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Three Odd Books: For the Love of Maps

Three books on the history of map making, recommended by Barbara North, Fellow of Odd Salon and rogue cartographer.

Maps provide a special view of the world. They not only help us orient ourselves and other objects in relation to our surroundings, but every map tells a story. Sometimes, the story is short – you might pull up a map on your phone that tells the story of you navigating home on the freeway during rush hour traffic. Sometimes, the story is rich, and long, and holds a place in history like Fra Mauro’s fifteenth century map of the world. Here is a collection of particularly delightful map stories to help orient you in your journey of cartographic exploration.

Three Odd Books - For the Love of Maps

On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks

Simon Garfield, Gotham Books 2013

“The Mercator map’s main attribute was technical: it provided a solution to a puzzle that had been troubling mapmakers since the world was recognized as a sphere, which is to say, back to Aristotle. The problem was: how does one represent the curved surface of the globe on a flat chart? The strict and well-established grid of latitude and longitude was all very well for theoretical coordinates, but the navigator perusing a constant course sailed on an endless curve.”

A fun and easy read covering many of the delightful tales of the history of cartography. From the Mercator projection to the maps of Skyrim, Garfield looks a a number of ways that mapping shapes the world as we see it, and explores how individuals and events of history have shaped mapping.

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Map Worlds: A History of Women in Cartography

Will C. Van Den Hoonaard, Wilfrid Laurier University Press 2014

“What might have been seen as a deterrent to some women, Mina [Hubbard] saw as mere challenges. First of all, during the early 1900s, map-making and exploration itself were seen as something carried out by men exclusively. Second, she lacked any formal training in geography or other scientific disciplines. Finally, she was personally facing issues with gender and race in Labrador. She was also very frustrated with [her late husbands partner] Dillon, but was inspired to finish her husbands work.”

Will C. Van den Hoonaard takes us on an extensive tour of the role of women in cartography through world history in Map Worlds. In addition to exploring the roles of cartography women historically played or were denied, Van den Hoonaard looks at some of the issues currently facing female cartographers. From women who worked as “colorists” on maps, through women of “cartography families” Van den Hoonaard explores a wide range of roles women played in forming our pictures of the world.

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The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology

Simon Winchester, Harper Perennial 2009

“For the first time the earth had a provable history, a written record that paid no heed or obeisance to religious teaching and dogma, that declared its independence from the kind of faith that is no more than the blind acceptance of absurdity.”

Winchester details the social and intellectual context in which William Smith, son of a blacksmith, began in 1801 to draw a map of England that not only looked at the surface of the earth, but at the rocks under our feet. A nicely balanced story of both personal discovery and growth for the scientific community.

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Barbara North is a Fellow of Odd Salon and an enthusiastic reader of basically everything. You can find her making maps with Guerrilla Cartography or writing about books, software, and odds and ends over at Medium/@barbaranorth

Books to inspire, awe & bewilder: See all our book reviews here: THREE ODD BOOKS

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