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To what extent are maps simply the embodiment of information and technique?

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Introduction

To what extent are maps simply the embodiment of information and technique? ''All Nature faithfully But by what feint Can Nature be subdued to art's constraint? Her smallest fragment is still infinite! And so he paints but what he likes in it. What does he like? He likes, what he can paint!' (Freidrich Nietzsche) In this poem, Nietzsche stated his comment on the claims of realism, reminding us of the limitations of artistic means. The artist tends to look for motifs that he is capable to render with his style and skills, and I believe that this goal is echoed in cartography. It appears that no skill as much as will dictates the preference over what is embodied; the selective and somewhat subjective art of mapmaking depends upon the extent to which mapmakers distort reality. All mapmakers use generalization and symbolization to highlight critical information and suppress detail of lower priority (Monmonier, 1996). In fact I would go as far as to agree with Monmonier's supposition that it is essential to lie with maps, and that in order to fulfill their purpose, they must offer an incomplete view of reality. ...read more.

Middle

Chapters nine and ten describe the world being divided to each son of Noah, and it is these three sons that the three continents of the known world (Africa, Asia, and Europa) were to represent. The cartographic of a circle (the world) divided by lines (three continents, lines of the cross) depiction became known as the T-O pattern, and the Mappae Mundi shows Jerusalem at the center of the T-O pattern with Christ holding a symbolic T-O globe in His hand. It is doubtful that the cartographers of the time deliberatley set out to decieve people, many almost certainly believed that they were telling the truth. Thus, the manipulative power afforded to maps is not necessarily confounded. Further unconscious distortions or silences appear on maps, such as old countryside maps that exclude poor farm workers cottages because they don't fit into the idyllic rural landscape, or Victorian maps that often neglected to include the courts where the urban poor lived. These however are more deliberate consciously crafting the social situation. Map users who understand the constraints of cartographic generalization and the opportunities for manipulation will approach with caution map silences as well as the facts. ...read more.

Conclusion

Maps today could be argued to be explaining what the maker wants them to explain, just as has been evident in history. Because maps are abstract representations of the world they are not neutral documents and must be carefully interpreted. It is, of course, this abstraction that makes them useful. Lewis Carroll made this point humorously in 'Sylvie and Bruno' with his mention of a fictional map that had 'the scale of a mile to the mile'. A character notes some practical difficulties with this map and states that 'we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well'. This conceit is something that is increasingly evident in mapmaking. As abstract representations of our world, maps need interpretation and explanation, and the increased representations of single places make cartography unique. The governments and powerful organizations who control most cartographic production choose what information they collect and how they show it in quite partisan ways, and thus I believe that mapmaking is not simply the embodiment of information and technique. It is much more, namely the elucidation of political power relations into permanent documents through the dialogue of mapmaking. ...read more.

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