Archive for September, 2010


Here is my comment on Rosendo’s post about the interdisciplinary character of GIS.


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I have to say that before consulting Tom Patterson’s article on how National Park Service creates bird’s-eye views I was overwhelmed by the thought that I need to develop a map without knowing all the spatial details of a certain landscape. Now I understand that it is not only possible to create a map without mentioning all the details, but it is recommended not to overcrowd the map. So, it all depends on the imagination of the mapmaker.

When I refer to the imagination of the mapmaker, I don’t want to say that the mapmaker should invent any spatial elements or ignore major landmarks. The task of the mapmaker is to create a map which will fit his or her goals. In this sense, a map could emphasize or centralize a focal object. Thus, this central object will be represented in more details or it will be bigger. A cartographer is even allowed to move some trees or to summarize a vegetable landscape in order to show any hidden parts of a building.

You can get more advice from Tom Patterson in his recent article on “real-world mapmaking advice for students” published in Cartographic Perspectives.

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history and GIS

Since I don’t have any idea about GIS I will take for granted the info presented in Placing History edited by Anne Kelly Knowles. What I like about this volume is the fact that it provides not only a series of maps and examples. It also provides a background to the spatial analysis in history. So if inevitably the technology of GIS will change in the coming years, the theoretical framework will be there for a longer period. In this sense I would like to mention especially the articles “GIS and History” by Knowles and “History and GIS: Implications for the Discipline” by Bodenhamer.

Both authors are not fanatics of GIS. Both understand the limitations of this software when it comes to its implementation in the humanities. Generally, their concerns refer on the one hand to the skepticism of the historians to embrace new technologies and on the other hand to the unclear returns on the huge investments necessary to create the data sets and to buy the equipment. If the first concern is overcome by the very nature of the social and technological changes, with historians bound to embrace the new technologies if only in order to understand the very nature of change, then the second concern is more difficult to overcome.

Is GIS only a beautiful and fashionable gadget? Is is it a medium, which could revolutionize the nature of major historical questions? So far, I could not get a clear answer to these questions. Both Knowles and Bodenhamer are wise to not predict the future, but at the same time I think that when you try to persuade someone to adopt a new and supposedly useful tool you should be able to sell it more convincingly.

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This week I commented on Alexandra’s post on cartography and cultural biases.

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sanborn maps

This is what the original map looks like:

As you noticed we had the same map in the class. And below you can see my first attempts to replace color and to use Live Trace on the same map.

For those of you who want some funny insights into European stereotypes, take a look at these maps.

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atlas evaluation

For my evaluation, I’ve chosen three historical atlases:

1.Derek Hayes, Historical Atlas of the United States

2.Edward Quin, Historical Atlas, 1830

3.Cole Harris, ed., Historical Atlas of Canada, 1993

The main reason for the comparison of these atlases was the fact that they somehow represent three different instances in which a historical atlas might exist. The Historical Atlas of The United States was printed in 2007 and so far exists only in print. Quin’s Historical Atlas is the digitized version of a printed atlas from 1830. Finally, the publishers of The Historical Atlas of Canada decided that in addition to the printed version, they will create an online version. This online version was adapted from the printed version and became an Online Learning Project.

Among the characteristics of these atlases, I would mention the following:

Historical Alas of the United States

The fact that this atlas is printed means that it bears the advantages and the disadvantages of all the printed atlases. On the one hand, it is a delight to get an almost physical feeling of the landscapes and images depicted on the map. It is as if it is possible to own all the contents of the map in one hand. In contrast, to a feeling of distance provided by the screen of the computer, the printed atlas provides the illusion that the whole world belong to the reader. On the other hand, the printed page gives an impression of stagnation and immobility. So, in the case of a printed atlas you get the impression that you own the whole world, but this world is static.

On the content of the Atlas, I have to say it is an enormous pleasure to grasp the diversity of the maps, images and colors, but at the same time it is an enormous pain to try to distinguish between the different elements of a map. Elements are crowded one over another as is they are in a rush to get their role on this national stage.

As an outsider to the American history, I have only one comment on the content of the atlas. It is clear that it was published “to document the discoveries and explorations, the intrigue and negotiations, the technology and the will that led the United States to become the world leader it is today.” This fact inevitably makes this map another brick in the building of the American “imagined community.” Thus, despite the diversity of its perspectives it has a teleological approach. In addition, it is interesting to analyze the chronology of the atlas. Hayes begins his account from 1492 and ends it on 9/11. Why he decided to end his account there? Is it the end of American world leadership? I leave that question open.

Quin’s Historical Atlas

If this Atlas was not from 1830, but from the year 2000, I would say that there is no use to its digitization. Since it is difficult to find it in every bookstore, then I would say that its digitization has at least one good reason: it makes the atlas more accessible to the average reader. Still the fact that I see only one good reason for its digitization does not make it less valuable. As many expensive online databases have proved, in the age of information, any information provided free of charge is extremely valuable.  Nevertheless, it is still better to have access to the original printed version of the atlas, because it is very hard to navigate between different pages of the atlas. The fact that this atlas was just scanned from the original, without any special adaptation to the online, makes it difficult to read.

Historical Atlas of Canada

This piece proves the saying that every fish can swim in its water. If it is a fish for salty water then it will not be able to swim in a lake, and the other way around. So, for me, this is the optimal solution: to print an atlas and then to design an online version of it. Of course, in the digitized version it will no be possible to feel the same power of ownership, which is provided by the printed version. Although, the digitized version supplies with a feeling of dynamism. In addition, this motion is not limited to a certain scale. It is possible to zoom through wide variety of scales and locations.As a proof, the atlas is divided according to different territorial scales. So, it is not only national, but it is also regional.

Referring to a particular story and to the way in which maps illuminate that story, I think that the best way to use maps with less words is in the example of “Pictorial Maps.” At their name suggests “pictorial maps” are a combination of maps and pictures. So, in a sense, the visual impact of these kind of maps is double. Of course, for this effect to happen, pictorial maps have to be designed accordingly. Below, is a pictorial map of California (the map appears on the page 240 of The Historical Atlas of the United States):

To a certain extent, pictorial maps manage to provide an impression of a 3 D environment. Thus, they combine the advantages of both images and maps. At the same time, in order to distinguish between different elements of the map, it is necessary to use a different color scheme. In this map, images are black and white, while maps are colored.  The cartographer uses colors in order to show the diversity of the landscape and temperature. In a sense, colors from the map illustrate the idea that the map is primary, while the images are just illustrations to the map. In this way, as Hayes argues, among the virtues of this map is the fact that it manages “to pack a lot of information into a small place.” (Historical Atlas of the United States p.240)

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Here is my comment on Rosendo’s blog.

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