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  • feedwordpress 09:01:20 on 2018/03/05 Permalink
    Tags: achive, , , Center for Advanced Visual Studies, , maps, , ,   

    “With a library it is easier to hope for serendipity than to look for a precise answer”*… 


    At first, the new website for the collection of MIT’s influential Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) seems like a straightforward web page. But as it scrolls down, through the introductory text and into randomly selected works from the archive, it becomes clear that the content is warping into three dimensional space, and branching into spiraling trees of related work, organized by creator and medium — an experience designed to evoke the sensation of wandering through the center’s physical archive.

    “Someone might be coming in to do research on environmental sculpture, and then they see all these images on, I don’t know, holography, and then they’d say ‘oh, I really want to check that out,’” said Jeremy Grubman, an MIT archivist who spearheaded the project. “So I wanted to find a way to produce that in a digital space, to produce that concept of serendipitous browsing.”

    50 years of art across three-dimensional space; as Jon Christian explains, “This MIT archive will be your trippiest scrolling experience today.”

    Check it out.

    * Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler), When Did You See Her Last?


    As we prepare for pleasant surprises, we might send cartographically-correct birthday greetings to Gerardus Mercator; he was born on this date in 1512.  The most renown cartographer of his time, he created a world map based on a new projection– the Mercator Projection— which represented sailing courses of constant bearing as straight lines, an approach still employed in nautical charts used for navigation.

    While he was most esteemed as the foremost geographer of his day, Mercator was also an accomplished engraver, calligrapher and maker of globes and scientific instruments.  And he studied theology, philosophy, history, mathematics, and magnetism.



  • feedwordpress 09:01:20 on 2018/02/26 Permalink
    Tags: , Elba, , Glasgow Montana, , Hundred days, isolation, maps, middle of nowhere, ,   

    “That’s the place to get to—nowhere”*… 


    In a triumph of data collection and analysis, a team of researchers based at Oxford University has built the tools necessary to calculate how far any dot on a map is from a city — or anything else.

    The research, published in Nature last month, allows us to pin down a question that has long evaded serious answers: Where is the middle of nowhere?

    To know, you’d have to catalogue and calculate the navigation challenges presented by the planet’s complex, varied terrain and the dirt tracks, roads, railroads and waterways that crisscross it. You’d then need to string those calculations together, testing every possible path from every point to every other point.

    That is pretty much what the folks did at the Malaria Atlas Project, a group at Oxford’s Big Data Institute that studies the intersection of disease, geography and demographics. The huge team — 22 authors are credited — spent years building a globe-spanning map outlining just how long it takes to cross any spot on the planet based on its transportation types, vegetation, slope, elevation and more. Those spots, or pixels, represent about a square kilometer.

    Armed with this data, and hours and hours of computer time, The Washington Post processed every pixel and every populated place in the contiguous United States to find the one that best represents the “middle of nowhere.”

    Congratulations, Glasgow, Mont.!

    Of all towns with more than 1,000 residents, Glasgow, home to 3,363 people in the rolling prairie of northeastern Montana, is farthest — about 4.5 hours in any direction — from any metropolitan area of more than 75,000 people…

    Remoteness, ranked– see the runners-up and the contenders in other categories at “Using the best data possible, we set out to find the middle of nowhere.”

    * D.H. Lawrence, Women in Love


    As we idolize isolation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1815 that Napoleon, who had been banished to France’s “middle of nowhere,” escaped from Elba.  With 700 men, he sailed back to France.

    The 5th Regiment was sent to intercept him and made contact just south of Grenoble on 7 March 1815. Napoleon approached the regiment alone, dismounted his horse and, when he was within gunshot range, shouted to the soldiers, “Here I am. Kill your Emperor, if you wish”.  The soldiers quickly responded with, “Vive L’Empereur!” Ney, who had boasted to the restored Bourbon king, Louis XVIII, that he would bring Napoleon to Paris in an iron cage, affectionately kissed his former emperor and forgot his oath of allegiance to the Bourbon monarch. The two then marched together towards Paris with a growing army. The unpopular Louis XVIII fled to Belgium after realizing he had little political support. On 13 March, the powers at the Congress of Vienna declared Napoleon an outlaw. Four days later, Great Britain, Russia, Austria, and Prussia each pledged to put 150,000 men into the field to end his rule…  [source]

    So began the Hundred Days of Napoleon’s second reign, at the end of which (on the 22nd of June) he abdicated.

