The world through Strange Maps

I’ve talked about my fascination with maps and geography in the past on this blog. Whether its my various posts on the wonders of Google Earth, or my discussions of borders and satellite photography, I’ve always had a fascination with the way we, as humans, have mapped the space around us. One of the things that seems remarkably human is the ability to abstract the space around us into convenient maps that both simplify and extend the real space we live in. Even something as mundane as a city road map is at once a simplified abstraction of a very complex real-world space, and also an extension of the complexity of that space through a conceptualized version of the real-world network of roads and buildings and other bits of interest. Maps remove the the complexity we don’t need, and enhance the complexity that is vital to us for that purpose.

The way we map the world around us, and the things we choose to map, are very instructive in what is important and relevant to a culture at a given time … looking at how and what we map is one way of mapping some of what is important to us as a culture, I think. One of the things that fascinates me most about mapping however, is that we don’t just try to map physical space, but also cultural, social, intellectual, and emotional space, as well as completely fictional and fully abstracted spaces. One of my prized books from when I was a kid is a coffee table book of fantasy based maps. Beyond the worlds of JRR Tolkien, the worlds and maps humans have conceived in fiction are remarkable and detailed, whether its the almost accurate London of Sherlock Holmes, or the wholly fictitious land of Narnia.

In between those two extremes … the maps of the “real” world and the maps of pure fiction … lies most of the contents of a wonderful blog I stumbled across the other day called Strange Maps. These are maps that are partly real, in varying degrees, and partly fictitious … a map of New jersey based strictly on references found in Bruce Springsteen songs is the current latest post, and its a nice example of the blend of real and fictional cartography to be found throughout. Other wonderful examples are never-realized versions of an Australia with 10 states instead of 6, and the Tory map of the world. There’s even an example of fiction being extended and increased, with Jules Vernes lovely detailed map of New Switzerland as developed by the Swiss Family Robinson in its later years from his book “Seconde Patrie.”

Of more use, in many ways, are the maps which combine abstractions and the real world. The British map of Postal Codes is a highly abstracted map that still gives real value for a specific purpose. Perhaps less “useful” are depictions of US states by comparative country GDP, The World Map of Manhattan, or the Online Communities Map, but they are no less interesting. Others that fascinated me that are harder to classify are The Engelhart-Welzel Cultural Map of the World, the map of Jesus’ possible travels in his “missing years,” the girl with Hannover tattooed on her back, and the translated Swedish Subway Map (I’m just not sure if I want to go to “Sharp Nude” or not).

There was one map in particular that I thought was cool though, and I looked around on a fair bit. The Antipodes map shows where the direct opposite spot on the earth from a given location is and the post says that most of us have an Antipodes point that is water. That makes good sense, since over 70% of the surface of earth is water … the odds are in favour of water over land. Even worse, more of the earth’s land surface is in the northern hemisphere, which means more of the world’s oceans are in the southern hemisphere. The odds of an ocean Antipodes goes up even more. And sure enough, when I check myself in Medicine Hat, I get water on the other end. But surprisingly, Cyprus Hills Provincial Park, straddling eastern Alberta and western Saskatchewan very closely lines up with a lovely little island in South Seas. Its about equidistant between Australia and South America, and south of the southern tips of both. Its hardly a tropical location, but it doesn’t actually look like too bad of a place. I was thinking Medicine Hat could expand there as a southern getaway.

I just wanted to share the Strange Maps site, and the Antipodes Map with everyone. I know probably very few other people are as fascinated by maps as I am, but its nice to see there are some people out there even more so. Have a look around both sites … how, why, and what we map can be at least as important as the maps themselves.

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