Tuesday, 2 February 2010

The Cartographic Imagination

Today, I watched an academic reading a map
and it seemed to me
that he had the same intensity that you see
in an artist looking at a completed canvas
or a musician reading an orchestral score.

I wanted to ask him
if the rivers actually cascade
in the landscape of his imagination,
if the gridded paper buckles
so that he sees valleys and mountains,
woodland, marshland and beaches,
if the churches with their towers and steeples
are just little map makers' symbols
or become solid stone with people inside.

Or if it stays two dimensional
and the contour lines swirl and curve
over the ridges and folds of paper
as they do when I look at a map.

But, of course, I didn't.


  1. You should have done - bet he's have loved to tell you.

    Shall I let you into an odd secret? Sometimes it's the real hills that have the contour lines on, for me.

  2. Now you see I would have wanted to ask him something else. . . . You see, I can't read a map, and what's more, I can never fold them back properly either..... so I would have asked him to give me a lesson.

  3. I love maps. Ancient, modern, all sorts. To me, maps are another kind of storytelling.

    Unlikely Book Recommendation: A Paper Landscape, the ordnance survey in nineteenth-century Ireland by J.H. Andrews. I once picked this up in a library and skimmed a few pages. Then I flipped to another random point and read one page, then another. Then I put down the armload of books I was holding, turned to the front of the book and read an entire chapter. Finally checked the book out, read it twice, and pushed it to everyone with even a slight interest in maps, mapping, history or well-written books on topics one would not have expected to find interesting.

    So happy to have an excuse to do so again, years later! :)

    quinn (having trouble posting with google id today)

  4. My guess is the map reader has "built in" 3D goggles making his maps come alive. When I see a map it becomes something lovely to be framed, a decoupage project or wallpaper for the study or the lampshades I have been imagining. Hopefully if I had the gift of appreciating maps for what they truly represent my scissors would never come near them!

  5. This post makes me happy. I like the way you see the world.

  6. I was going to say the same thing as Ali did... Hills have lines for me too... closer together the steeper the hill.

    It's a side effect of a geography degree.

  7. To me hills, and mountains, and villages and rivers are real in maps (and I see them 3D). But in the true world they are better (and have no level lines on them, though thay do have lots of other "lines" telling old and new stories...).
    Thanks for the nice post!

  8. What an amazing post. Thank you so much for sharing.


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