Category Archives: crowd-sourced maps?

Mapping the Quake beneath American Canyon

The ways of mapping the effects of latest 6.1 earthquake–the largest in a quarter of a century–raise questions not only of the damages it left in its wake, or tragic human injuries, and property loss, but the web of services it disturbed.  The expanse across which the quake’s rumbling was felt at 3:20 am endured only twenty seconds but seemed to last several minutes, shaking the sides of buildings and houses, waking panicked residents, and breaking 50 gas lines and 30 water mains, leaving some 10,000 without power.  In ways that oddly echo the interconnected nature of communication networks, the quake centered in American Canyon was hard to embody or illustrate, if the measurement of the rumbling along the stretch of major faults lying along the San Andreas Fault that lies between the Pacific and North American tectonic plates was exact.




The “shake map” quickly generated by CISM revealed a quite specific concentration of incidence, some 6.7 miles underneath the earth’s surface, whose effects reportedly woke sleepers in the early morning both in San Francisco and Oakland, and as far as the South Bay and Davis.




The distribution of losses created by Napa restaurant closures and damages to buildings or rows of shattered unopened wine bottles might be on some minds–and a multitude of isolated images of individual incidents proliferated on social media, even as maps were created to track its impact.  But for all the many images of local damages and disruptions, from trailer parks to freeway ramps, posted on Twitter and social media, images of the web of outages in PG&E outage maps seemed the most compelling representation of the effects of its wake, even if the most abstract–and in a Google Maps format, that reveals the extent of the energy supplier’s range of gas lines and power lines.


outage map pg&e after quake



legend pge


The comprehensive coverage of the map–and the surprisingly uneven progression of individual outages from the epicenter–make the map a clearer synthesis of the earthquake’s impact than the dramatic footage of fires in trailer parks diffused on news agencies, or the images of damages to unreinforced masonry buildings in downtown Napa.  The distribution that it reveals are both more convincing and readily apprehended descriptions of the cascading effects of the earthquakes in this region than the specific descriptions of injuries and damage paraded on the nightly news.

The range of individual maps generated in response to the event convey a less vivid sense of its disruptions, perhaps as they were less immediately able to register its impact in ways viewers could apprehend.  The USGS generated their own crowd-sourced “Did you feel it?” map, somewhat less scientifically, that tried to measure the dispersion of intensity around northern California, taking the 3:20 am quake–and not its several aftershocks–as its focus:



The geocoded responses provided data for an intensity map over a surprisingly restricted area, using 21,000 unsolicited responses:



Later that morning, service seemed to have been partly restored, but if the range of local disruptions reported at 11 am diminished, their effects also apparently extended far beyond the aftershocks experienced by inhabitants of nearby regions:


Outages, 10-49 am



legend pge



By mid-afternoon, or 2:30, the disruption only slowly diminished.


PG & EOutages 2-30 pm

legend pge


Even though such automatically generated maps lack an author, the data they display organized a collective story for readers by which to understand the scope and scale of the earthquake’s effects.

Yet such maps might also serve as greater sources of information.  The greater engineering superstructure of the Bay Area–including highways, exit and entry ramps, gas mains, airports, public transportation, rail lines, and sewage systems–are all particularly serious potential sites of damage still difficult to be adequately mapped.  Indeed, the parallel expanse of a still relatively poorly mapped network of gas lines in the PG&E system–many of which recently existed only in the very paper forms in which they were originally drafted years ago–makes the final and continued effects of the earthquake difficult to determine.  The web of aftershocks indeed shadow the expanse of a poorly mapped web of gas lines across Northern California that has yet to be fully monitored for leakages in an antiquated system or even comprehensively mapped, whose potential leakages could trigger a disaster more serious than the San Bruno explosion of a natural gas pipeline in 2002, for which PG&E sustains it has no responsibility.


