Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Maps of Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau is mainly known for nature writing, but he was also an accomplished surveyor and cartographer. Here is a detail from an 1853 Concord, Massachusetts farm survey. Note the north arrows and the name of one of the abutting landowners "N. Hawthorne."
An excellent article by Daegan Miller in Places Journal (source of the image above) details his involvement in disputes between farmers and industrialists over the water levels of the Concord River. He carefully surveyed the river, noting depths, fords, sandbars and bridges with some interesting written embellishments such as "here is a shallow place", "quick current", "willow", "bottom soft", etc.

The article has a nice detail from a 91 inch wide rolled survey of the river. Unfortunately I cannot show it here because of permissions issues but you can see it from the web page of the Concord Free Library. One important takeaway is that through his notes on the map Thoreau sought to bring life to the map by filling details into the empty spaces. Previous maps had treated the river as a resource to be plundered. To quote Miller
"all those notes pinpointing where the plants grew, all those piles of figures and ghosts of surveys past, make of Thoreau’s a deep map — a view of an impressively interconnected world where nature, commerce, culture, history, and imagination all grow together — something nonfungible and specific: a full, a wild land living at once beyond and beneath the confined landscape of the town’s grasping improvers, both agricultural and industrial, who, despite their superficial differences, ultimately agreed that the best use of a river is to turn a profit."
Thoreau mapped many of the places he traveled to such as Cape Cod - via OpenCulture,
and the Merrimack River in New Hampshire via Mapping Thoreau Country.
You can see a huge collection of his maps a surveys via the Concord Free Library's Thoreau Surveys page. Most are farm surveys from Massachusetts but there are also plans for industrial sites as well as copies of historic maps of North America.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

What is a Milk Run and Y

Y do all the major airport codes in Canada begin with a Y? This map, via They Draw and Travel, partially explains. It also tells you what a "milk run" was. Click for a readable version.
Here's a map of the weather stations across Canada with all the Y codes, and a couple of Z codes too.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


"The Soundscape of Istanbul project ( approaches everyday traditions and daily urban life from a sonic perspective and aims to increase public awareness of cultural sounds."
The dots above are color coded by type of space and a click on each one brings up a window with a SoundCloud sample of what the place sounds like. Here is an English translation of the legend for those of us who can't read Turkish.
The colors could be more logical and it is difficult to distinguish some of them on the map. 

There are three other cities including Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey, where you can listen to the sounds of the tailor and copper smith among others. You can create a nice orchestral cacophony by clicking on a bunch of sounds.
Also included are London with traffic noises, train announcements, church bells and street musicians,
and Le Havre, France, where you can listen to maritime traffic and the blessing of the ships.
The project has a platform where you can register a login and contribute your own sounds.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Riots in Washington DC

Fifty years ago, on April 4th, 1968, after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Washington D. C. erupted with several days of rioting. The Washington Post has an excellent story with pictures videos and maps. Here is an animated map showing incidents as reported by the Secret Service.
This map shows the overall amount of destruction. I altered the original image slightly to show the legend.
Here are the two maps above overlaid.
There are also a few detailed maps of the major corridors where destruction took place showing individual buildings using the same color code. This one shows 7th St NW.
Here is a tweet from Lauren Tierney, Graphics Reporter at the Post about the design process. The color scheme replicates the original map.
Also, one for the north arrow.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Landmarks: Maps as Literary Illustration

On Tuesday I got a chance to see an exhibit at Harvard University's Houghton Library called Landmarks: Maps as Literary Illustration. There was a great talk by illustrator and Cinemaps author Andrew DeGraff (whose own work is worthy of a future blog post) followed by a tour of the gallery. I hope to get back to share more before the exhibit closes (April 14th-soon!) but for now here are a couple of crude pictures I took with my phone. The description cards are mostly legible. Maybe I can get better pictures on a future visit.

Here are some Dell Mapbacks - more about Mapbacks here.
Finally, a Nancy Drew mystery.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

New Hobby Part 2

Here's a color pencil map of West Africa I recently did based on the Times Atlas of the World.
By the time I got to the easternmost countries, the accuracy started to come off the rails. Ghana is way too narrow and I had to bend Benin to make it meet the corner of Niger. Here is a hastily done annotated version.
While gaining context it loses some of charm of the original. I might try to hand annotate it at some point.

In my previous post on this subject, I stated that I haven't done any hand drawn maps since childhood. However, I recently was cleaning up and found this watercolor painting I did in a college class. It was drawn from an atlas. I did this so long ago I don't remember the source but I think it was National Geographic. There was a page about the tectonic forces that created Pennsylvania's ridge and valley system with this map showing Blue and Second Mountain cutting through the Susquehanna River valley north of Harrisburg.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Bird Migrations

National Geographic's March Issue features a great map of bird migrations. Some of these birds fly halfway around the world to find food and suitable breeding grounds. They have put some remarkable interactive graphics online. Here is a video of the seasonal migration of the Magnolia Warbler.
Here's another one via their Twitter feed.

This video shows the annual cycle of vegetation that birds follow to assure the best supply of food.

Enjoy the full set of graphics and audio content here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Pi Day

Happy Pi Day (3/14) - here are a couple of related mapping projects. The Pi Project is a series of hand-casted sculptures of each digit in the pi sequence.
This project "will one day be recognized as the largest art installation in the world using data visualization and sculpture, centered around the infinite number sequence of Pi." The numbers are shipped around the world-here is an interactive map of their locations. You can hover over each number to see its location and sequence within Pi's digits.

