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Else/Where: Mapping

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Else/Where: Mapping
New Cartographies of Networks and Territories

Janet Abrams & Peter Hall, editors
Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Design Institute, 2006

ISBN: 0-9729696-2-4
20 cm x 24.8 cm
320 pp, paperback
$49.95 U.S.

Else/Where: Mapping is an unusual collection of essays on the topic of mapping. It is not a book on cartography; in fact, none of the 60 contributors to the book are trained cartographers. In this way, the book is a very timely reflection of the current state of mapping in the world. With the explosion in accessible, digital technology, mapping has moved into the hands of non-technically minded people. The release of Google Maps and the subsequent torrent of mashups – data of an often idiosyncratic nature placed on top of a Google Maps street map or satellite image – and other similar technologies have moved the business of mapping out of the realm of trained and specialized cartographers. The golden age of cartography is long past.

But what an explosion of mapping! Else/Where: Mapping looks at the great variety and expanse of mapping technologies and mapping subjects—for the world of maps is no longer constrained to physical or geospatial features. Social networks, genomes, email conversations, and the structures and inter-relationships of government services or corporations are all being mapped, plotted, and analyzed. Every day something new is being mapped, skewing the world in a slightly different way. The question becomes not what is being mapped but what isn’t. The golden age of mapping is upon us.

Janet Abrams and Peter Hall introduce the book by saying that “mapping has emerged in the information age as a means to make the complex accessible, the hidden visible, the unmappable mappable . . . . Mapping has become a way of making sense of things.” The book, they are quick to point out, is about mapping – that creative impulse that seeks to process data and covert it to information by means of some sort of reference point – not maps. The book itself exemplifies mapping. The table of contents is not a list but a diagram with each page in the book represented with a thumbnail image. The book’s end pages contain an oval shaped diagram that displays all of the book’s text around its edges. In its centre are all the words of the book: the larger the font size, the more frequently the word appears (see pdf), much like how tags are used in flickr. At the beginning of each of the book’s four colour-coded sections, the section is again mapped out and broken down by essay. It is as if the editors wanted to say that anything can be mapped, in any number of ways. The result is an intricately and well thought out book on mapping that is a map to itself.

The essays contained in the book are divided into sections entitled Mapping Networks, Mapping Conversations, Mapping Territories and Mapping Mapping. Like issues of an academic journal (though without being academic) each section focuses on a particular topics but the essays themselves are very loosely related and the quality and style differ greatly from one to the next. One “essay” on mapping conversation is a conversation among four individuals; that conversation is itself mapped in a number of different ways. This is followed by an essay entitled “Conversations with Maps” in which a number of mapping projects are highlighted in short summaries, none related in any direct way to any of the others but all looking to solve similar problems. This is followed by an interview with a designer of wayfinding systems for airports. The result is an unpredictable collection of material, reflective of the unpredictable nature of mapping as it is today.

And reflective it is. Much of what is happening in the mapping world happens on or through or because of the Internet. This book has many Internet references that it is almost a requirement to have an Internet connection to fully appreciate the book. The book, however, does stand on its own and is abundantly illustrated with photos and, of course, maps (however loosely that term is defined). However, rather than displaying the photos and illustrations next to the text that discusses them, the editors have chosen to place most at the end of sections or essays, requiring the reader to flip back and forth between pages. This seems a fault but perhaps it is the intent with this book to have the reader flip back and forth within the book and over to the Internet—where such flipping back and forth is so commonplace that hardly a thought is given to it.

A topical book such as Else/Where: Mapping runs the risk of being quickly outdated but I suspect the book’s editors would not be surprised if that happened and enjoy whatever came along that was new and remarkable to replace it.

Visit the Else/Where: Mapping website.

1 Responses to “Else/Where: Mapping”

  1. Anonymous Anonymous 

    Wonderfully insightful review!

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