The best fiction often succeeds because its creator has constructed a convincing world. By that I don’t mean a place that seems realistic, but rather a world that’s believable because it’s been thought through — pages of notes, characters described down to their beauty marks, the relationships between them, their homes and towns mapped out.
There was much rejoicing among cartography lovers when the New York Public Library’s Lionel Pincus & Princess Firyal Map Division recently released over 20,000 maps for free use.
Back in 1932, a naval historian named Charles O. Paullin and a geographer named John K. Wright published a colossus of cartography called Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States.
If you want to claim a territory, it’s good to have a map to show what’s yours. Defining Lines: Cartography in the Age of Empire at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University examines how maps were a form of political control and public perception by Western colonial powers from the 16th and 20th centuries.
No maps remain from the Ancient Greeks and Romans, yet we know that they looked to the stars and to the widening world around them and responded with their own influential cartography.
People in New York City seem to have a particular fixation with mapping the past.
The New York Public Library’s 1510 Hunt-Lenox Globe better watch its bronze throne because a new globe portends to be the oldest to show the Americas. And it has the curious advantage of being carved into the round form of an ostrich egg.
John Henry with his hammer, Rip Van Winkle taking a snooze, the Celebrated Jumping Frog rests alongside Coronado scaling a mountain, while Babe the Blue Ox sprints towards the famous Idaho potato. All these figures of American folklore are sprawled across the United States in a 1946 map by artist William Gropper.
When I was a kid, my father kept a dog-eared street map of the Dallas metroplex in his truck’s glove compartment. As a contractor who spent hours driving each day, this atlas was his North Star — a point of reference for navigating the city’s chaotic, concrete sprawl. Today, the cartographic tradition that his homely map belonged to — spanning millenniums from the early Phoenicians to Amerigo Vespucci and Lewis and Clark — is rapidly changing. I now find my way through New York by following a tiny, triangular point on an iPhone screen. In an age of new technology, information, and globalization, maps are no longer mere objects, and they increasingly represent immaterial worlds. This shifting understanding of time and space is reflected in Contemporary Cartographies, a group show at CUNY’s Lehman College Art Gallery in the Bronx.
This is what we look like. You, me, and everybody else in North America: one dot each. 341, 817, 095 dots.
It happened in a surprising instant: North Korea became just a little bit more accessible. Google Maps now features data on the secretive country, with the names of streets and buildings labeled, plus some more sensitive information.
Everyone knows that Hurricane Sandy caused major damage to parts of New York City, but if you want more concrete information about how much flooding really happened — how many feet of water and where — the New York Times has published an amazing map that offers precisely that.