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Our Next Generation

Who are the next generation of cartographers? What draws them to this part science, part artistic expression, part design discipline? Many cartographers of the past and those working today often talk about an early love for maps and how something about their graphic form drew them to the field. Some of the most famous mapmakers, geographers and computer scientists, who created our modern Geographic Information Sciences, if given the chance, will go on and on about an early love for the simple folded map. John Snyder (1928-1997), the inventor of perhaps the most complex map projection ever devised, for example, wrote page after page in small notebooks during his youth, sketching maps, projections and landscapes.

Page from John Snyder's Projection notebook that dates from when he was 16 years old. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Page from John Snyder’s Projection notebook that dates from when he was 16 years old. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Another cartographer, Eduard Imhof (1895-1986), who was certainly one of the most artistic of the twentieth century and the person who developed most of our modern ideas about relief representation, wrote emotionally about his early years as a boy looking at maps and walking outside, sketching the mountain landscapes of his native Switzerland.

Example of Imhof's Relief Sketches. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Example of Imhof’s Relief Sketches. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Was it the ease of  graphic construction, the fact that four colors suffice, or something in the ability of maps to reduce the chaos and complexity of a three-dimensional world into two planar dimensions that first entered their minds?  Whatever it was the lure and aesthetic pull of maps continues to excite budding cartographers and draws them to the collections here at the Library of Congress. Last week one of those youthful cartographers, Lucas Cropper, all of 9 years old, visited the collections here at the Library in order to get a first hand look at some of the maps he had only previously seen in books.

Lucas Crooper looking at the first pages of the 1482 edition of Ptolemy's Geographia. Photograph by Margherita Paminella

Lucas Cropper and John Hessler looking at the first pages of the 1482 edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia in the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress. Photograph by Margherita Pampinella

Today anyone interested in maps from a very young age is exposed to a whole host of computer mapping interfaces (think of Google Earth or Map Quest), open source Geographic Information Systems and video games that employ mapping as central theme. Many of these games utilize complex mapping algorithms that use multiple three-dimensional viewpoints that build on modern theories of mental and cognitive maps. Minecraft, an extremely popular online game, and one of Lucas’ loves, uses  blocks to create landscapes and has opened up a world of mapping possibilities as game players, digital geographers and cartographers build both fictional and real landscapes. Lucas’ own maps tend to draw on these themes and combine both real and imagined territories (what map isn’t part both).

One of the maps made by Lucas Cropper. Image courtesy of M. Pampenilla.

One of the maps made by Lucas Cropper. Image courtesy of M. Pampinella.

Whatever the inspirations and reasons for these youthful explorations into cartography are, perhaps, what Lucas wrote to me about mapping and the collections here at the Library of Congress after his visit says it all,

It is not only a bunch of books, maps and artifacts. Its imagination, curiosity, thought and discovery….and about HAVING FUN…..

Indeed Lucas, it surely is….


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Of Maps and Data

There is no rule saying that maps need to be flat. Or on paper. Maps can be just about anything. They can take any shape, size, or form. They can be drawn, printed, carved, built, traced, tattooed, remotely sensed, or exist completely in your head. They can be a snapshot of a moment in time […]