December 5, 2017
FYS 149: The Power of Maps
Maps Beneath the Surface
Entering the semester, I chose this First Year Seminar because I had a slight interest in Geography, for some reason, it never really crossed my mind that this was more of a cartography class and not a geography class, but I learned more about maps than I could ever have imagined. One particularly interesting idea that stood out to me is that of the idea that maps can be used for many other purposes other than presenting an area, which is the common use that many of us think of when asked: “why do maps matter?” Although many people would in fact point to the fact that maps obviously tell us where we need to go as well as showing the layout of a certain area. In addition to this, I saw that maps can take a lot of different forms other than the traditional projection that we all think of. Through the viewing of the Brennan map collection as well as reading both J.B. Harley and Peter Turchi’s work, I learned that maps are valuable for so much more than that, and a ton of thought and effort goes into creating them.
One of the first concepts that we covered in class during the semester was the idea of the different projections of maps. I had never heard of the Mercator or Peters-Gall projections, but I knew what the traditional map that I had been seeing for my entire life looked like. It turns out that this was known as the Mercator projection. The Mercator Projection is essentially a European view of the world, cartographers call this the “Eurocentric” view. The continent of Europe is shown directly in the middle of the map and looks to be at the forefront. It is also shown as markedly larger in size in relation to other continents such as Africa; which, is larger than the continent of Europe. However, you don’t ever hear people calling this projection “wrong” because it is the projection that most people know, many people don’t even know of the Peters-Gall projection, which shows the world as a much more “to scale” projection, where Africa is presented as much bigger. Each of these different projections of maps is still considered “maps” and one is not more correct than the other, but it is interesting to see that many people don’t know that there are different ways to project the world other than the traditional Mercator projection. In addition, maps don’t even have to be images of countries or places, as we see with many of Peter Turchi’s interesting and unique maps.
Peter Turchi’s book “Maps of the Imagination” holds some very unique maps, maps that going into the semester, I wouldn’t even consider being maps. To start, looking at the cover of the book, there is a sort of map that shows the human brain and a map of all of its functions and uses. As I learned throughout the semester, this is considered a type of map. There really isn’t any rigid definition as to what a map has to be. On page 117, Turchi presents a map of the most populous countries in the world. The thing about this map that is most interesting is that it looks like a normal map, but it’s a bit different. The nations on the map are portrayed in size by their populations. For example, India and China are portrayed as the largest countries on the map because they have the greatest population sizes in the world. I found this map to be neat because it shows the point that not every single map has to look the exact same. The little variations of each of these maps are what I find most interesting, and this reiterates my point that maps can come in all different shapes and sizes, which is one of the main things that I took away from this semester, and it’s something that I would never have thought would happen.
Another Turchi map that I found very interesting is his maps on pages 134 and 135. The map on page 134 is a map of Warren Wilson College that specifically emphasizes construction projects going on around the campus. The map seems to be just a normal looking map, with nothing out of the ordinary. The buildings around the campus are labeled with colors showing the areas that were constructed more recently, as well as the areas that were constructed long ago. On the contrast, there is a depiction of the same area on the next page created by Turchi’s son. It shows the exact same college campus but the map is notably different. At first glance, the map is less scientific, as it is hand drawn by Turchi’s son. In addition, the map emphasizes a completely different subject. Turchi’s son draws out the best areas for sledding on the campus, complete with a color-coded key and different symbols that represent different aspects of the topography such as “good route”, “bad route” and “speed bump”. This is a great example of how the same map can take two seemingly different forms while still mapping the same area. The first map is a much more scientific representation of the area, while the second is a much more upbeat and creative way to show the campus. In the end, both are considered “maps”.
Also, Dennis Wood presents a map that he created when he was a kid that showed the pumpkins that the different houses in his neighborhood had on their porches during the Halloween season. He simply had a black background with white silhouettes of jack-o-lantern faces that portrayed the houses that had Halloween pumpkins. He then put a different map of his neighborhood on the next page. The two maps mirrored each other. The jack-o-lanterns lined up pretty perfectly with the other map of Turchi’s neighborhood. Upon seeing this, I found it very interesting. We were asked, “Is this a map?” It’s an interesting question to think about. Obviously, aesthetically this map doesn’t look like a traditional map that we would know of, however, I was able to see how this could be considered a map. It certainly portrays an area, with that image, a viewer would be able to find his or her way around Turchi’s neighborhood. It’s interesting that when you really think about it that maps can still be maps, no matter what the appearance is. This was one of the most unique and interesting things that I was able to gather from the discussions that we had during class.
In conclusion, there is a reason why Turchi titles his book: “Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer”. Turchi asserts through his use of varied maps that maps can look several different ways, which is the most interesting point that I took away from this semester. In the future, I now know much more about maps than I could have ever imagine, and The Power of Maps First Year Seminar forced me to think about maps outside of the classroom.