Gas Transmission Pipelines PG&E



Focussing only on the mapped network on natural gas pipelines in northern California that might have experienced breakages or fissures in the American Canyon quake, whose particularly dense network of gas mains around Napa is here mapped at greater scale:


Gas Main Network, larger scale


The questions of liability that would be raised by the inadequate mapping of the state, condition, and quality of existing gas mains around the Bay Area to public safety make it mandatory to release a full and comprehensive mapping of the quality of existing gas main lines and the potential dangers to which they would be exposed in earthquakes, far beyond the documented physical damage to buildings.  As much as counsel customers on its Facebook page “If you smell gas or are experiencing another electric or gas service emergency as a result of this earthquake, please call 1-800-743-5002 immediately,” and caution them that “If you shut off your gas service, do not turn it back on,” the availability of a truly comprehensive map–unlike the above maps provided by PG&E’s GIS system, “as a courtesy and for general information purposes only,” without a disclaimer that the map’s information is accurate without independent verification.


Filed under American Canyon Earthquake, Community Internet Intensity Maps, crowd-sourced maps?, GIS, Interactive Maps, Mapping Earthquake Damages, Mapping Earthquakes, Northern California, USGS

The Loosely-Sketched World

We’re familiar with considering “art” as a way to further or accentuate the representational qualities of cartography, and treating the map as if it were a system of perception–rather than viewing each as separate but analogous representational systems.  This shifts, however, when we use art to naturalize mis-perceptions of global relations.  We are accustomed to describe the relations between cartography and art as if they were separate disciplines, rather than congruent tools, barely touching, inventing a new sort of landscape to be inhabited and seen.  The addition via photoshop of satellite photographs of the earth’s surface to the hand-drawn world projections that Michigan high school student Zack Ziebell solicited from folks he encountered on the University of Michigan’s campus create a striking global distribution:   although the data sample from which he collected is ridiculously small by statistical samples–and wouldn’t be something that any respectable sort of crowd-sourced map would consider credible or worthy of attention–Ziebell’s creative map has attracted significant world wide attention because of the compelling image that he was able to craft from it.  Indeed, our recognition of the eerily photoshopped composite reveals our familiarity with the manipulation of cartographical tools and media, as much as a restricted sense of geographic knowledge.

The artifice of a cartographical flattening the world’s surface seems totally removed from a sense of accurate representation in the on-the-fly images resulting from requests Zeibell made of a group of folks on the U of M campus to map the world’s continents as best they could, without the aid of rulers or model, and without looking at an actual printed map.  The below image of the world revealed the blurred forms of their collective conceptions of mapped space, and is oddly emptied of content and place-names.  The ghostly outlines of these imagined continents resemble a Rorschach test more than a map, although the smoky apparent ink-blots, rather than invite interpretation, record the multiple prejudices and omissions of the limited geographic horizons of participants who responded to Zeibell’s particular request.  The resulting synthesis reveals the divergences and variations between how a randomized group of individuals in Michigan mapped the contours of the inhabited world as best they could, without the benefit of consulting any sources, reveal a loose attitude to the map as a repository of data to say the least:

Collective  Sketch Map

If world maps have long been refined as composites of knowledge, whose permutations might be described as “trading zones” of knowledge from different orders of expertise, the outlines of these uncannily nebulous continents offer a record of cartographical authority in crisis.

The ghostly outlines of continents that are a composite synthesized 30 hand-drawn maps that subjects constructed from memory and on the fly–twenty-nine, to be exact, with one by its creator, the high-school student Ziebell, who created it as an art project.  The folks he stopped and invited to draw maps on a blank sheet of paper weren’t perhaps focussing on summoning their geographic knowledge, but also didn’t seem to think that the task was that relevant, evidently, to their own competencies, and are easy to take as evidence of a familiarity with the fact that maps are, in our society, more apt to be downloaded than drawn, and directions for travel given by phones, rather than described with reference to a printed maps.  For as much as leading us to blame Google Maps or geographic literacy, we can also recognize how much rarer it is to draw maps–or indeed to read them–as something other than as purely symbolic forms.

