Archive for October, 2010


This week I commented on Dan’s post about modern cartography.


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There have been several major events in the twentieth century:

  • World War I, World War II and Cold War
  • the culmination of colonization and the start of decolonization
  • the beginning of a space age, with the first launching of a satellite and with the landing on the Moon.
  • the emergence of two superpowers: US and USSR (with the former to stay as such until now).
  • the technological revolution with the rapid development of the new means to distribute information: radio, TV and computers.

All these events not only changed the face of our planet, but they also changed the scale of cartography. The fact that the major conflagrations have got the status of “world wars” is in itself revealing of the changing cartography. If at the beginning of the century, there still were large blank spots on world maps, (especially Africa, Australia and Arctic region) then at the end of the century there were only minor unmapped territories. From artifacts of colonization maps became markers of decolonization. It was often the case that the same maps, which were used by empires to colonize a territory, were used by former colonies to mark their own identity and national territory.

As an illustration of how world wars changed the American cartographic thinking, I would mention Susan Schulten’s article on Richard Edes Harrison’s maps. In fact Harrison reacted to the challenges of World War II and argued that US should be involved in this war a couple of months ahead of Pearl Harbor. The popularity of his maps cannot be explained only by their originality. It is the merit of the twentieth century to provide a favorable technological context, in which visual material could be distributed widely. Even if these maps were not televised and only printed, the wide development of TV provided a favorable framework for the special status of the visuals.

Another war of the twentieth century, Cold War had rather hot consequences in the field of cartography. The development of satellite imagery provided a framework for the reinterpretation of earth’s topography. The surface of the planet ceased to be only a sum of longitudes and latitudes. Then, it became possible to assemble Geographic Information Systems.

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grounds for hope

Take a look at this amazing girl!


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This week I commented on Alisa’s rubber sheeting project.

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Since I wanted to map a territory outside the US, I couldn’t rely on National Elevation Data from USGS. Instead I got a GTOPO30 file from the same server. Because of the fact that these files are very large, USGS provides them in tiles. I downloaded E020N90 tile and selected the area, which is of interest to me. For a better understanding, here is a traditional 2D map:

Below, you can see the same territory but from a GTOPO30:

As Moldova is a flat country, I decided to use the feature “Vertical Exaggeration Factor” from the “Scene” menu of Natural Scene Designer, in order to provide a better visualization of the differences in the terrain. So, I increased Vertical Exaggeration Factor from 1 to 5 and this is what I’ve got:

Finally, I decided to further improve the elevation visualization by changing the color scheme of the image. So, I imported a shaded relief overlay from the Natural Earth Data:

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This week I commented on Rosendo’s post on material culture and maps.

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In “The Material Map: Lewis Evans and Cartographic Consumer Culture, 1750-1775,” Martin Bruckner looks at the value of maps as material objects. So far, from previous readings, we’ve seen that maps are not only pictorial representations of space. They are also powerful symbols. Moreover they are not only symbols of power. In fact they do not only represent power. They exercise power.

Bruckner shows a different view on the role of maps. He regards them as material objects. From the second half of the 18th century an increase in the publication of maps has had a double meaning. On the one hand, serial publication of maps has made everyone more dependent on maps. In this sense, the power of maps have increased.

On the other hand, the same serial publication of maps has determined the mass emergence of standardized maps, and as a consequence maps started to loose value. Maps ceased to be works of art. They became commodities. They no longer represented the center of the universe (remember the fancy word “axis mundi”). They just occupied their places on the walls, along with clocks, paintings and other serial commodities.

Nevertheless, these standardized maps are not only decorations for interiors. They also have some value for the exterior. The point is that assembled together these material objects form the choir of modern “imagined communities.” [I guess everybody is aware of the fact that I did not invent the term “imagined communities”, so I do not need to explain it in a footnote]

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