They’re gorgeous. Where can I get one?
Wonderful. I love maps.
Do you have a favorite?
I have an old city map hanging in my office. My sister-in-law gave it to me.
Don’t those old maps look great? It’s funny, if someone has a favorite map it’s never less than 40 years old.
Well, some of those old maps are like works of art.
Those old maps took a lot of time and many hands; mapmaking
used to be a real Process.
100 years ago cartographers had to know geodesy, trigonometry, drafting. If your map needed to show terrain you’d hire an engraver to scratch hachures into a metal plate, or an artist to draw hills and valleys in watercolors, graphite, charcoal. Then to get a map into a reader’s hands you needed a letterer to add text and a lithographer to make the print.
It must be all computers now.
Exactly. Nearly all contemporary maps are made the same way:
download a pile of geographic data, discard what should
not be shown on the map, make the remainder look nice
in a design program or with code.
It’s an inversion of the old way of mapmaking: instead of starting with a blank page, you start with a cluttered map and winnow things out.
If everything’s been mapped, do we still have cartographers?
All that geographic data is raw material. You still need
someone to make something intelligible out of it; a map with
every road, river, peak and building wouldn’t be very
There are probably more cartographers working today than ever before: editorial cartographers, interactive cartographers, land management cartographers, atlas cartographers, government cartographers, all sorts of ‘tographers that make maps that move, maps that stay still, maps that change by the second, maps of eternal things, load-bearing maps, nonsense maps. Earth has never seen so many maps.
Huh. But they don’t look like the old ones.
Nope; almost every map you’ll see outside of a theme park is
made via database output. Computers made mapmaking cheap, so
the maps are cheap, so they look cheap.
Luckily there are still cartographers and artists making beautiful maps:
That’s good to hear.
Me? I couldn’t do that.
Fine, I’ll send the link along.
Uh, thanks. Who do they go to for questions?
Nice to meet you Evan. Why’d you make these, anyway?
Because there are not enough amber glows.
Because screens punish a long look, and a some maps deserve a long look.
Because I want someone to put their nose against the most beautiful map and think “I can do better.”
Because even the apex map can’t be as rich as the bit of Territory under your soles, candles to the lighthouse, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying.
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