Navigating the sea of information that encompasses most of our worlds and flows around our lives creates such steep challenges of spatial awareness that we are often not easily oriented to: and the increased overlap between the sea of information with the sea of our economy–so that the two sometimes seem to be congruent with one another–suggest that they have become an ecoysystem of their own, with its own eddies, shoals, currents, deep water inhabitants, predators and low-lying, and scavengers: it contains multiple life-cycles of interdependence, as well as multitudes, and whose data flows create their own habitat for those who dwell in them, and move “Alive in the[ir] Sea of Information.”
If we’ve only started to map these new ecosystems, their transposition to a rehabilitated fictional cartography offers a start.
Can one imagine the map presenting us with an indicating arrow, “You Are Here”?
The lack of orientation it offers makes it perversely comic.
This is, perhaps, why it is pleasantly reassuring to see the ultra-detailed old-school “Map of the Internet,” compiled so painstakingly after a Rand McNally five-color atlas by the amateur Slovakian cartographer and graphic designerMartin Vargic. Consciously modeled by Vargic to echo the familiar patient didacticism of the maps long included in National Geographic, whose conventions and symbolism have been so aptly interpreted by Denis Wood and John Fels, the “Map of the Internet 1.0” came out from xkcd this fall of the internet with limited fanfare; Vargic takes the notion of a “data-stream” to its geographic analogue of aquatic spaces, where Data Streams feed Data Oceans, Information Oceans, and Spam Oceans that swirl around inhabited or colonized continents of servers, replete with a comprehensive detail that perhaps predominantly appeals to geeks alone, were it not for the comically retro reserve of its staid 2-D conventions, overloaded with densely positioned text in the manner of a National Geographic map.
With a toponymic density so perfected in the medium of the old National Geographic paper fold-out maps that it is hard to read or replicate on the small screen, the map is both a romantic look back at the conventions of mapping the boundaries of sovereign territories in a globalized world and a projection of a world that has come to colonize our minds. (If it might truly be suitable for classroom use–if for what sort of kids it’s hard to imagine.) But the map is also for us: for much in the way that early world maps engraved and designed by the cartographer Abraham Ortelius offered their readers meditative ends in the sixteenth century, bedecked with stoic maxims, we can gain some stoic remove from the web in this culturally reassuring map, the density of whose textual content calls for the sort of close-reading close to the pure pleasure of map-reading.
As we explore this map, we exult in its copious detail, encoded, to be sure, in the format of a geographic map, but coming perilously close to a childhood pleasure of a land of imagined travel. Exploring the detail of multiple fonts that alternates boldface, italics, and capital letters, we can navigate the near proximity of Database Ocean to the shoals of the Sea of Copyright, crossing the land of Flickr to the Sea of Archives where we find our Mega Uploads, viewing the oceanic currents that might carry our craft to different regions, or veer off from the Sea of Copyright to the smaller, protected gulf of the App Sea monitored by the App Store on Apple.
Or, if we’re not so versed in currents of code, or the unpredictable currents of the Circumpolar Datastream, doing our best to avoid the perils of the Zuckerberg Gulf or the remote island of Second Life, we can find ourselves in familiar territories below the Interface Sea, or in the lands of LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Pinterest, and Reddit, remotely adjacent to Wikia, on the one hand, and, on the other, the Sea of Art–and World of Warcraft–which we might be far more ready and prepared to navigate and explore, without descending south to Google.
Off of the Ocean of Information lies an opportunity of repose for the buffeted traveller, below the looming megastate of Microsoft, and beside the Programmer Ocean, safely out of reach of the domain of Spam, nourished by the warmer Datastream of Ideas that washes its coasts, where iTunes is established and Android can be accommodated, and even Blackberry constitutes an offshore isle. In this land, Innovation Sea is a fertile breeding ground of speciation, itself nourished by the whirls of the Datastream of Ideas.
Vargic maps a particularly entrapping set of perilous eddies of ocean currents around the more shady criminal elements of the web and the land of porn it has spawned, duly noted on the map as a newly discovered body of land–an illicit region bordering on internet crime and piracy, which would of course be magnified if he chose to map not the framework of the internet but actual web-traffic or internet use:
The loving rendering of the internet as a patiently designed map of a world we are probably too familiar inhabitants comically lavishes graphic attention on virtual media of communication which pride themselves on being paperless: the map employs or revives a familiar artifice of mapping as if to render transparent the dramatic expansion and proliferation of a diversity of radically disembodied forms of reading online by highly conventional signs and forms of design, as if we could readily see the webs of information, servers, platforms, and providers that might more aptly be figured as a sea. The familiar poetics of cartographical space Vargic so ably encoded seems meant to offer, of course, an opportunity for repose as this is a recognizably domesticated terrain, as much as a terrifying Digital Ocean, whose eddies of Outdated Datastreams buffet the traveler, and where Encoded Torrents terrify the mariner who ventures to far offshore. There is the scary less-known regions that correspond to the poles, and echo early modern maps in their reference to terra incognita (Hic Sunt Dracones–a legend that rarely appears on an actual map, and never appeared in the medieval maps), below the Digital Ocean–if not exactly remote, the Great Southern Land is the somewhat terrifying terrain of Floppy Disk Plain and Steve Jobs land. (The But the copious abundance of written meaning that lies across the map offers a return to the pleasures of map-reading in an age of Google Earth.
