August 7, 2009

Politics, knowledge, money

Filed under: cartography — ubikcan @ 4:09 pm

Take a snapshot of the use of maps and geographical knowledge at one hundred year intervals: 1820, 1920, 2020. What best characterises the use of maps at those different times (I use 2020 to fit the scheme not as a prediction but as a convenience to talk about the present).

Well in the early 19th century thematic mapping was developed as part of the “moral economy” and the invention of statistics in order to more ably govern your country. As others have written more ably than myself  (Matt Sharpe, James Scott, Denis Wood) modern mapping is effectively an arm of the state. They were brought into being on behalf of and for the purpose of the state (Wood goes so far as to say that before the modern state mapping was an epiphenomenon and occasional event).

By the early twentieth century mapping was a part of the rise of the knowledge disciplines, in this case, geography. Of course this has roots in the 19th century too with our friends Alexander von Humboldt, Darwin and co. establishing positive and definite domains of knowledge that were formalized in academic specialties we are familiar with today, which have not lessened but as everyone knows (?) have only become further specialized. So the first geography degrees were offered, textbooks were written on mapping (Eckert Die Kartenwissenschaft, 1921, Erwin Raisz General Cartography, 1938) and people occupied posts with names like Chief Cartographer (eg. Mark Jefferson for the Inquiry in Paris following WWI).

Now we see an absolute orientation around serving the consumer with relevant geographical information. Why? Apart from open source efforts (and even some of those) the answer is to realize a financial return in the modern market economy. Where it would be difficult to think of a “chief cartographer” (and despite Ed Parsons a geographical evangelist in a company) there are now plenty of people working on delivering consumer-relevant geographical information (note, not data, but meaningful information). These need not be in the form of maps at all, but will be underpinned by geographical data.

Thus: politics, knowledge, money.


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