Few are accurate freehand cartographers, to be sure, and few of the respondents could claim to be skilled cartographers.  But they adopted a strikingly lax attitude to the notion of mapped space.  Although the statistical sample was not at all randomized or representative, and shows little close to a scientifically significant result, one can’t help but wonder if it reflects on an age of downloadable maps, and a time in which the drawn line has become less of a unit of geographic meaning than pixellated screen, resulting in a distinctly different period eye.  The images are pretty shocking for how they suggest blinders on the geographic horizons of map-users:  in most, Japan oddly melds to the Asiatic blur; the gulf of Mexico is bridged; Anatolia is absent; much of the Middle East is melded with Africa; the insularity of England fades; and, indeed, the South Asian sub-continent either disappears or is melded with Asia.  As each tries their hand at flattening the world’s surface to a plan, the result caricatures Americans’ knowledge about the greater world illiterate and the limits of Americans’ geographic literacy, provoking incredulous reactions of disdain from around the world, from Turkish newspapers–who lamented the absence of their country, “Bu haritada Türkiye yok!” [There is no Turkey!]–to the sanguine observation of Mexican television stations, who noted with some disdain how “India was glued to Africa and Saudi Arabia” in the final composite, while remaining silent on whether it was a plus or minus that their own country was expanded and melded into a radially reduced South American continent.

Analyzing the map is beside the point, perhaps.  But the individual items, as much as the composites, suggest a devaluation of the drawn line as a unit of meaning in maps, perhaps tied to limited familiarity with reading mapped space or low expectations for cartographical detail or clear boundary lines.  And since being placed by Ziebell on Reddit, despite the small sample on which it was based, the composite made rounds world-wide as an illustration of geographic disinformation of a country that still prides itself on being a global superpower.  For the composite almost seems, in fact, about as accurate and as formalized and symbolic as “T-in-O” mappaemondi that depicted the inhabited world in the first printed maps before the discovery of America:  whatever sense of referentiality that the world map may have enjoyed, it seems to vanish if one looks at the mapping abilities of the folks Ziebell invited to map the earth’s surface among those he encounger on the U of M campus for his personal project for a pre-college program in fine arts.  In ways that suggest a neat cartographic collaboration, Zeibell scanned and combined he twenty-nine images drawn by pen with an image of his own creation, which he took as the basis to remold a NASA LandSat image of the world’s surface, by using Photoshop to fill the contours of received wisdom to see what sort of landmass would result within “the new forms of the continents” that resulted from his questionnaire.  In contrast the the blurry Rorschachs, the redistribution of satellite photography wierdly seems to invite us to inhabit what can only be described as a newly invented and radically reconfigured land, which, for viewers now familiar with futuristic maps of global warming, suddenly gains a sense of potential plausibility–until we realize its photoshopped nature:

Collective Sketch Maps

Thankfully, this image is inventing a landscape that we can only be inhabited for a short time; once posted on Reddit, the flattened projection is not of the earth’s continents or surface, but more is compelling as a projection suddenly talismanic of the deformed geographical sensibilities of folks in the United States.  But its photoshopped topographic realism offers  a perverse echo of how the Renaissance artist Stradanus’ fantasia of Amerigo Vespucci, pendant astrolabe in hand, inviting viewers to survey the luscious woods of a new continent and its bestiary, having debarked from his wind-pushed galleon to awaken an imaginary sleeping Amerindian, as he invited readers to enter the lush landscape of a newly discovered continent.

Vespucci Views American Landscape

As an art project, the resulting map suggests the wide availability of cartographical media at our disposal as well as it also illustrates an odd flattening of cartographical significance.  While these maps were surely not drawn by world travelers, or for the end of travel, they seem to empty the map of data in striking ways:  despite the somewhat detailed coherence of the continent of Australia, elision of the Persian Gulf or disappearance of South Asia is jarring, if perhaps less striking than the disappearance of Florida and apparent reappearance of the island of California.  The new land that viewers are asked to consider in the final composite eerily redraws the shorelines of the familiar world to a futuristic landscape of receding waters, contracted continents, and inflated landmasses, all betraying a striking lack of surety–as if divorcing data from the format of a map.

