Chasing Maps

Image courtesy of the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center

The theme of our upcoming issue is Cartography, and we’d like to share with you a few different ways maps are used and interpreted. They’re not just handy devices to get you from here to there or wall decorations in history classrooms. Maps are art, a form of communication; they can reflect how we view the rest of the world and how the rest of the world views us. And we at GLIMPSE want you to start looking at maps differently.

Before computers and advanced technology, maps were intricately hand-drawn and illustrated. This gallery of maps from as early as the thirteenth century are all incredible works of art. A map from 1260 depicts a guide for how to get into heaven. With the expeditions of Magellan and Columbus a few hundred years away, people’s place in the real, grounded world perhaps was not as important as their place in the celestial one. Is it possible to be nostalgic for a time period never experienced? Because we miss the days when maps were works of art.

Artist Lee Jang Sub took to the ever-evolving streets of cities around the world and created his ComplexCity Project. Sub gathered road maps of various cities and made something that can sometimes seem terribly mundane into something beautiful. The small, winding and intertwining streets look almost like veins, and we think that’s pretty appropriate — roads are the lifeblood of a city. Without them, there would be no flow of people, culture, or ideas.

Worldmapper is a collection of over 600 maps that measure countries not only by land area, but by population, income, internet use, casualties from war (from 1945-2000), the list goes on. . . The result is a distorted-looking map that, depending on the subject, portrays countries as either incredibly bloated and fat, or so slim they’re barely there. One map comparing countries based on population reveals a (not surprisingly) large China and a relatively tiny United States. The maps get even more interesting when it becomes less easy to guess what countries will be bloated. Did you know that men in the Middle East perform the most domestic labor of men in any region (see map)? Still, these men don’t measure up to the amount of domestic labor taken on by women. According to Worldmapper, the highest levels of male domestic labor when measured in regional averages, are still lower than the lowest levels of female domestic labor in the world. Worldmapper allows you to view the world from perspectives you’ve probably never considered or never even thought possible to well, map.

The Hand Drawn Map Association is a site devoted entirely to posting hand-drawn maps. There’s something simple and elegant about a hand-drawing, and this is especially true with maps. They show a deep, personal connection with whatever a person’s mapping out, whether it be the street she grew up on or a favorite a hiking trail. In a world where everything’s standardized, it makes us all warm and fuzzy to see an idiosyncratic map of how to get to the airport.

Allison Nonko

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