31 January 2008

map love

a temple to maps?

last week, i took the suv into the big city to catch the final day of "maps: finding our place in the world," an exhibit at chicago's field museum in partnership with the newberry library. "maps" is part of "the festival of maps chicago", a citywide celebration with over 30 cultural and scientific institutions participating.

the field's offering was a diverse collection of more than 100 maps - from ancient clay tablets to fantasy maps of gilligan's island. although the exhibit is now closed, you can still take a flash-enhanced tour of much of the exhibit.

from a big map dork's perspective, approaching a grand building whose pillars are separated by banners that spell "maps" is like one of those flying or puppy dreams coming true. although it's somewhat obnoxious to subject a captive audience (you) to something that's off-blog-topic, i hope you enjoy some exhibition highlights:

unidentified mapmaker. 19th centuary. manuscript, ink and pigment on paper.

my favorite map is a beautiful rendering of nanchang, taken from a 19th century atlas of southeastern china's jiangxi province. the gorgeous, remarkably vivid blue-green hues depict the province's 14 administrative units, as well as mt. lushan (a sacred center of chinese civilization).

unidentified mapmaker. 1940s. wood and twine.

this stick chart from the 1940s was a navigation tool exclusive to the marshall islands (in the south pacific). this particular map described the patterns and directions of ocean swells between the majuro and jaluit atolls.

harry beck. 1933. printed map.

harry beck's iconic map of london's underground rail system used a simple, angular design that favored simplicity over accuracy. the map's design recognizes that travelers are more concerned with the sequence of stops, rather than exact distances and placement. the map was highly influential in the design of subsequent transit maps.

unidentified mapmaker. 1722. manuscript, ink on paper.

a 1722 map "describing the scituation (sic) of the several nations of indians" was a replication of an original drawn on deerskin by a catawba indian leader for the governor of carolina county. the map depicts routes and social links between indian and non-indian tribes. circles represent american indian communities while right-angled forms depict european settlements. the map strategically centralizes the catawba between charleston and virginia while minimizing its rival cherokee and chickasaw neighbors.

joseph fletcher. 1849. printed map.

and finally, this moral statistics map by joseph fletcher, titled, "ignorance in england and wales," mapped illiteracy by recording the number of men who signed marriage licenses with an "x".

re: korea, to my minimally-trained eye, the famous 1569 mercator projection totally omits korea, while a 1611 map by the dutchman pieter vanden keere includes a long and thin "corea insula". unlike the map's drawings of china and japan, however, korea shows no detail, suggesting the peninsula's fiesty reaction to any foreigners spelunking near its shores.

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