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 mapped. 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 actually is considered a type of map. There really isn’t any rigid definition as to what a map has to be. Turchi 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.