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.
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.
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.
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).
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…..
Florida: home to sunshine, oranges, spring breakers, and snowbirds. Or, in the words of the 16th century Spanish explorer, Hernando de Soto: “full of bogs and poisonous fruits, barren, and the worst country that is warmed by the sun.”
For over a hundred years, between Columbus’ initial contact in the Bahamas (1492) and the English establishment of permanent colonies in Virginia (1607), Spain dominated European exploration of the Americas. We often learn about some of these (in)famous Spaniards at some point during school or in museum exhibits, such as Juan Ponce de León, Hernán Cortés, and Juan de la Cosa.
However, throughout the 16th century, the French also made numerous, concerted attempts to claim land in the Americas. In 1562, a group of Huguenot settlers led by Jean Ribault andRené Goulaine de Laudonnière were sent by King Charles IX in an attempt to establish a colony on the southeastern coast of America. An artist on Laudonnière’s expedition, Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, went on to produce a map of their French colony from 1562 to 1565. Le Moyne’s map (not published until 1591) depicted Florida as a wide triangle with its southernmost tip removed, a peculiar shape that persisted for several decades, even as alternative representations emerged from other cartographers.
One such alternative appeared in the 1584 Latin edition of Abraham Ortelius’ Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. Ortelius based his map of “La Florida” on information derived from Jerónimo de Chaves, a cartographer at the Casa de Contratación in Seville. Because the map is based on the work of a cartographer for the Spanish Crown, the names appearing on the map are from early Spanish explorations. The shape of Florida and its related nomenclature are picked up by cartographers following Ortelius, such as Corneille [Cornelius] Wytfliet.
Another version of Florida was produced by the Dutch geographer Johannes De Laet. As Director of the Dutch West India Company, De Laet and his cartographers had access to the most up-to-date information and reports about the Americas. The Florida peninsula is named “Tegesta provinc.” after a tribe of American Indians living on the Florida coast and persisted in French mapping of Florida for nearly two hundred years.
Recently, the Geography and Map Division has undertaken a large scale project to collect manuscripts, technical information, algorithms, software, and hardware from the earliest days of computer cartography. This project, which is being directed by the author, began as a series of lectures for graduate students that I gave at Johns Hopkins University on the mathematical foundations of Geographic Information Science (GIS), and which peaked my interest in early GIS many years ago. The program has resulted in the Library’s acquisition of a number of archives from the earliest days of computer cartography, produced by GIS pioneers like Nicholas Chrisman and Roger Tomlinson.
These collections contain personal papers, notes, and technical publications related to the development of Geographical Information Systems, from some of the many imaginative geographers, mathematicians and computer scientists, working at places like the Harvard University Laboratory for Computer Graphics and Spatial Analysis, and at other centers around the world during the 1960s and 1970s, a time that saw the beginnings of what would become modern Geographic Information Science.
The research at the Harvard Laboratory was a cross section of geographical ideas that were circulating at the time and these archives are a window into the mindset of early researchers active in a field that would revolutionize mapmaking. One series of publications which deserves much more attention from today’s historians of cartography and anyone interested in the foundations of current geographic thought, are the Harvard Papers in Theoretical Geography. These papers, subtitled, “Geography and the properties of surfaces,” detail the Lab’s early experiments in the computer analysis of cartographic problems and also give insight into the theoretical thinking of many early researchers as they experimented with theorems from algebraic topology, complex spatial analysis, new algorithms and various forms of abstract logic in order to redefine the map as a mathematical tool for geographic analysis. Reading some of the titles in the series today, for example, Hypersurfaces and geodesic lines in four-dimensional Euclidean Space and The Sandwich Theorem: a basic one for geography, give one a sense of the wide range of experimentation and imaginative thinking that surrounded the breakthroughs necessary for the development of our modern computer mapping systems.
