

“Son Doong Cave-360 Tour” National Geographic. 25 Sept. 2014.

Unearthing New York’s Past through Maps

In 2014 the New York Public Library released a database containing digital copies of over 20,000 maps of New York City from its founding to the current day. This is firstly a great way to watch a replay of the cities growth, as well as a triumph for the common map lover.

Many of the maps in this collection were used for practical reasons, for example one map was used by dock workers who would ferry people around the city prior to its current public transportation system. This map allowed for the dock workers to see where they were going as well as decide on how much to charge passengers at different docks. This is an example of the multiple uses of maps.

Another map shows the boroughs of the city prior to their consolidation in 1898. This map shows demographic information about neighborhoods such as New Lots and Gravesend which would be swallowed up into Brooklyn soon after the maps creation. This brings back up the importance of maps according to Uri Friedman, that they are depictions of discreet moments in time. This maps allows us to view New York City in a way that it can never be viewed again, a way which may have been lost to time.

This article highlights five of the more important maps from this collection according to the writer. It takes the reader through these five chronologically, telling the small stories that each map holds. This allows the reader to see the magnitude of how important this release is; if 5 maps tell us this much, imagine what 20,000 would have to say.

Reiss, Aaron. “Unearthing New York’s History Through Maps.” The New Yorker. 08 Apr. 2014. Web. 03 Nov. 2016.

A New Map

This New Yorker article tells the triumphant story of one man’s need to use the bathroom. Wansoo Im is a professor of urban planning who attempted to map all of the public restrooms in Manhattan in 2006, he did so with the aid of the newly founded google maps.

Google maps is a revolution to the cartography community, because it allows for maps to help people in ways never seen before. The idea of mapping every bathroom in manhattan is an example of a way that Google has taken the map and adapted it to the world today; maps are no longer the medium they were in the 6th century BCE, when they could be used to reflect ancient mythologies.

This also introduces the ability of a community to both use and add to a map. Im’s project would allow for anyone in the world to access it, and for anyone in the world to add a restroom where one had not been previously in a Wikipedia inspired style. This is a change to the world of cartography, which was at one time ruled by highly skilled laborers who studied their craft for years. This is why Google maps has changed the world of cartography: where once you could see history one now can see toilets.

This isn’t a means of disparaging Google maps either, it is a triumph to have a form change to fit the times we find ourselves in.

This article tells the story of a day of mapping bathrooms with Dr. Im. It almost creates a map in itself as it describes every area of Manhattan they go to and discusses the way they got there. The article tells the reader about the newest advances in cartographic technology while it maps itself in the most classic way.

Seabrook, John. “A New Map.” The New Yorker. 27 Mar. 2006. Web. 03 Nov. 2016.

The Forbidden City to Convict Cove

This article is a visual journey through some of the most important city maps to come out of the 16th and 17th centuries. It has cartographic depictions of Kyoto to Sydney, giving the reader a look into the way people saw the urban centers of the world during a time when the city-state was still very much alive.

The article talks in detail about two german cartographers, Braun and Hogenberg, who released a 6 volume set of maps of cities from all around the globe in the lat 1500s. These maps were ornate depictions of these cities, perfectly highlighting the style of cartography at the time, and yet more important than the artistic side of the maps are the way they depict the cities. For example their map of London is as accurate as any of these maps get, showing the way that Londoners avoided the marshy south side of the Thames and the way they organized themselves. Compare this to their map of Alexandria, which is highly stylized and gives very little accurate representation of the urban planning, and one begins to understand the relationship of Europeans to the rest of the world at the time.

The disparity between westerners and the rest of the world is also shown in the map of Beijing, created by Frank Dorn. This map is also beautifully crafted, and yet the center piece, the Forbidden Palace, is left empty due to the cartographers status as a westerner. The map also shows relations between these two sides of the globe as it gives locations and descriptions of hunting grounds, markets, and souvenir shops for the european visitors in China. This is one of the first major instances of tourist maps to be seen in the world.

