Maps, was re a very deep Secret

Ven ven at
Fri May 25 20:01:00 EDT 2001

I wrote
> >
> >To use a bit of semiotics jargon, maps are texts, assemblages of
> >symbols, in a sense they are all fictional as they can only model
> >reality. Consider, for example the shape of the coast line at
> >different scales, the smaller the scale the more indentation will be
> >shown. Maps are as subject to the processes of selection and
> >representation as any other text.
> >
> >So, can a map tell a story? -- yes. Could it be a fictional story? --
> >certainly. (I'm tempted to mention national boundaries here, they
> >are, after all, mere social constructions).
and Nat replied

> You bring up a good, post-modern (or whatever you want to call it) 
> point. 
Hey, wow, was I being post modern? I'm never exactly sure what it 
means, but I guess it had the right tool kit to explain my thinking 
on this occasion. 

Map makers have traditionally worked with the assumption that 
> they were operating outside of culture except in the most superficial 
> sense. Sounds silly now, but that's the starting point which we start 
> from: "pure" data. Study of non-western geographic knowledge, whether 
> encoded physically or transmitted orally, has helped break down this 
> idea over the last 10-20 years, but it's a long time crumbling, and 
> it's hard for many of us (myself included) to figure out how to make 
> a "good map" that doesn't presume limited omniscience.

It's funny how things come together. I went to a 25th anniversary 
celebration at the archaeology dept where I did my degree. Among 
the other things that I learned was that, although landscape 
archaeology is a relatively new term, a lot of what we were taught 
was landscape archaeology all along. We also had a course called 
"the philosophy of archaeology" which showed us that there was 
no such thing as pure data. My favourite example is the "LBK 
Cullture -- these neolithic people left remarkably similar sites all 
over Europe. In Nazi Germany they were interpreted as feudal proto 
nazis and later, in East Germany, as, you've guessed it, good little 
communists. "It was only on reading Nat's reply that I realised 
where virually all my ideas about maps and map making come 
from! (except the semiotics jargon, the tool kit, I picked that up 

Anyhow the thing about being a landscape archaeologist at heart is 
that I always have a sense of time when making a map. When 
designing cities I think about where the first settlement would have 
been, the early defensive wall perhaps, the quays that were 
avbandoned after they silted up, the once rich district whose big 
houses have been chopped up into little flats and so on. Jennifer 
mentioned how maps could tell the story of the industrial revolution. 
Then there's the way place names in the former USSR keep 
changing to chart the course of a different kind of revolution.

I've snipped everything else because Nat was spot on with his 


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