The Harvard Papers reveal, in a way that few other publications do, the multidisciplinary thinking that surrounded many of the lab’s projects. In an attempt to answer previously intractable geographical and cartographic questions, purely mathematical and geometrical concepts like existence theorems, whose basic logical structure contains statements that confirm or deny the existence of particular sets of objects, were employed in various computer mapping schemes. The development of these programs injected high levels of topological and algebraic abstraction into geographical analysis and fundamentally changed the basic ontology of geographic and cartographic objects. Existence theorems, although they provide logical proof for whatever mathematical entity they are claiming existence for, do not however, necessarily provide a way to find or calculate those objects.
The list of the authors of these papers, of which only fifty-seven were published, look to us now like a who’s who of the analytic turn that geography took in the post-World War II era. Names like William Warntz, Ernesto Lindgren, Michael Woldberg, Waldo Tobler, Donald Shepper, Carl Steinitz, William Bunge and Geoffery Dutton are just a few who added their insights and ideas to this highly theoretical series of papers.
Many of these researchers, and others, like Roger Tomlinson, who first coined the name GIS, and Duane Marble, whose work broadened the theoretical foundations of GIS (his paper, written with Michael Dacey, from 1965, “Some Comments on Certain Technical Aspects of Geographic Information Systems, is must reading for anyone interested in this history) are responsible for the changes that we have seen in our current notion of what a map is. Today we are mapping more than just terrestrial and celestial land masses. Cartographers now regularly produce maps that move, employ big data, and focus on connection and flow as opposed to distance. Think of the maps of the internet, Facebook friends or Twitter. Current cartographers have increasing turned their attention to far from equilibrium phenomenon and are dealing with time as a fourth cartographic dimension. These changes have come about because the early practitioners of computer cartography saw the deeper connections with mathematical analysis and topology and found themselves compelled to draw both distinctions and parallels with ideas that were appearing in the contemporary technical literature on spatial and temporal reasoning. Their explorations into this literature were not limited to geographical ideas on lived human space, but also drew on philosophy, cognitive science, pure mathematics, and fields like modal logic, all in order to somehow to come to terms with the diverse phenomenon that have spatio-temporal extent and that might be mapped and analyzed.
We can see this forward looking philosophy clearly in the work and thought of many of these early researchers. William Warntz for example, who was for a time the head of the Harvard Lab, wrote about the changing face of discipline, in a way that, to me at least, still rings true,
“We now look upon maps not only as stores for spatially ordered information, but also as a means for the graphical solution of certain spatial problems for which the mathematics proves to be intractable, and to produce the necessary spatial transformations for hypothesis testing….The modern geographer conceives of spatial structures and spatial processes as applying not only to such things as landforms….but also to social, economic, and cultural phenomena portraying not only conventional densities but other things such as field quantity potentials, probabilities, refractions etc. Always these conceptual patterns may be regarded as overlying the surface of the real earth and the geometrical and topological characteristics of these patterns, as transformed mathematically or graphically, thus describe aspects of the geography of the real world.”
“We recognize yet another role for maps. In the solution of certain problems for which the mathematics, however elegantly stated, is intractable, graphical solutions are possible. This is especially true with regard to “existence theorems”. There are many cases in which the graphical solution to a spatial problem turns out to be a map in the full geographical sense of the term, “map.” Thus a map is a solution to the problem.”
Because of the deeper connections that modern cartography has across many disciplines like computer science, logic, and the philosophy of space and place, the Library of Congress is collecting quite broadly in the area of early computer cartography. It has obtained many other archives from cartographers like John Parr Snyder, who was the original developer of the Space Oblique Mercator Projection. It was Snyder who developed the equations for this extremely complicated projection using an early Texas Instruments programmable calculator.
The equations for the projection allowed remote sensing imagery from the earliest Landsat satellites to be made into low error maps for the first time. In thinking through the geometry of the projection Snyder had to take into account the various motions of the satellite and the earth and in doing so invented a dynamic and time dependent map projection that was unlike anything cartographers had seen before. In addition to the technical material found in his collection, there are several notebooks into which he copied his ideas on map projections when he was sixteen years old, and that show him to be perhaps, one of the few modern cartographic prodigies.
