Maps and sense of place

Philip.Belben at Philip.Belben at
Mon Sep 13 11:51:56 EDT 1999

> I would argue that people still don't have much of a sense of space. It
> has been shown that most people only create the 'mental maps', (which were
> discussed in an earlier post). These show the relative location of objects
> or places, with the scale being distorted all over depending on the

I'll certainly go along with that.  My mental maps tend to force things into
straight lines and right angles.  Inside buildings, I often forget the reversal
of direction involved in entering and leaving the lift (elevator).

> persons idea of how they fit into their world view. Nowdays, who can
> actually draw a map of a city or country or the world which shows real
> distances and locations? Even your standard street atlas for a city will

Well, I can't!

> tend to show the streets and intersections etc, but not exact scales.
> Everyone (including myself) has a mental map of these places, but would
> have to go look at a hard copy map to see the boundaries exactly.
> This is why the development of cartography was of such importance to the
> Renaissance through to the present. The idea of having an accurate map
> with a real scale that represents real distance, for example your standard
> map of the world, has not existed until then. Before that all maps were
> extremely distorted.

Good point.

> I hope this is not too much off topic. I am a Geographer, so have a great
> interest in these topics and how they are perceived. I also find it
> exceedingly scary that 2nd year university students in Geography can't
> read latitude and longitude off a map, and that the majority of those that
> I have taught have no real working knowledge of maps beyond the broad
> ideas of 'mental maps' and ideas such as 'France is over there in Europe
> somewhere'

I find it annoying that fewer and fewer modern atlases (atlae?) print latitude
and longitude in the index.  They expect you only to use it to find a place on
the map, and they claim that people finde page + square references easier to
use.  Which means that it is more and more difficult to look up the co-ordinates
of places.

I am not a geographer - I just didn't mesh with the teaching we had at school,
and gave it up at age 14.  But more recently I have been buying books on
geography, cartography and the like and my interest is reviving.  My personal
problem is that most of these books adopt a very non-mathematical approach, and
I keep asking How do you calculate this and that...

I and a colleague have a sort of map fascination.  Whenever either of us goes
anywhere strange, we try and bring back maps and spend ages looking at them.
But getting maps abroad seems much harder than it is in the UK - I gave up
trying to find a decent map (or atlas) of California when I was there.  Germany
too has very good maps at 1:50000 and 1:25000 which are almost unobtainable in
high-street shops.

ISTR Abdullah and Flower <Spoiler warning> ended up starting to map the world
around Ingary.  I don't expect DWJ to publish a map of this world, but I wonder
if the efforts of 19th century (or thereabouts) cartographers to produce
reliable maps of our planet could form the basis of an historical novel.  Or
even a fantasy...


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