The off-the-cuff nature of world-mapping as a practice indeed suggests something of an anti-Ortelian populism in Ziebell’s synthesis of what seem numerous cartographical proposals of folks, to be sure, approached without any interest in their relative reliability–indeed Zeibell’s seems the one map that rooted his collection of map-images in something approaching a sense of cartographical accuracy–especially when it is comparison to the slap-dash doodles that many invited offered when asked to execute an image of the world map as best they were able by freehand, before leaving the High School student with a pretty sketchy world map in hand:

freehand map #3

Most striking might be the limited sense of points of interest on which to tether or ground the map, or any clear sense of the map as a bearer of any information:  if there is an obligatory notation of Atlantic islands above, the map seems a formalized image free of variables, and seems without informative content of its own.  (One can almost see the expressions on the faces of the multiple cartographers, wondering why in the world Zack would be asking them to draw such a thing of limited utility or meaning.)  The almost entire absence of few indices or bearings suggests a virtual absence of data in the map as a record and little authority for the map as a document.

“It is easier to have a map that is spelt right than one that has information in it,” Mark Twain wrote in his account of his world travels in the aptly-titled Following the Equator, when he sought to explain the arrival of the Maori in New Zealand from the region of modern Polynesia.  In describing how the first Maori might have reported news of their arrival in New Zealand, he pondered the route by which he communicated the route of discovery to his people so that they might successfully return to the new land of New Zealand:  “He told where he came from, but he couldn’t spell well, so one can’t find the place on the map, because people who cold spell better than he could, spelt the resemblance all out of it when they made them map.”  There is no equatorial line in the maps that Ziebel collected, or in the map he photoshopped from satellite photographs.  In a world where mapping one’s origins in space are of less clear value, is it possible that we have begun to map the resemblance of regions from the maps we make up?

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Filed under crowd-sourced maps?, Following the Equator, geographic literacy, hand-drawn maps, NASA Landsat Images, on-the-spot cartography, photoshopped maps

On the Ethics of Mapping and Mapping of Food: a 5-part blogpost




The above iconic image of a bean-eater or “Mangiafagioli” by the late Renaissance Bolognese painter Annibale Caracci is an icon of the local eating of food in the early modern world.  The image of eating is compelling because it is rooted in a specific place, eating the beans, onions, bread, and wine, immersed in the Mediterranean economy of oil that defined the cuisine of northern Italy and Rome around 1590–and is so iconic in part, as it is one of the earliest maps that depicts the simplicity of the so-called Mediterranean diet.

The image became iconic unlike Caracci’s other images of butchers or later images of fish-mongers bas the template for the Sicilian artist Renato Guttuso’s classic illustration of Italian eating, which was the cover of Elizabeth David’s Italian Food (Penguin 1965)–a series of books on regional cooking that preserved food as local and fresh, in ways associated with Alice Waters and, in Europe, the Slow Food movement.  The image is an icon of local eating, where vegetables, oil and wine engross bean-eater absorbed in consuming local Roman food.


Guttuso’s images of earthy, sun-drenched vegetables of Sicily evoked a strong tie to place that David presented to English readers; the cover of her book echoed Guttuso’s rendering of earthy qualities of local cuisine, in ways that seemed to give a fresh awareness of the stuff of foods, and their origins, for a postwar country waking up from packaged rations and voyaging abroad.




Maps can help in untangling how eating habits and practices relate to place.  In the winter, we buy and eat blueberries and grapes from Chile, tomatoes from the Netherlands, garlic from China, or just don’t know from where the multi-sourced food that arrives in confected packages was grown.  Mapping food supplies, food circulation, and the economics of its price forces us to come to relate food to place–and follow the routes food travels as it reaches our plate, teaching us how food systems mediate our relation to the space where it is grown.  The call to action to “vote with our forks” reflects not only a desire to eat good food, but to appreciate the origins of grown food, from its cultivation to practices of animal husbandry, and a call for responsibly to map the food on our plates.  It raises possibilities for historical maps of shifts in food supplies, of understanding the first airlifts of tomatoes from Dutch greenhouses, or the economy by which fish are flown around the world–in the hope of reclaiming an awareness of mapping food, this blogpost discusses the ethics and benefits of rendering food cartographically.