Martin Krzywinski is a scientist and data visualizer who has created many Pi Day visualizations. This year's version involves road maps.
I'll let the author explain in his own words - full details here

City strips are horizontal arrangements of patches of roads sampled from a city. The order of the patches is determined by the digits of π, which are used to select regions of specific density of roads. 

No color—just lines. Lines from Marrakesh, Prague, Istanbul, Nice and other destinations for the mind and the heart.
 Last year he created an imaginary star chart using successive series of 12 digits from pi to define latitude, longitude and brightness. The stars are grouped into constellations honoring extinct animals - our evolutionary ancestors. Here is an example - the artwork can be purchased here.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Dark Side of Drifters

Last week's tale of ocean drifters has an ominous side. In the past decade 14-18 feet (depending on the source) have washed up on beaches in British Columbia. Here's a detailed map with descriptions of the first 12 feet - via Global News
While this sounds like some sick amputation ritual and has inspired some dark literature, scientists say that it is natural for feet to separate from the body and that these deaths were not from foul play. The deaths are considered drownings or suicide. Most of these feet were wearing sneakers (or running shoes or athletic shoes or trainers, depending on the article and your regional term.) These shoes may have helped preserve the feet while other parts of the body have decomposed or possibly been eaten.

While there are probably bodies floating around most coastal areas, the unique geography and currents of the Salish Sea (including BC's Strait of Georgia and Washington's Puget Sound) have made these feet more likely to end up on the shore. Here's a map from the Sun (UK edition) showing the entire region.
There's also a Wikipedia page about this phenomenon with its own (less dramatic) map.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Drifters on the Ocean

In May, 1990 a storm off the coast of Alaska knocked containers off a ship that was on its way from Korea to the United States. Some of the containers broke open sending 61,000 Nike shoes on a journey through the North Pacific Ocean. The following winter hundreds of Nikes washed up on the shores of British Columbia, Washington and Oregon.
To oceanographers these shoes are "drifters," floating objects that enable them to test models of ocean currents. A model known as the Ocean Currents Simulator (OSCURS) predicted that most of these shoes would make landfall in British Columbia about 249 days after the accident. The first ones were found there 220 days after. Later shoes were found off the coast of Oregon showing that the currents diverted some of them to the south. A year and a half later some of them made landfall in Hawaii.

In early 1992, a similar accident sent a bunch of toy ducks into the ocean. Here is a map of "possible journeys" and places they were found over the next 11 years.
To reach the Atlantic Ocean they had to pass through the icy Arctic. They have lost their color, according to this article but many are still floating out there.

For more about ocean currents see these pages from the SEOS project.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Changing Geography of Wakanda

Black Panther is a huge Hollywood hit set in the fictional country of Wakanda. The lead character has been through many iterations since his first appearance in Marvel Comics in 1966, as has his country. Wakanda is the most scientifically advanced country in the world. Isolation has enabled it to resist colonization and to develop its own independent technology. 

The first map, from Jungle Action Volume 2 #6, shows the Atlantic Ocean in the lower left placing Wakanda near the west coast of Africa.
A couple of episodes later the map was re-presented "with new details." The Atlantic Ocean was removed, probably to place Wakanda more in East Africa. Killmonger's Village is no longer a coastal settlement. There is an arrow in the bottom left of the map pointing to the Indian Ocean. There is speculation that they "flipped" the map (south is now up).
This became the definitive version of the map for decades. In 2008, Marvel published its Atlas of Fantastic Places giving a precise location of Wakanda and neighbors between Ethiopia and Kenya.
In 2016, a new version of the comic was written by Ta-Nehisi Coates. He drew a couple of new iterations of the map placing it on the western shore of Lake Victoria.
The map above was created in Photoshop. Coates discusses his process in this article from The Atlantic. A later, more detailed version was done by Coates and Manny Mederos.
In the recent movie Captain America: Civil War, Wakanda appears to the northwest of Uganda, close to the location from Marvel's atlas. Here is a screenshot via
The current movie has it slightly to the southwest of the Coates map bordering on Rwanda's Lake Kivu. The image below is from Marvel's Black Panther: The Art of the Movie

Wakanda's location in Africa revealed in art book
Where will it move next?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Look North

Going through my recently acquired road maps, I was intrigued by the many different north arrows. Many are gas stations maps-the work contracted out to map publishing companies such as Rand McNally and H.M. Gousha. Oil companies put their names on the map and often their logo on the north arrow.
Here's an example from the Gulf "Richmond Tourgide" - their cutesy misspelling, not mine. Rand McNally produced this map. Here are some more:

Flying A Service Metro D.C. Street Map- Gousha.

Cities Service - I don't know who they were and it was hard to get a clear picture of their logo. This is from their Maine map (Bangor inset). You can see the H. M. G. Co. (Gousha) text.

Before Arco, there was Atlantic - From a Tampa-St Petersburg map-Rand McNally

American - Greater Miami Street Map and Mobil Travel Map of the San Fernando Valley, California - Rand McNally

Two Gousha's - one from the Hertz/American Express Chicago map and one from their own branded New Orleans city map.

AAA's maps used this globe north arrow. They liked to put them in the water.

Here is one from Rand McNally's Los Angeles map. It appears on the LAX airport inset. This map looks very different stylistically from the rest of the map and the Thomas Brothers north arrow explains why.

The other sections of the map all have this dull, understated e.e. cummings- style "n"

Some state tourist agencies.
Maryland - I don't love Maryland's schizophrenic flag, but I like how they incorporated it into their north arrow.

Virginia - very detailed.

Montana-now that's a quality north arrow!

Best of all - South Dakota with its compass ring showing where the needle would point at the center of the state. Two rings, one for true distance and one for magnetic variation, plus the state seal!
 Here are some more