    Napoleon returned from Elba, by Karl Stenben, 19th century



  • feedwordpress 09:01:20 on 2018/02/07 Permalink
    Tags: , , , lterature, maps, , , ,   

    “The imaginary is what tends to become real”*… 


    Tik-Tok of Oz, L. Frank Baum, Chicago, 1914.   Courtesy, Houghton Library, Harvard University

    Maps enjoy a long tradition as a mode of literary illustration, orienting readers to worlds real and imagined. Presented in conjunction with the bicentenary of the Harvard Map Collection, this exhibition brings together over sixty landmark literary maps, from the 200-mile-wide island in Thomas More’s Utopia to the supercontinent called the Stillness in N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. Visitors will traverse literary geographies from William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County to Nuruddin Farah’s besieged Somalia; or perhaps escape the world’s bothers in Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood. At this intersection of literature and cartography, get your bearings and let these maps guide your way…

    The map above is one of over 60 currently on display at the exhibition Landmarks: Maps as Literary Illustration, at Harvard’s Houghton Library, as part of year-long celebration of Houghton’s 75th birthday.  In addition to the examples mentioned above, the collection includes the work of authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien and the late Ursula K. Le Guin, and spans everything from love stories to fairy tales. It runs through to April 14, 2018.

    See also “Charting the Geography of Classic Literature.”

    * André Breton


    As we find our way, we might send the best of all possible birthday greetings to lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman, Renaissance humanist, and councillor to Henry VIII of England, Sir Thomas More; he was born on this date in 1478.  He is probably most widely known these days as the subject of Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons, which dramatized More’s fate (he was beheaded) when he refused to accept his old friend Henry VIII as Supreme Head of the newly-established Church of England.  (More was acting in accordance with his opposition to Martin Luther, William Tyndale, and the Protestant Reformation…  for which he was canonized in 1935 by Pope Pius XI.  Interestingly, he is also remembered by the Church of England as a “Reformation martyr.”)

    But also importantly for the purpose of this post, More was also the author of the widely-read and widely-influential Utopia— his map from which is on display at the Houghton.

    Hans Holbein the Younger’s portrait of More



  • feedwordpress 09:01:17 on 2017/12/17 Permalink
    Tags: Beaufort Scale, Francis Beaufort, , imaginary places, maps, , , Robert Peary, seamanship,   

    “If something is there, you can only see it with your eyes open, but if it isn’t there, you can see it just as well with your eyes closed. That’s why imaginary things are often easier to see than real ones.”*… 


    In the age of GPS and Google Maps, it is hard to believe that maps can include places that don’t exist. But author Malachy Tallack argues that maps are as much “a cartography of the mind” as they are a way to figure out where we are. In his new book, The Un-Discovered Islands, Tallack takes readers on a journey to imaginary places—mythic islands, mapmakers’ mistakes, mirages, and outright hoaxes. [E.g., explorer Robert Peary discovered a continent that wasn’t there.]…

    Some islands, like King Arthur’s Avalon, were pure legend. Others were mistakes or outright hoaxes.  Learn why some islands blur the line between life and death; how others have moved about on the maps; why we’re living in an era of un-discovery; and relatedly, why ancient mapmakers were afraid of blank spaces: “These Imaginary Islands Only Existed on Maps.”

    * Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth


    As we seek solid ground, we might spare a thought for Rear Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort, KCB, FRS, FRGS, MRIA; he died on this date in 1857.  A career naval officer and hydrographer, Beaufort devised, in 1806, a simple scale that coastal observers could use to report the state of the sea to the Admiralty.  Originally designed simply to describe wind effects on a fully rigged man-of-war sailing vessel, it was later extended to include descriptions of effects on land features as well.  Officially adopted in 1838 (and in use to this day), it uses numbers 0 to 12 to designate calm, light air, light breeze, gentle breeze, moderate breeze, fresh breeze, strong breeze, moderate gale, fresh gale, strong gale, whole gale, storm, and hurricane. Zero (calm) is a wind velocity of less than 1 mph (0.6 kph) and 12 (hurricane) represents a velocity of over 75 mph (120kph).



  • feedwordpress 09:01:25 on 2017/11/07 Permalink
    Tags: Drebbel, , , maps, Perpetuum Mobile, , submarine, Tjukanov, ,   

    “Roads are a record of those who have gone before”*… 


    From the “Data is Beautiful” thread on Reddit,  Tjukanov‘s rendering (from OpenStreetMap) of “All The Roads and Nothing But Roads.”

    See also his “Optimal routes by car from the geographic center of the contiguous United States to +3000 counties.”

    * Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking


    As we gas up, we might spare a thought for Cornelis Jacobszoon Drebbel; he died on this date in 1633.  The Edison of his era, he was an empirical researcher and innovator whose constructions and innovations covered measurement and control technology, pneumatics, optics, chemistry, hydraulics and pyrotechnics.  He was known for his Perpetuum Mobile ( a clock), an incubator for eggs, a portable stove/oven able to hold heat at a constant temperature by means of a regulator/thermostat, his design of a solar energy system for London (perpetual fire), his demonstration of air-conditioning, his creation of lightning and thunder “on command,” and and his construction of fountains and a fresh water supply for the city of Middelburg.  He was involved in the draining of the moors around Cambridge (the Fens), developed a predecessors of the barometer and thermometer, and built a harpsichords that played on solar energy.

    But he is perhaps best remembered as the architect and builder of the first navigable submarine.  Created for the British Navy, it was tested at depths of 12-15 feet, and could stay submerged for up to three hours (air tubes with floats went to the surface to provide the craft with oxygen).




  • feedwordpress 08:01:05 on 2017/08/30 Permalink
    Tags: , Bellingshausen, Captain Cook, , , , maps,   

    “A change in perspective is worth 80 IQ points”*… 


    This rectangular world map [from the design firm AuthaGraph] is made by equally dividing a spherical surface into 96 triangles, transferring it to a tetrahedron while maintaining areas proportions and unfolding it to be a rectangle.

    The world map can be tiled in any directions without visible seams. From this map-tiling, a new world map with triangular, rectangular or parallelogram’s outline can be framed out with various regions at its center.

    For more background and other views, visit The AuthaGraph World Map.

    * Alan Kay


    As we struggle to keep it all in proportion, we might send exploratory birthday greetings to Fabian Gottlieb Thaddeus von Bellingshausen; he was born on this date in 1778.  A sailor, navigator, and cartographer, Bellingshausen was appointed by Czar Alexander I of Russia to lead an expedition that aimed to pick up where Captain Cook (who had died a year after Bellingshausen’s birth) left off, exploring the southern polar region of the globe.  Bellinghausen may have been the first to sight the Antarctic mainland, when he saw distant mountains on January 28, 1820.  Between February 17-19, he recorded seeing ice cliffs and ice-covered mountains, though he didn’t realize that they were in fact a continental mainland.  Similar sightings were also made at about the same time British naval captain Edward Bransfield and the American sealing captain Nathaniel Palmer sailing from other directions, so who was actually the first of them to see Antarctica remains unclear.

    (Just as there is some uncertainty as to which of the three mariners was in fact the first to sight the seventh continent, so there is some confusion as to Bellingshausen’s birth date.  This is one of the primary candidates.)