The project of mapping extends far beyond enjoying local cuisines–that’s a great thing, but mapping is here a critical project.  The volume aims to achieve a re-mapping of our relation to the land in understanding the routes by which food arrives in our refrigerators, kitchens, and plates.  As we search for maps to excavate or understand how food ties us to a basic relation to the land, it’s not surprising that food-mapping, as much as food-writing, is a way to call to attention the problematic estrangement of food from place in contemporary life.  For maps of food prices and growing regions attempt to preserve a clearer relation of food to place and to help understand how complex our relation to food has become.

The maps compiled in FOOD:  An Atlas–discussed in my first post in this blog–raise a number of thought-problems about the relation of food to place. Each attempts to preserve and privilege local notions of our relation to food as we are starting to situate traffic in food within an age of the global circulation of goods.  It is the ideal gift for fans of farmers markets, and to those interested in taking back their relation to food.  The interest in mapping food starts from mapping the sources of the food we eat, but advocates a new ethics for mapping food to understand our relation to space.  In a series of crowd-sourced maps of different scale that are grouped thematically, they image eaters’ relations to regions and the mediation of local to global in foods.  What is compelling about this “atlas” is how each of the maps subverts the universalizing authority of the map by privileging access, availability, and the distribution of food and by asking us to start to remap our own relation to networks of food supply.

The maps were drawn to create a living geography that mirrors a geography of food through questions of local availability and exchange, as well as by mapping food consumption:  they reveal how all food exists in a network that links us to place.  The mapping of food is a necessary extension of writing about food if we are going to take seriously what place and location mean in our food supplies.

2.  Food has long been mapped.  Food tastes define regions; the resources of food are often mapped to define the integrity of geographic areas, patterns of transhumance, and geographic divides. Take, for instance, an early historical map of the divide between the consumption of oil and butter in early modern Europe, of the sort used as critical tools to understand the material basis of civilizations by members of “the Annales school” of French historiography, and exemplified by the work of Fernand Braudel, who sought to illuminate the “deep structures” and rhythms of a Mediterranean mapped by vines and olive groves.  To be sure, this generalizes in part the divisions in France to understand the divisions in European consumption at large, separating the Mediterranean economies into vegetal and animal fats.


But it also used maps to delineate a lived space that expanded beyond the experience of its actors, their emotions, and relations to life.

In Francophone fashion, the Annaliste maps divides as learning aids which exploit the objectivity of cartographical accuracy as a scientific foundation for historical inquiry.  Rather than map routes of historical exchange or structures of daily life, they map agronomic foundation of political cataclysms or events s  to draw distinctions that are not viewable to actual participants, rather than the finer grain of local variations.  Such a map of butter and oil maps the habits of consumption and reliance on fats to draw a line of difference that distinguish and demarcate the Mediterranean, but  have an odor of essentialism that perpetuates the naturalization of differences.  These lines of division return along different latitudes:


What’s lost in drawing such crisp lines of division is the meaning of local.   We privilege lines of regional and national differing as explanations of difference, without looking at how meaning was made on the ground, even as these maps seek to reveal the coherence of deeper structures from the “folds of the Mediterranean” to the proportion of arable lands.  A related if distinct danger in mapping food differences is that we elide consumption and production, or view the economies of production and consumption as a unit, rather than examine the choices available in a market that could reveal how populations relate to a complex global market of food.

The Annaliste maps made sense as a way to understand the distribution of goods or the distribution of resources in a map of zones of caloric intake:


Of course, when one thinks of how French map food, one thinks of terroir as a championing the authority of local wines:

Cotes du Rhone       Region of Bordeaux

Maps such as the above value place, location, and authenticity.  But authenticity is a scarce commodity, and food maps look far more strange as food choices are mediated by the vagaries of a food economy, responding often to the availability of disposable income, scarcity, or market forces.  We have seen a recent rise of islands of awareness of food and islands of distinct eating patterns and even archipelagoes.  Such islands are created or emerge near to fresh produce growing areas, or farms, as farmers’ markets arrive in cities with the promise of “fresh” food grown in a “local” way–if not in the cities where the markets occur, but in farms that promise sanctioned growing practices–and access to a sense of place in our plates.  To be sure, the creation of farmers markets in cities can be active ways of reclaiming pubic spaces as sites of sociability and exchange, and probably are tied to the ‘greening’ of urban space associated with projects of urban agriculture of the sort that has also begun to be mapped.