The study and science of cartography and its related geographical disciplines underwent profound technological and conceptual advancements in the last half of the twentieth century. These advancements, brought about by the advent of computers, the development of newer and faster mathematical and computational algorithms, and the birth of satellite imagery contributed to paradigm changes that can be considered revolutionary. Technological and conceptual improvements have generated new forms of data, maps and artifacts that differ radically from those typically archived in map libraries. In the future these new artifacts and materials will form the basis for the study of the history of modern cartography and as such their collection and preservation present new challenges to the archivist and the map librarian. This rapid development in the mapmaking continues at a breakneck pace with no sign of slowing anytime soon.
The Library of Congress’ program of collecting computer software, new computational devices, hardware and new forms of geospatial data is based on the assumption that all of these need to be preserved in a way that allows future researchers to access not only historical geospatial data but also the techniques, data structures, and algorithms used by today’s mapmakers. Many of these ephemeral materials are disappearing, either through obsolescence, scholarly neglect, or the inevitable degradation of all magnetic media. These fragile parts of our history need to be collected now, before they disappear, for even though we are talking about materials from the recent past, the one thing we do not have in the preservation of this period of cartographic history, is the luxury of time.
Today’s guest post is from Mike Schoelen, a Post-Graduate GIS Research Fellow in the Geography and Map Division. This post was inspired by work on the Geographic Hotspot Dynamic Indexing Project and collaboration with Amanda Brioche, Erin Kelly, and Evan Neuwirth. Mike is a born and raised Marylander. After completing his undergraduate degree at Frostburg State University, he moved to central Maryland to pursue a Master’s Degree in Geography and Environmental Planning at Towson University. An excerpt from his thesis on the use of GIS to model population distribution is to be published by Applied Geography Magazine in November.
A success rate of 99% would be hailed in most professions as a grand accomplishment, if not a miracle. Just imagine: a restaurant that has only 1 complaint out of 100 customers served that day, a drug with one side effect in just 1 of 100 of the test subjects, or even a batter that steps up to the plate and manages to hit 9 out of 10 pitches. While the results of the Dynamic Indexing Project might not have lives on the line (or a professional sports career), we know one thing for sure: 99% doesn’t work here. And it all comes down to a simple matter of multiplication.
For the Dynamic Indexing Project, we have been building a digital singularity where the entire set map collection can live on a geographic information system (GIS) platform and be accessed through an interface. In the case of a few thousand maps, this could be done in a week or two, involving a few long nights of scanning and some simple quality assurance if any issues arise. We, however, are not talking about a few thousand maps, or a few ten thousand, or even just one million. The collection intended for digitization consists of over 2.5 million map sheets. If the collection were stacked into a single pile, it would tower the Washington Monument by over 300 feet. This doesn’t even include the single sheet collection housed in the other half of the Geography & Map Division!
For a temporal example, let us say that we perform a redundant process when digitizing these maps, something as simple as running an unnecessary process on a computer which causes the scanner to slow by one second per map sheet. From experience, unless you sit down with a stopwatch, you would not notice the delay. Fortunately for the Library (and the tax payers), we brought a stop watch to work and did just that. This one second delay, caused by a switch toggled deep within a scanner preference, would have accrued as the entire collection was fed through, amounting to over 650 hours or over 80 work days lost over the course of the project. Sorry, Summer Interns of 2016, you’ll have to find another task to do.
Let’s look at a qualitative example and say we manually entered data for these map sheets. For every 100 map sheets, one single digit was transcribed incorrectly, causing one in 100 images to have a bad value associated with it. Small errors are a daily occurrence in our field; I recall using some GIS stream data for a side-project and finding a small error showing a stream running uphill! But when the collections sheer size is accounted for, we would see that over 25,000 map sheets would be poorly transcribed. To combat this, we have built automation procedures to limit human interaction and the associated errors.