  • feedwordpress 08:01:26 on 2017/07/09 Permalink
    Tags: , , history of maps, , maps, , planets, ,   

    “The map is not the territory”*… 


    With the advent of GPS systems and cell-phone-based mapping guidance…

    …many of us have stopped paying attention to the world around us because we are too intent on following directions. Some observers worry that this represents a new and dangerous shift in our style of navigation. Scientists since the 1940s have argued we normally possess an internal compass, “a map-like representation within the ‘black box’ of the nervous system,” as geographer Rob Kitchin puts it. It’s how we know where we are in our neighborhoods, our cities, the world.

    Is it possible that today’s global positioning systems and smartphones are affecting our basic ability to navigate? Will technology alter forever how we get around?

    Most certainly—because it already has. Three thousand years ago, our ancestors began a long experiment in figuring out how they fit into the world, by inventing a bold new tool: the map…

    Get your bearings at: “From Ptolemy to GPS, the Brief History of Maps

    * Alfred Korzybski


    As we follow the directions, we might recall that it was on this date in 1595 that Johann Kepler (and here) published Mysterium cosmographicum (Mystery of the Cosmos), in which he described an invisible underlying structure determining the six known planets in their orbits.  Kepler thought as a mathematician, devising a structure based on only five convex regular solids; the path of each planet lay on a sphere separated from its neighbors by touching an inscribed polyhedron.

    It was an elegant model– and one that fit the orbital data available at the time.  It was, nonetheless, wrong.

    Detailed view of Kepler’s inner sphere



  • feedwordpress 08:01:03 on 2017/06/08 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , James Madison, maps, ,   

    “Caveat lector”*… 



    * “Let the reader beware,” Latin phrase


    As we interrogate our sources, we might recall that it was on this date in 1789 that Representative (later, President) James Madison introduced nine amendments to the U.S. Constitution in the House of Representatives; subsequently, Madison added three more, ten of which (including 7 of his original nine) became the Bill of Rights.

    Madison, often called “the Father of the Constitution,” created the amendments to appease anti-Federalists on the heels of the oftentimes bitter 1787–88 battle over ratification of the U.S. Constitution– in the drafting of which he had also played a central role.




  • feedwordpress 08:01:16 on 2017/06/06 Permalink
    Tags: Castile, , Eleanor of Aquitaine, Eleanor of England, Henry I, , maps, , plans, ,   

    “The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand”*… 


    Build your own with The Medieval Fantasy City Generator

    * Italo Calvino


    As we wander within the walls, we might spare a thought for Henry I, King of Castile and Toledo; he died on this date in 1217 when a loose roof tile fell on his head.  He had become the monarch two years earlier, at age 10, when his father (Alfonso VIII of Castile) passed away.  His mother was Eleanor of England, Queen of Castile, the daughter of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine.



  • feedwordpress 08:01:57 on 2017/05/20 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Divine Comedy, , maps, Michelangelo Caetani, persuasive cartography, , St. Lucifer,   

    “I hold it to be the inalienable right of anybody to go to hell in his own way”*… 


    Michelangelo Caetani’s “Cross Section of Hell,” an illustration of Dante’s Divine Comedy, and part of Cornell University’s P.J. Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography (“more than 800 maps intended primarily to influence opinions or beliefs – to send a message – rather than to communicate geographic information”).

    An enlargeable version of the Cross Section is here; browse the full collection here.

    * Robert Frost


    As we ruminate on repentance, we might note that today is the Feast Day of  Lucifer– more properly, of St. Lucifer of Caligari.  At least, it’s his feast day in Sardinia, where he’s venerated.  Lucifer, who was a 4th century bishop fierce in his opposition to Arianism, is considered by some elsewhere to have been a stalwart (if minor) defender of the orthodoxy; but by more to have been an obnoxious fanatic.

    “Lucifer” was in use at the time as a translation of the the Hebrew word, transliterated Hêlêl or Heylel (pron. as HAY-lale), which means “shining one, light-bearer.”  It had been rendered in Greek as ἑωσφόρος (heōsphoros), a name, literally “bringer of dawn,” for the morning star.  The name “Lucifer” was introduced in St. Jerome’s Latin translation of the Bible, the Vulgate, roughly contemporaneously with St. Lucifer.  The conflation of “Lucifer” with “Satan” came later.




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