But there is a way that the issues staked out in these maps engage the globalization of food consumption, the mediation of foods in the urban marketplace, where food is removed from place and eating removed from the places of growing food, consumers lack a clear set of tools for remapping one’s relations to food, as there is of restoring a sense of place to one’s dining plate.  “Place” is not understood in terms of cuisine, however, but geographic specificity:  as wine is regionally grown, coffee beans or honey are sourced, linked to “origins” that we’ve lost sight of in a global marketplace, and high-end markets promise to recapture a specific place of origin–presumably one cleaner than the spaces in which we live–and a sense of authenticity that we used to look for in local cuisines or while traveling.

3.  Maps draw our attention to the local through the maps in FOOD:  An Atlas.  

For the maps that it includes focus an eye on the manner it maps how food travels over space through an ethics of cartographical representation.  The open-sourcing of maps for this volume suggested an attempt at recovering a transparency in understanding the sources of food, and removed the project from a single authorial bias.  There is indeed a shared pleasure of providing different maps of food sources, and at revealing exchanges in a variety of food products in different cartographic formats and conventions.   The many maps of modern practices of food consumption clarify our current (confused) relation to the land in relation to questions of the just access to food and food supplies in ways that mirror a new concern with food and social justice activism, by revealing the value of a new ethics for mapping food.  Such an ethics of mapping were raised by the late Brian Harley in the early 1990s, when he called for guidelines in formulating principles to help formulate maps that are themselves made to support moral or ethical judgments.

The geographer Brian Harley was preoccupied (he seems always to have been preoccupied by something pressing in the meaning of maps) by an ethics of mapping and the ethical nature of the questions that mapping practices inevitably raise.  He raised a set of questions in the spate of short articles that preceded his untimely decease including:  what are the ethics of cartographical practices? could a more ethical cartography exist? can we move from “what map is good?” to “what map is just?”  Isn’t the problem of map making not only in preserving standards of cartographical illiteracy in an age of the rise of automated and computer-generated cartography (Google Earth?), but in a failure of attending to the ethics that are concealed in the universalizing project of mapping and the interested nature of any map?  It would be unjust not to map sites of toxic waste, and to pretend that they didn’t exist or were not worthy of consideration.

To do so would be to indulge in the cartographical illusion of mapping a sanitized relation to space.


Familiarity with such questions might explain the interest generated in maps of food.  They present our relation to the land, or map how food mediates that relation to the land.  They recognize that our relation to the land is mediated in maps, how we eat food is also a way to construct or relation to place.  The gathering in one book of a set of particularly inventive means for mapping our relation to place pioneer a new iconography to map food that questions the uniform distribution of space in maps, and our relation to what we eat.

Beyond being maps of the appropriation and distribution of food, the maps found in FOOD pose questions of the justness of mapping that recap how social justice has become a concern in food supply and policy.  This makes food-chains and consumption the perfect focus for  Harley’s focus on making the map “a socially responsible representation of the world.”   Harley was troubled by the historical Eurocentric value of cartographical projections, but concerned with the need to bridge practical commitments to precision, accuracy, and exactitude with questions of the morals of cartographical representations that moved beyond the pretense or illusion of objectivity.  His concern with ideological naturalization might begin from how mapping oceans as bright blue concealed environmental impact of industry on water-safety, and universalizing one blue concealed variations in clean water supplies by creating the illusion of abundance; created a misleading uniformity in soil-qualities; how USGS maps omitted sites of toxic waste.

