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Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The stunning beauty of maps, Part II

The beauty of maps is topical not only thanks to British Library's show Maginificent Maps. Gary Gale waxed rhapsodic on map as art, and Thierry Gregorius mused on what a map might look like after visiting the same exhibit.

Perhaps even more intriguing are the maps that didn't make it into the British Library show: Smith's original geologic map of Great Britain laid down principles of stratigraphy and geology not widely accepted in 1815. And the (in)famous Red-Line Map separating the UK dominions from the then-new United States, remind us that the CDN acronym for Canada stands for Commonwealth Dominion of North-america.
I myself oscillate between scrolling through utilitarian mashups posted here, and flipping through the pages of An Atlas of Cambridgeshire and Huntigdonshire History (Anglia Polytechnic Press: 75 maps with notes on everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask about culture and history of East Anglia since Prehistory).

Should we let the data speak for itself, provided it is posted clearly and succintly as in that book? Or should we use the full complement of web mapping tools such as Marten Hogeweg's at the risk of cluttering it up with map bars?
Isn't it ironic that ancient maps filled empty spaces with fanciful illustrations and monikers like here be dragons.

The British Library traces the evolution of mapmaking in its collection: from Christian views of heaven and earth in the Middle Ages, thru political tools of knowledge and posssesion in the Age of Enlightenment and propaganda in the Industrial Revolution, to whimsical portrayals of one's own city today.

Cartography then as GIS now were never easy tasks, especially when it came to projecting spherical data onto a flat map! And marrying the role of surveyor and propagandist then, must not have been any easier than adding GIS expertise to your profession today - I'm a geologist by trade, yet my early exposure to geodata brought me the strangest stories... But one of the stellar examples I just came across (thanks @mattartz) hints at Martian geomorphology.


Now if Carolyn Porco's team mapped in more details the stunning imagery of wetlands and methane lakes on Saturn's moon Titan...