Showing posts with label Atlases and maps. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Atlases and maps. Show all posts

27 February 2020

How to Lose a Country, or The Atlas Game


by Eve Fisher

Sometimes it takes a while to catch on to what you're seeing.  I am a map freak.  I love them.  I have a few treasured old atlases, including one from 1918, which came with a pamphlet about the League of Nations tucked away in it.  I also have a world map shower curtain, with all the countries, their capitals, and the occasional other city or natural wonder on it.  It was made in China, so there are a lot of other Chinese cities and of course the Great Wall.  Take a look at it.  Of course there is no Tibet on it - God only knows when that got taken off of Chinese maps, and you won't find it on regular atlases as an independent nation anymore, either.  Sorry, Dalai Lama - China has absorbed it and has no intention of ever reversing the process.

But - something else is missing.



Two countries, Kyrgystan and Tajikistan:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Cacahuate
Apparently, they've been absorbed into China, too - they no longer exist, according to this Chinese world map.  Now, you might say, "Hey, it's a shower curtain.  They couldn't include everything."  No.  They've pretty much got everything else, including every country in Africa, even the tiniest ones.  So... makes me wonder, does China have plans?

Let's face facts:  maps are generally the heralds, and always the finales of war, whether waged through words or weapons.  Countries come and go all the time.  They are conquered, absorbed, enlarged, reduced, and sometimes break apart all on their own.   Remember Czechoslovakia?  Yugoslavia?

Location of Poland
OCHA - Locator map of Poland.
In Europe, the most notorious example of this is Poland, which was partitioned up between Russia, Austria and Prussia in 1772.  For the next 123 years, Poland and Lithuania pretty much ceased to exist as sovereign nations.  In 1898, a map of Europe was published in Poland that had no Poland on it.  (See Here)  Finally, in 1918, Poland returned as a country!.  In 1939, it was occupied by Germany, which divided it up with the Soviet Union.  The Soviet Union set up a People's Republic of Poland, under the U.S.S.R., from 1945-1989.  Poland, as a sovereign nation, returned in 1989, and is still here.  So far.

Notice its neighbors.  Putin has been indicating that Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania all still belong within the Russian embrace.  The map may change again...

And sometimes countries "just get left off" of maps.  New Zealand has a running quarrel with a number of atlases, which keep leaving them off.  Apparently many mapmakers (including one of New Zealand's own) don't find it that important, which is sad, considering that it's Middle Earth.  (Atlas Obscura)  

Map of the United States with Michigan highlighted
(Wikipedia Link)
In 1989, the latest Rand McNally atlas left out South Dakota, North Dakota, and Oklahoma. ″It was an editorial decision,″ said Con Erickson, a public relations representative in Rand McNally’s Skokie, Ill., office.  Oh, well...

We managed to find South Dakota without them when we moved here in 1990.  (AP)  And all three states got back in the next year.  I think.  Maybe I should go check.

We should probably also check for the Upper Peninsula, which also seems to get lost on atlases.  Oh, it may be there in the big USA map up front (see above), but is there always a detailed map of the UP?  Apparently not.  (NPR)  Which might lead some people to think that you just can't get there from here.  Wherever you are.  Especially if you're in South Dakota or Oklahoma.  

Maps change.  Atlases change.  The world changes.  

Here's the history of Europe showing the borders and populations of each country in Europe, for every year since 400 BC:


Here's one for the Middle East from the dawn of time until the current day:


Here's the history of Africa:



And Asia:



And the shortest one of all, North America:




"All diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means."
- Zhou Enlai

And, apparently, cartography as well.






08 May 2019

Orientation


David Edgerley Gates

Lucian K. Truscott has a terrific column in Salon magazine this week about GPS supplanting physical map-reading skills, and the possible negative consequences should satellite electronics go dark, specifically the issues in a combat environment.

https://www.salon.com/2019/05/04/using-gps-instead-of-maps-is-the-most-consequential-exchange-of-technologies-in-history/


I've always loved atlases, and learning the secrets of the gazeteer was life-changing. I had, later, an excellent National Geographic atlas that didn't use grid coordinates at all, but latitude and longitude - which is actually much more sensible - and it was terrain-based, showing geographical features instead of political boundaries. (Lucian talks about terrain-reading, too, and how shooting azimuths is an inefficient way of navigating your way out of the woods.)

Not that I don't surf Google Earth regularly, whether it's the back streets of Tbilisi or my childhood neighborhood in Cambridge, Mass., and I love the kinetic thrill of it, but I still turn to two-dimensional maps on paper, views of subway systems, urban landscapes, desert hardpan, rumpled uplands. I like the big scale of the Michelins, for cityscapes, and the ONC/JNC, for wider terrain. This second a carry-over from the military, the Operational Navigational Chart scaled at 1:1,000,000, and the Jet Navigational Chart at 1:2,000,000, marked with radar overlaps and aviation hazards. Invaluable.

It's my settled habit to have a map pinned to the wall, or leaning on an easel, for whatever specific geography I'm writing about. I had the Euro Berlin opened up, some three feet square, 1:25,000, for Black Traffic, the Khyber Pass and environs for The Bone Harvest. Right now, for Absolute Zero, it's El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, and that stretch of southern Chihuahuan desert I've chosen to call The Dooms, a borderland that's entirely invention.

There's the old rule that you can break the rules if you know what they are. It's true of grammar, it's true of narrative conventions, it's true of dialogue, it's true of landscape. You just need to know it well enough. You want to inhabit it, you want it lived in, you want it familiar.

A map is only an approximation of the terrain, but it lays out physical relationships, distance and elevation, good roads and bad, watercourses and obstacles, the path of least resistance. The feel of the country, the smell of juniper and pinon, the heat, the texture, that's up to you. I find the map comforting, is what I think I mean. It's not the level of detail, it's the context. It's a perspective. I look at the map, I can walk the perimeter. It's not the place itself, it's a metaphor of place. A map is our point of departure.

I don't think it's any accident that when Robert Louis Stevenson started Treasure Island, the first thing he did was draw a map of the island itself, and his hand-drawn map is at the very front of the book.