Harley’s concern partly echoed worries that the majority of information imparted to students is removed from ethics, and concern that the aesthetic or perceptual questions of mapmakers needed to be returned to an awareness of the moral judgments made in cartographical design.  This concern is evident in the search for a new iconography of mapping in FOOD to reveal the implications of how food circulates in the modern world, removed from caravans and naval routes, but suddenly dictated by market forces and global exchange:   the concept of mapping the transaction of food supplies illuminates the all-too-easy naturalization of a relation to food.  There is a danger to forget discrepancies in the availability and scarcity of fresh food; lest we forget this, witness the urban “food swamps” where more junk food is sold than fresh produce.  We might forget where tomatoes come from, viewing them as located only in a grocery:  yet witness the established routes of the importation of tomatoes across Europe, where crops move and circulate along routes removed from natural settings.  And witness the uneven distribution of major crops in the United States.  We can learn more about our food, and increase awareness of its sources, by continuing to map where our food comes from by reading how foods are distributed in maps, rather than letting maps naturalize our relation to space.

Harley’s concerns with such an ethics of cartography no doubt began from keen historical awareness of the basis in maps as the English Ordnance Survey with military needs, or the uses of mapping in processes of colonialization in South Asia or the naturalization of Apartheid in the former South Africa, downgrading or erasing informal black settlements in maps; this cartographical distortion suggested either the illegitimate nature of their claims to space or lesser place within the consciousness of the maps’ intended audience:

south african towns and townships

These maps of South Africa distorted the social landscape of townships in ways that masked actual size of settlement towns, making it impossible to locate the settlements or place them in collective knowledge, and granting greater prominence to a network of white settlements which the maps treat as more historically permanent and hence more legitimate.  Such maps are perhaps inherently conservative to a dangerous degree, as they retained “white” cities as the most important for their users, erasing the stability or permanence of settlements–or presuming that no user would be interested in locating them in the map.

Harley’s consternation at the dilemmas of mapping led him to challenge mapping as primarily mathematical and note that it was fundamentally illusory in how it  re-described the world.  In calling for a more “self-critical, socially sensitive, politically street-wise approach to the practices of map making and the objectives of cartographical activity” Harley hoped that cartographers could “recapture control over the morality of the map” in ways that exercised moral judgment, rather than “being relegated to becoming a robotic arm of an institutional or commercial patron” (Harley 1991).  Although he devoted less attention to the consumption of maps or the levels of literacy of reading maps, focussed as he was on the construction of maps and the contexts in which they constructed a social reality, Harley valorized the literacy of reading maps as a way that ethical statements could be made by mappers.  He was particularly concerned lest the makers of maps unintentionally become instrumental in undermining an ethical relation to the landscape in which we live–and perpetuate a simulacrum restricting our relations to social space as well as to agrarian place.

4.  Harley’s work has usually been read in relation to critical deconstruction, have the rise of the moral cartographer.  Many of Harley’s critics have called him optimistic (or utopian) for hoping that maps could change our attitudes to social space.  But perhaps it is not so utopic at all in an age of globalism.  Since Harley asked that we consider the moral benefits of mapping the world in a new way, and how questions of social justice can be endorsed by cartographers, the proliferation of GoogleMaps have distorted or make misleading links between places, and their totalizing claims to objectivity have revealed their flaws or limited reliability.  Crucial to Harley’s call for an ethics of cartography was a refusal to accept only official data that might obscure or silence local variations and local meanings:  we have seen a range of new mapping forms in recent years that call attention to the overlooked, from maps of superfund sites to Crow and Lodha’s Atlas of Global Inequalities (2011;

These maps use the familiar cartographical certainties to define monolithically uniform spaces in relation to each other, without much fine grain for local differences and, despite their illuminating observations of inequalities, sacrifice relations to place to draw and reveal stark contrasts in national GDP.



