The Powers of Cartography

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The Powers of Cartography

Postby BadgerJelly on October 26th, 2017, 3:54 am 

Just a little something inspired by Orwell - Tribune, 11 Feb 1944. I guess I am just questioning our modern adherence to current views of nationhood and the industrial state.

For context a couple of lines from Orwell:

It is an interesting minor manifestation of nationalism that every nation colours itself red on the map. There is also a tendency to make yourself look bigger than you are, which is possible without actually forgery since every projection of the earth as a flat surface distorts some part or other.

... Then there are ethnological and political maps, a most rewarding material for propaganda. During the Spanish civil war, maps were pinned up in the Spanish villages which divided the world into Socialist, democratic and Fascist states. From these you could learn that India was a democracy, while Madagascar and Indo-China (this was the period of the Popular Front Government in France) were labelled "Socialist".


To look upon that show borders, delineate deserts from savannahs, temperate from tropical; makes the world seem manageable, surveyable and, over all, under the jurisdiction of anyone or everyone.

To look further still we could see maps that show natural resources, wealth distributions, political inclinations, and a vast number of other geo-political pointers.

What strike me most of all is how these maps suggest a physical, and measureable, presence of some abstract idea. For ideas such as 'freedom', or 'equality', in what real way can these items be demarcated? How can we rate the 'happiness', or 'prosperity', of a nation? The political opinions of all the citizens? Yet, no doubt these things are painted in various shades and hues across our mapped out lands as if there is real substance and quantified meaning to them. Is there a danger we're prone to give substance to bias, rather than merely to evaluate differences, by performing such vague representations of thought and general human 'cultures'?
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Re: The Powers of Cartography

Postby Dawnscout on January 16th, 2018, 4:48 pm 

The analytical "grouping of our perceptions" has always been a simplistic way of saying : "this is how I see it..."

If levels of freedom & equality could be mapped the map would have to be more fluid than current materials allow for them to be.

Result is always to "err back to simplistic views".
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Re: The Powers of Cartography

Postby zetreque on January 16th, 2018, 5:09 pm 

I love the topic of maps. My local library has some really interesting books on this topic.

One book that opened my mind to all the different kinds of maps and what they are used for or symbolize is:
Maps : finding our place in the world / edited by James R. Akerman and Robert W. Karrow, Jr.

I would recommend that book for exploring these kinds of deeper issues with cartography.
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Re: The Powers of Cartography

Postby BadgerJelly on January 17th, 2018, 12:26 am 

Zet -

Thanks. I'll take a closer look at that title. Last time I was shopping for books I nearly bought one about the history of world maps.
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Re: The Powers of Cartography

Postby zetreque on January 17th, 2018, 12:51 am 

BadgerJelly » Tue Jan 16, 2018 8:26 pm wrote:Zet -

Thanks. I'll take a closer look at that title. Last time I was shopping for books I nearly bought one about the history of world maps.


I wanted to buy that particular book and even had a watch on ebay for it for awhile just to get the cheapest price but realized I didn't need another thing laying around and I could just go up to my library to see it any time I want. You can probably read the first few pages on the amazon preview.

I just remember it being neat explaining the history of maps and gave me a lot of different things to think about them that I never considered before just like this topic you started.

One thing I remember was how you can tell a lot about what a particular town or what a society finds to be valuable based on features of the map and how their town was built.
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