Every day is a challenge to beat 99%, because anything less would be a failure. It’s the challenge an analyst signs up for, and we love every day of it.
As one of the curators of the largest map library on the planet, there are times when one comes across a map that just strikes you as unique, not only as piece of cartography, but also as a monument to the obsessions of antiquarians of the past, the present, and the future. Several days ago while searching through one of the three footballs fields of storage cabinets that make up the stacks of the Geography and Map Division here at the Library of Congress, I came across a map from 1911, made by the English antiquarian Spenser Wilkinson (1853-1937).
Wilkinson was a journalist for the Manchester Guardian and a professor of military history at Oxford University, but it appears that his life’s goal was to actually trace the path of Hannibal’s elephants across the French and Italian Alps as he made his way to attack the Roman forces in the Second Punic War (218-204 BCE) and to avenge the destruction of Carthage. Wilkinson wrote a small book entitled, Hannibal’s Marchin which he discusses the classical sources for the tale and outlines the geographic researches that led him to conclude, with much certainty, that the elephants in Hannibal’s army must have climbed to the top of a high mountain pass known as the Col du Clapier, located along the French border with Italy, at a height of some 2,491 meters.
The story of Hannibal’s trek was narrated by both the Roman historian Livy (64 BCE- 17 CE), and by the Greek Polybius (200-118 BCE), both of whom give tantalizing details about the landscape, making the reader imagine that a reconstruction of this amazing historical journey is possible.
Polybius, in Book III of his Histories, writes that the elephants, “proved something of a mixed blessing. Where the track was narrow and precipitous, they slowed things up considerably; but wherever they were placed in the column, they offered useful protection to the troops, because the natives [these are the Celtic tribes of Gaul] had never come across them before and were frightened to go near them.”
The trip was difficult and, like many climbers and alpinists of later expeditions, Hannibal’s troops suffered both physically and psychologically in the high mountains. Polybius explains that “after nine days they reached the high summits and there pitched camp. [Hannibal] waited a couple of days to allow his surviving troops to recover and to gather up those who had fallen behind.” Later he goes on to write that, “The soldiers were worn out by the effort of responding to so many misfortunes; but when, naturally enough with the approach of winter, it began to snow, it was the last straw and total demoralisation set in.”
Today, there are historical geographers, geologists, and alpine archaeologists who are still searching for material evidence of Hannibal’s passage. Perhaps there is an elephant bone buried in a glacial moraine, or a stash of Phoenician coinage lost along the long trek. Many agree with Wilkinson that the only possible pass had to be the Col du Clapier, others, who think that elephants are better alpinists and climbers, vote for the higher and more snow covered Col du Traversette, which tops out at 2950 meters. Too bad for us that Hannibal decided to bring along a herd elephants and not a team of cartographers.
At the age of 33, James Wilson (1763-1855) moved out of the log cabin he had built by hand, sold all the stock he possessed on his 100 acre farm, and managed to scrape together $130 in rural eighteenth century New Hampshire. And for what purpose? Wilson wanted to purchase all thirteen volumes of the third edition of Encyclopedia Britannica.
Born into a farming family in Bradford, Vermont, James Wilson transformed himself into a jack-of-all-trades when it came to globe production. In a well-known, if somewhat apocryphal tale, Wilson visited Dartmouth College in 1796 and was immediately inspired to begin constructing his own globes. Historians have been able to trace which globes the college had in its possession the year Wilson purportedly visited, so it is assumed that he may have seen them on display.
While we will never be completely certain that Wilson examined those particular globes during his
famous trip to Hanover, we do know that in the years following 1796 he took a 180 degree turn in his life’s ambitions. With his new set of encyclopedias, he set about educating himself as much as possible about geography, cartography, national and state boundaries, history, globe production, and astronomy.
