Maps and views blog

22 July 2010

Facebook

Apparently one-in-thirteen people now use Facebook, which means that one-in-thirteen of us will see the world map every time we log-in (not counting those who stay permanently logged-in of course). Is this then the most familiar map in the world?

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This map employs the same symbolic language as the great display maps of the past, even though it is on a computer screen. It is, on the face of it, remarkably simplified. So should we trouble ourselves as to the exact placement of the people on the map? Would it perhaps be more illuminating to focus upon the parts of the world where they are not? Is it possible to read too much into maps, even cuddly innocent looking maps like this one? 

What is clear that maps are constantly relating to, acting upon, conditioning, reflecting our everyday lives, so much so that we barely notice. What we get from them, however, is always in some way made up of what we put in. 

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History is not what happened - it is the story that someone chooses to tell about what happened..& geography is not about places, it is about minds and specifically mind-sets.
Look at the Mappa Mundi and you will find three sorts of knowledge: the first is experiential, the travels and contacts of the Venetian traders resulting in what we would consider to be a reasonably accurate map of the area encompassed by the Rhine-Danube corridor to the North and the whole of the Mediterranean region; the second is that heard from others with whom the Venetian traded, resulting in locations but not mapping as we know it; and the third which is speculation. The whole is remarkably similar to the differentiations of Herodotus: 'that which I can verify, that which is repoerted to me by reliable sources, and that which I have heard but cannot verify' ( the last including the first description of a circumnavigation of Africa with its clinching detail of the sun being on the right of the vayagers at noon as they rounded the Cape).
The dismaying fact conveyed on the Mappa is how impenetrable the Islamic World was, behind and beyond which were the fabulous spices of the East- indicated by a reasonably accurate map of Sri Lanka, an indication of Madagascar and a rough location of the 'Spice Islands', all awaiting the voyager who would circumvent the wall in 1492!

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