This article takes the reader around the globe as it describes and shows 16th century maps of major cities in a list, but there is something more important shown through these maps than the art or location of them. These maps show the way that we as humans viewed each other at a very important point in history, and that is what the article attempts to convey.

“The Forbidden City to Convict Cove: rare early city maps-in pictures” The Guardian. 1 Sept. 2016. Web. 21 Nov. 2016.

How to Build a Fictional World

“How can human made squiggles on a page reflect lights in our eyes that send signals to our brain…that are strong enough not only to hold up a worl that is entirely and completely made up by the author, but also to change the reader’s perspective on the real world.”

This article asks why created worlds are so compelling, and how their creators go about building them. The first example many people’s minds jump to is J. R. R. Tolkein’s Middle Earth, the world in which the Lord of the Rings Trilogy takes place. This is a world that Tolkein spent years writing a mythology, multiple languages, and countless maps for. Many other fictional worlds, such as Harry Potter or The Matrix, have been created following this model.

Kate Messner, the author of many science fiction novels, takes the listener through her process for world creation and in the process introduces the very important idea of limitations. Creatively, it can often be easier to operate under constraint because ideas flow too freely without them and end up jumbled and confusing. Perhaps one of the first fictional worlds to be seen in a novel was Flatland by Edwin Abbott, which was an attempt to think of a way humans could exist in two dimensions. This limitations to 2-D space made this book a classic.

This lesson is structured in such a way that it brings the reader in and makes a connection to things that interest many people, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, etc., and then introduces how they relate to the lesson. The listener then hears Ms. Messner describe her process, which takes down barriers and lets the work that went into the things the listener enjoys shine through.

This is related to cartography not only because maps are one aspect that may make a world seem more realistic, but because fictional worlds do for many what a map does. It takes the real world we live in nd augments it in a way that it shows the possibilities we as people may reach, and shines a light on many things about ourselves.

Messner, Kate. “How to Build a Fictional World.” TED. 9 Jan. 2014. Lecture.

The Mannahatta Project

“The substance of things unseen. Cities, past and future. In Oxford, perhaps we can use Lewis Carroll and look in the looking glass that is New York City to try and see our true selves, or perhaps pass through to another world. Or, in the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, ‘As the moon rose higher, the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that once flowered for Dutch sailors’ eyes, a fresh green breast of the new world.’”

Eric Sanderson worked on the Mannahatta Project with his colleagues for many years and towards one goal: depict Manhattan as Henry Hudson would have seen it in 1609 when he first came across the site for the world’s premier megacity. Sanderson and the rest of the team had to deep research to find and map the landscape that lay beneath 8th avenue or Times Square, because it had been lost to time as the city was built up.

The first way they did this was by using a revolution era map that was created by the British during the occupation of New York City. Being that it was made for strategic reasons, it showed the landscape and its features in great detail. This was all the better for the team. So now they had some of the underlying topography of Manhattan, but they needed to take it one step further.

The next step was to take this topography and use computer programs that are mainly used by ecologists to discover the way that parts of the city were inhabited. For example they could see the ways winter winds would sweep across the area, which allowed them to discover which places animals and natives would likely stay away from. They also discovered a remarkable amount about the plant life of Manhattan this way.

With all of this information they could then use very accurate guess work to piece together which animals and natives lived where, which trees grow where and where many of the stopped up streams and rivers ran. From this they used a program that is used by many hollywood studios to create a rendering of the landscape. This allows for one to take any place in the city and see it as it would’ve looked over 400 years ago.

This talk is structured in three acts: the first introducing the audience to current day Manhattan and then taking them back to the Revolution, the second introducing the ecological side of the research, and the third giving insight into the renderings. The speaker not only takes the audience backwards in time through the three acts, but also gives each act a set subject: history, ecology, and renderings. This makes the talk much more effective.

Sanderson, Eric. “New York — before the City.” TED. 13 Oct. 2009. Lecture.

12 Maps the Changed the World

“There are, in other words, no perfect maps — just maps that (more-or-less) perfectly capture our understanding of the world at discrete moments in time.”