The losses of the erasure of local meanings was central to Harley’s call for a new ethics of cartographic practice, engaging not only the conventions of mapmaking that create stark hierarchies of meaning and prominence, but the iconographies by which distributions were noted.  Harley was particularly preoccupied that the increasing institutionalization of technologies of Geographic Information Systems and automated cartography would  omit a local relation to the landscape–and indeed promote a uniform mode of mapping often   insensitive to local social or environmental issues.  But the malleability of the computer-generated statistical map has created the opportunity for expanding the map as a critical tool in Crow and Lodhi’s Atlas, so that questions about global relationships can be readily viewed across space and time with iconic power.

A more seriously revisionist approach might play off of our familiarity with the significance of cartographic icons or even color schemes.  One example of engaging the familiar color-schema of maps that have dominated the media in recent election cycles to create a new map of meaning in our political divides lies below.  This map re-appropriates the stark red-blue division in its syntax, re-presenting how we understand the divisions between red and blue states not in terms of ethnicity, race, or the voting tendencies of segmented pie charts of the population.  We can understand this stock division by mapping underlying social practices, as revealed this map of the prevalence of bookstores versus churches across states:

Bookstores versus Churches

The mapping of the prevalence of bookstores generally follows patters of urban settlement–the places most likely for a bookstore to occur that would be economically viable, to be sure.  Although a telling snapshot of American, the map may not hold as bookstores dwindle or become less economically feasible in more states; one might be tempted to  extrapolate that with the greater likelihood of the closure of bookstores, as Amazon and online sales expand, the expansion of red states threatens–but the map is a tool to reveal social practices, rather than a map of the characteristics that determine a population.  It reveals how the occupants of each region view space, however, and the sorts of spaces in which they chose to live.  And we can see that there is no such thing as a homogeneous red or blue space, or a clear map between, as Zook and Graham put it, faith and reason.  The density of bookstores or churches in each place is divided by a national average, we can map a propensity for lifestyle choices, rather than the actual decisions or actions of a given population.

This sort of a map as an ethical intervention, in other words, by revealing the complexity of a landscape and asking us to relate it to the sort of landscape in which we live or want to live, rather than draw clear divisions based on statistical averages or means.  We should have maps of food that allow us to know what foods we chose to eat, and what foods are most available in our environment–or the agrarian environments or marketplaces from which the food we eat derives.

5.  The maps in the self-published curated collection FOOD: An Atlas are all inventive uses of cartographical iconography to illuminate the local by mapping local meanings and currencies of food.  They offer provocative templates to examine our own relation to food.  The editors reveal their commitments to food justice activism, mapping eating habits over space to reveal how constraints of economy, availability, and attitudes to food inform discrepancies of food consumption.  Does the density of farmers’ markets in Berkeley whose vendors are required to sell food from a minimum of ten mile radius reveal a geographic pocket that will encourage new attitudes to food?  does the actual access of the produce sold at farmers’ markets provide an index into local attitudes to changing patterns in the consumption of food?


Does the way that the food industry draws with surprising ease from a range of geographic sources create a new sense of how we relate food to place?  It is particularly compelling to view a map of how regions protect or safeguard local food specialties in the European Union, protections no doubt militated in part to protect local economies:

PDO-PGI-TSG_v2.2b - transp copia

It is in some way an act of resistance and a way of framing spatial knowledge to assemble a new “map” on a regional plate.  Take the time, in other words, as you eat, to map the origins of the food that shows up on your plate.  If you’d like to do so with more precision, or are uncertain of the origins of what you eat, feel free to use a handy program as a guide, at

Or, if possible, please do consider ordering a copy of the atlas,

There will be an informal collective publication party for the book of maps and an ongoing discussion about its February 17 release party at Smilodon Plaza outside McCone Hall at the University of California at Berkeley: Food: An Atlas Release Party.

Where: Smilodon Plaza at McCone Hall** University of California Berkeley, California

When: Sunday, February 17, 2013 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

 This even being long past, for an absolutely free download of the maps in the atlas, click here…

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Filed under Alice Waters, Atlas of Global Inequalities, butter/oil, crowd-sourced maps?, Darin Jensen, data visualization, Elizabeth David, Ethics of Cartography, Fernand Braudel, Food: An Atlas, foodscapes, Guerilla Cartogaphy, mapping farmers' markets, Mapping Food, mapping food sources