What Maps Are Not

Calling your attention to two great blog posts by northierthanthou: “A Map is Not a Territory” and “Map Ain’t Time Either.” Both explore the judgments that are made by mapmakers, and how their decisions can mislead readers.

From the first, which discusses differences between a AAA road map that omits “Indian Country” sites and one that is specifically for “Indian Country”:

The issue doesn’t seem to be resolution. The Arizona and New Mexico map has a higher resolution than the one for Indian country. I somehow doubt that anyone hatched a plot to hide Tsaile from Ken. My guess, is that the criteria for selecting what to put on each map simply differs, and that the difference was enough to make Tsaile disappear (along with quite a few other things, actually).

And from the second, which discusses how various maps visualize Native American culture areas:

This placement on teh map isn’t from time immemorial; it begins at the cusp of the 1400s, give or take a bit, and that enables us to place their entrance into a sequence of events for the region. They were still settling into the total territory on this map when the Spanish began exploring the region, arriving well after their Pueblo neighbors. Knowing that helps to put the map in perspective. Not knowing that invites an a-historical reading of the map.

Questions to discuss with students: What do the maps you use in class omit? What do your mental maps omit?  When you’re designing a data visualization, what are the most important factors to consider?  Do click through to read the entire posts, if only to see the maps in question!

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akamran2014

Dr. Annelies Kamran is V.P. for Content and Product Development at WorldView Software, Inc.

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