Uri Friedman sits down to talk with cartography expert Jerry Brotton to talk about his new book A History of the World in 12 Maps, and in this article high lights all 12. The author gives a brief description of why maps show us not only locations in space but moments in time. Maps tell us things ranging from mathematical revolutions to cultural interaction to religious beliefs.

One of the maps spoken about was Ptolemy’s map of the world from 150 AD, perhaps one of the most important and famous maps of all. This map was the first attempt to use a grid system to create a map; Ptolemy basically invented longitude and latitude lines. This map gives great insight into the mathematical thought at the end of Ancient Greek civilization.

Another map highlighted is Al-Idrisi’s World Map, circa 1150 AD. This map depicts the Arabian Peninsula and Africa, and more specifically it contains information regarding the trade that took place in these areas. Africa at this time was seeing extreme amounts of trade and cultural blending. This map attempts to show the ways in which cultures came together at the time, many of which were precursors to current world cultures. This map also gives insight into Islam, as the map is set with south at the top, because Muslim map makers of the time would orient their maps with Mecca at the bottom.

Mappa Mundi, a map created in England in 1300, also makes the list of 12 maps that changed the world. This map was created not to show location, but to show the history of christianity from the first dawn to the current day. The north-most point shows Adam and Eve in paradise, and the map centers around Jerusalem. This map shows the deep roots of Christianity in Medieval Europe.

Uri Friedman frames the article as a list, which is helpful when going through these maps. They are also set in chronological order which makes the article even more entertaining to the reader as they can see maps and cartography change through time.

Friedman, Uri. “12 Maps that Changed the World.” The Atlantic. 30 Dec. 2013. Web. 03 Nov. 2016.

The Allure of the Map

“literature, like a map, gains its power from selection, from miniaturization. And the writer, like the cartographer, must make careful decisions about every aspect of the map: from letters to words, sentences, and paragraphs, from chapters to sections and volumes. Literary cartography fascinates and guides the way that actual cartography does; that’s why we keep and carry stories in the same places we carry and keep maps: on our walls, in our pockets, and on our phones.”

Maps tell stories. People have known this from the beginning of time, perhaps because the earth is the one thing all humans share; locations, weather real or imaginary, hold more memories than anything else. This article shows the ways in which many authors capitalize on this fact.

The article highlights several famous fictional worlds and the ways in which their maps have affected them. From Treasure Island to Absalom, Absalom! authors have been making use of maps to tell stories for a very long time. Perhaps the best example of this is J. R. R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings, and the fictional world it is set in: Middle Earth. People around the world are familiar with the fictional “Middle-Earth”, a region that Tolkein hired a professional cartographer, Pauline Baynes, to create to help him better create the story. The first reason maps are so helpful to fiction writers is that they create a tangible world in which you let your characters run free. Every story is more entertaining with a more intensely immersive setting.

Moreover, authors can use maps in their stories the same way we study maps of the ancient world. A map can give insight into the culture, religion, language and life of the one making it. Maps of ancient Babylon tell us about ancient values and culture the same way the the map to Treasure Island reveals things about the pirates. Maps show their makers as much as they show locations.

The author’s style in this article is reflective of the subject matter in that he introduces the reader to a familiar text and then gives the back story to how maps have affected that story. The author sets up a broad statement and then reveals its connection to deepen his argument, similar to how an author may use a map to deepen his fictional world.

Cep, Casey. “The Allure of the Map.” The New Yorker. 22 Jan. 2014. Web. 03 Nov. 2016.

These ten sources all highlight a different way that cartography and maps can and have affected our lives. They show the reflection of our society on the page through religion, culture, and history, they show our desires through the fictional maps we become so engrossed in while living in a fictional world, and they show us the world we live in with greater detail. Maps have, for the longest time, compelled people to do great things, in many ways the map is the physical representation of human nature.

“Our maps of the world shape the way we live in it” — John Green

Our maps of the world have caused humans to live differently in the same ways that language and religion have. They pushed people to adventure, or to write, or to create some new invention. Without cartography our world would be without one of the greatest forces that has brought it this far.

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