“The Map Is Not the Territory”: An Interview With Nick Greer

The cofounder and editor of ‘Territory’ talks about the origins of his literary project, the allure of old maps, the impact of new mapping technologies, and more

Isaac Levy-Rubinett
Nightingale
Published in
13 min readApr 13, 2020

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Detail of Traugott Bromme, “Idealer Durchschnitt der Erdrinde”, 1851 (link), better known as the Atlas zu Alexander von Humboldt’s Kosmos.

Information designers and data visualization practitioners are often concerned with The Map — how it’s made, what it shows, its design. The literary project Territory is, as the name might suggest, concerned with The Territory — the people, stories, and intimate details contained within those very representations. Where data visualization is about boiling complex ideas and vast corpora of information into something digestible, the writings and illustrations in Territory are about the bits of place and humanity that end up concealed or squeezed out.

Territory landing page

Territory points out that all representations are fictions to some degree, which could tilt some mapmakers toward existential despair. But grappling with the gap between representation and reality will make us better designers, mapmakers, readers, and consumers of data visualization. Territory pushes us to think harder about what to include and what to leave out of our work. It challenges us to consider the granular stories and personal histories that make up our data or our visualizations.

I was fortunate to catch up with Nick Greer, who is editor and co-founder of Territory. We discussed the origins of the journal, the allure of old maps, the impact of new mapping technologies, and much more.

Isaac Levy-Rubinett: Hello! Thank you for agreeing to do this interview. We’re very into maps over at Nightingale and in the DVS, so we’re always interested in how they intersect with people’s lived experiences and art. To start off, could you give a bit of an introduction for yourself and for Territory? How did you get started and what do you hope to accomplish with the journal?

Nick Greer: I’m a writer and data scientist from Berkeley and I edit Territory with Thomas Mira y Lopez. The project began through conversations we were having in 2014 about the…

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