With a background as a rural farmer, Wilson had considerable skill in several trades that proved useful in producing globes. He was able to turn a globe’s wooden stand using a lathe from his exposure to woodworking and forge meridian rings and quadrants from his experience as a blacksmith. From his encyclopedic readings, he also learned how to produce the ink, glue, and varnish necessary to finish his globes. The Vermonter also sought out famed American engraver, Amos Doolittle (1754-1832), to learn how to engrave his own copperplates in order to print globe gores. Amos Doolittle is most well-known for his copperplate engravings of the Battles of Lexington and Concord and appears to have passed on his passion for the craft to Wilson; Wilson reportedly spent 300 days engraving his first large copperplate.
Wilson, already a tradesman and a craftsman, was subsequently transformed into a businessman when he opened his first globe factory in the 1810s in Albany, New York. With the assistance of his sons John, Samuel, and, later, David, J. Wilson & Sons began producing globes on a commercial scale. They manufactured them in several standard sizes (7.5cm, 13cm, 23cm, and 33cm in diameter), with prices beginning at $50. The cost was significantly lower than imported globes from Europe and had the added benefit of having much more accurate boundaries and place names in the United States.
J. Wilson & Sons remained in business for several decades, but after the death of Wilson’s three sons and business partners, the ownership of the factory was transferred to his son-in-law, Cyrus Lancaster. It is unknown how long Lancaster kept producing globes, but we do know he lived until 1862.
The Geography and Map Division at the Library of Congress currently has seven Wilson globes. They date to the earlier years of his commercial production and represent all the sizes we know he manufactured. We hope you can visit the Division to have a closer look!
In the cool summer of 1901, a Jesuit priest named Joseph Fischer was searching through the small libraries found in the country houses and ancient castles of the old noble families that dot the German hinterlands. One day, in the tower of one of those castles, tucked deep into the forest outside the tiny village of Wolfegg, he happened upon a book that would change the history of cartography forever.
That book, now known as the Schöner Sammelband, contained the only surviving copies of two of the great masterpieces of Renaissance cartography, the long lost and sought after 1507 and 1516 World Maps by Martin Waldseemüller, both of which currently reside here at the Library of Congress and are on display in the Exploring the Early Americas exhibit. The 1507 map had been talked about in cartographic circles since its creation and was a map that no one had laid eyes on since the late sixteenth century. Known as the “Birth Certificate of America,” it was the first map to christen the continent with the name that would stick to our present day, also revealing a vast Pacific Ocean years before it was to be “discovered” by European explorers.
The mysterious book contained more than just the maps. Between its wooden covers were globe gores, patterns for celestial globes made by the astrologer and mathematician Johannes Schöner (1477-1547) who first bound all of this together into a single book more than 350 years ago.
But there was something else, something that had been removed from book, separated from the rest of the cartographic masterpieces originally brought together by the astrologer. Missing from the book, when it initially came to the Library of Congress, was a rare copy of the first printed star-chart of the Southern Hemisphere by none other than the artist Albrecht Dürer. The chart had been removed from the book before its sale by the owners, who had a love of the work of the German print maker. But after many years, the Library of Congress, just last week, acquired the chart, thereby re-assembling in the Library’s collections all of the materials that Schöner had originally collected and bound together for safe keeping. With Mr. Dürer’s move to Washington, D.C., the Library of Congress has completed one of the most ambitious collecting programs in the history of cartography, re-assembling in one place, after more than 350 years, some of the great works describing the early geography of the Americas.
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 or continuously updated.
Among the very first items acquired when the Library of Congress was founded in 1800, maps and atlases have always been an integral part of the Library’s collections. Growing from just three maps and one atlas to over six million maps and countless other cartographic formats, the Geography and Map Division now has the single largest (and most comprehensive) cartographic collection in the entire world.
With this blog, we invite you to broaden your conception of what a map is. We will highlight cartographic objects from our collections that sometimes go beyond what usually ends up in exhibits and in textbooks and bring to the forefront uncataloged objects that have never before been placed online. As our collections continue to grow and encompass new formats, such as GIS data and new digital mapping tools, we want share our latest finds and acquisitions with you.
Please join us as we explore the past, present, and future of mapping.