Friday, 11 November 2011

More musings on maps

Further to yesterday's post:

Maps can be wrong

A street shown on the map might not exist, or might not go where it is shown to go. Or there might be a street that's not shown on the map

Or they might be misleading

[Added 29/11/11, suggestion by Chris Bissell] French IGN maps don't distinguish properly between very minor roads and tracks that cannot really be driven on.

Or they might impose decisions

Maps give names to locations, but who has the authority to decide where the area boundaries are? Sometimes there is a recognised authority - eg local government boundaries - but does everyone recognise the authority?

(A little anecdote on parish council maps. A few years ago I was a Parish Councillor on the Woolstone-cum-Willen Parish Council. We decided the ancient name of Woolstone-cum-Willen no longer fairly represented the modern parish in Milton Keynes, and renamed ourselves Campbell Park Parish Council. Unfortunately I read in the local newspaper yesterday that the Parish boundaries are being revised, and Campbell Park is being taken out of Campbell Park Parish Council and moved to Central Milton Keynes. They probably can't go back to Woolstone-cum-Willen because it seems likely that Willen will also be removed from their parish.)

So maps define the territory

Parish council boundaries might not count for much in defining territory but national boundaries can be much more influential (I've touched in this before).

Also, what the maps allow or don't allow determine what can exist. If there's no way of representing something on the map (if it is not defined in the map key), it doesn't exist in the universe of the map.  But since we only know anything through the map, it doesn't exist at all until we find a map to put it on - extend an existing map by putting a new object on the map key, or draw up a new map.

So the compiler of the map is a powerful person

But the choice of which map to use also defines the territory

London is very different depending on whether you navigate with an A to Z, a map of the tube, or a bus map.

London underground
Central London bus map

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