Maps to me are a great history lesson. I really liked it when we went to the library to look at the old maps. When I looked at them it was very neat to piece together the historical context that surrounds each map. This context can tell you a lot about a map and answer a lot of your questions. For example, why are certain areas drawn differently? Maybe because that’s how that area was viewed by the people of the cartographer’s nation. I also thought it was really cool to look at the maps of our area from a long time ago. I was able to see the different names that the map makers would call my area which was cool. I specifically enjoy the cartouches of the maps we looked at, each of them is unique and very intricate. I have learned much more about maps than I ever thought that I would.
I think that the short story talks about the universe as a library. The library needs to have certain elements to it in order to meet the needs of the society. People are told that the books have all the different combinations of 25 characters: 22 letters and 3 punctuation marks, but actually most of the books make no sense. There are also other books that translate words into all the languages. To me, the amount of information that is housed in this library is innumerable and very difficult to comprehend. I picture there to be a center room with an attendant there, and then a bunch of polygonally shaped rooms that hold the collections of books surrounding that central area, creating a very rigid and almost sterile environment. I pictured a sort of utopic and organized area. All in all, the idea that our universe is a library is a very interesting metaphor.
October 1, 2017
Formal Paper 1
Professor Sharon Albert
Analyzing J.B Harley
The average person can look at a map and process what he or she sees on the surface, however many of those who are viewing a map tend not to think about all that goes into making a map. Maps can tell us much more than what meets the eye. Elements such as who the cartographer is when the map was made, and for whom the map is being made for, can each tell viewers more about the map than what lies on the canvas. In his book The New Nature of Maps, J.B. Harley presents the idea that, “As images of the world, maps are never neutral or value-free or ever completely scientific. Each map argues its own particular case” (37). Maps are far more than geographical representations of the world around us or in other cases, representations of a smaller area, maps tell a story, with each map having something specific to say, the question is, did these cartographers consider the extent to which their biases would be viewed. With that being said, it is the viewer’s job to decipher what the cartographer’s message really is.
Evidently, there is an art of persuasion involved in cartography. Many viewers don’t realize, but more often than not, maps are persuasive in their own right. Of course, a cartographer will always portray a map how he or she wants to, which in turn will always create a bias. Take the traditional Mercator projection as an example. “In the well-known example of Mercator’s projection, it is doubtful if Mercator himself-who designed the map with navigators in mind to show true compass directions-would have been aware to the extent in which his map would eventually come to project so strongly reinforcing the Europeans’ view of their own world hegemony” (Harley 66). Harley identifies the fact that Mercator knowingly staked his own views and biases when creating the map, however, he then asserts that Mercator would not have known the extent to which his bias would be identified and viewed. So, although Mercator purposely used a Eurocentric bias during the creation of this map, it is highly unlikely he would have thought that his projection would so candidly show a world of European dominance. One simply cannot put Mercator and other European cartographers at fault for this action, because it is where they are from; so naturally, they would project their view of the world to best fit to their needs. In addition to this, Mercator didn’t know to the extent in which his biased ideas would spread.
Many viewers of maps don’t realize that this phenomenon is going on. Each person viewing the map also has his or her own personal views and biases that they also might not realize are present. Seeing as the Mercator projection is generally more widely known as the “traditional” projection of the world, the average person is more familiar with it. Given this information, a person who is more accustomed to viewing a Mercator projection of the world is going to have a completely different view of the world than someone who is viewing, for example, the Peterson projection. If that person is shown a different projection of the world, they might say that it feels “bizarre” or even “wrong”. It’s not that the “foreign” projection of the map is “wrong”, it’s just that this person is so accustomed to the bias that they have always seen through the Mercator projection, that they are inclined to discount what the Peterson projection has to offer. It is this situation that can demonstrate the personal bias that someone viewing a map might have, without even knowing it. It is this bias of the viewer, combined with the already intended bias of the cartographer that obviously shows the fact that each map does, in fact, have a “stance” and a “story to tell”, as Harley states.
The idea of maps having a political thrust to them is a very prevalent idea in our society today; after all, the age-old Mercator projection is an, in fact, a political map. In addition, a political map is what most think of when asked to describe a map, the political map offers a projection with profound and distinct borders, where neighboring countries are colored differently, showing stark contrasts of these nations. It is political maps that divide people and represent where people “should” be. “Indeed, insofar as the ‘white colonist states’ appear much larger than they are while ‘the colonies’ inhabited by colored peoples are shown as ‘too small’ suggests how it can be read and acted upon by a geopolitical prophecy” (Harley 67). This idea of politicized maps also shows the persuasiveness of maps. These types of maps are similar to the Mercator projection because it places more emphasis on one group of people. The colonies of the major European countries are often shown as smaller; which in turn, makes them seem less important, this is something that hardly ever gets noticed by those viewing maps, but it is a concept of interest nonetheless. It is often intriguing how Africa is portrayed on a map. The continent as a whole is shown mostly towards the bottom of the map, which is well out of the normal central area that we look at that includes Europe. This causes us to not look at Africa as much because it isn’t at eye level. It can be likened to a grocery store aisle. The name brand and best-selling goods are more often than not placed at eye-level, so consumers look at them more frequently and are more inclined to buy them. It is the same matter with a map. Europe and North America are at the top, portrayed with great size, and right at eye level, so, therefore, they get the most attention. This view of the world is similar to that of the political landscape of today, an interesting connection, that can be drawn from just a map.
In summation, maps play a huge part in our everyday lives, without them our sense of direction would be nominal. With the profound impact that maps have on our lives, it is important to question them and to learn more of what they have to offer. Each map has a background, story, and bias, albeit it purposely was done or not, that can share a piece of valuable information with those viewing it, which is why we as a people must further explore the maps that shape our world, for they hold much more than what is shown on face value.