The not-so-subtle beauty of Vargic’s map is that it uses familiar conventions as a way to distance ourselves from the world of data overflow, the information overflows of the Ocean at its center, whose azure waters lap the land of Google but maintain their autonomy from it, at the same time. And those huge internet companies–Cisco, HP, Oracle, IBM, Microsoft–are comfortable or credible regions on the map, where we might just decide not to go. It’s not only for internet geeks, but is something of a stable refuge, on a virtual piece of paper, from the heterotopia of the portal.
The balloonist Joseph-Louis Gay-Lussac, who set a record for ballooning of 7,016 meters in 1804, flying in his hot air balloon beside the Himalayas, in Andriveau-Goujon’s 1834 Tableaux Comparatif et Figuré (Paris 1834). The ballooning record was only broken in 1862.
The crisp condensation of an array of multiple mountains and rivers by their magnitudes in a uniform scale and imagined plane represents an image of the coherence of scientific knowledge by its transformation of nature into a single reference tool. The etched “comparative map” reveals an exquisite conflation of legibility and the cartographic surface: it contains not only a database of Humboldtian proportions, but information about the nature of the world’s tallest mountain ranges, volcanic eruptions, longest rivers, and even some waterfalls in Peru–although not the waterfalls in Yosemite, which were not yet discovered or surveyed, or Andes. The map, if prosaic, is a register of the first age of globalism, before maps of air-travel or internet bandwidth, but processing and echoing a new taste for global aspirations in a post-Napoleonic era, in the elegance of lithographic form.
Containing, and finding a unique way of dominating the increased expanse of the natural world, the popular comparative chart of rivers, mountains, and waterfalls of the world first printed by Bulla & Fontana in 1828– based on Darton’s far more stodgily titled “New and Improved View of the Comparative Heights of the Principal Mountains and Lengths of the Principal Rivers of the World” (1823)–offers more than an episode of cartographical entertainment. The landscape that it opened for viewers suggested something like a popular panorama, in cartographic detail, a prospective view of global scope the likes of which was on the cutting edge of popular entertainments and sophisticated cosmopolitanism of a global map.
As it was redesigned to accommodate increased information and encompass a greater global purview in its qualitative imagery, the map became something of an assertion of the unboundedness of post-Napoleonic levels of global knowledge, and a celebration of data. Encyclopedically growing through the complex 1834 chart of Andriveau and Goujon celebrated the addition of new claims of knowledge as a domestication of the natural world by indices of scale, even if it abandoned the orientation of the viewer to their geographic locations or spatial relations in a purely idealized record of the mastery of global proportions–the illusion of a growing global mastery illustrated by the comprehending a proliferation of local qualitative detail in its frame in encyclopedic detail.
Bulla & Fontana, Tableau Comparatif des principales montagnes, des principaux fleuves, et cataractes de la terre
The vertiginous pleasure of the lithographic map lay in the combination of metric precision and exactitude with utter abstraction from place. The marvels of the world were presented, as it were, in a mental landscape of the geomorphological features of the known world, abstracted from territoriality or national divisions, in a gloriously unified view of the world.
The terribly successful genre of mapmaking essentially offered an elegant compilation of human achievements as well as of the natural world–from the pyramids, to the tallest buildings in cities, and highest ascension made by a voyage in a helium balloon. Despite its encyclopedic scope and the range of data it processed, the “table” is human-sized, a large wall-map abel to be readily scanned, in order to digest spatial immensity to a scale designed at a human dimension for exploring a virtual record of the natural world that seemed to distill a global atlas to one sheet: the findings it collated derive from first-hand observations, each concretized in a clearly pictorial fashion so that it can be immediately recognized and understood. If the aerial triumph of ballooning as a transcendence of the everyday was well-known from the late eighteenth-century aerial flight over the English channel by a French-American team, accomplished in 1785, the celebrated flight of the hot-air balloon was an emblem of the national transcendence offered in the comprehensive map, breaking the bounds of national survey.
The most striking single detail that dates the map is the place it accords Gay-Lassac’s recent triumphant ascent to 7000 meters in a hot-air balloon of 1808, noted in the sky of the Tableaux, just above the mountain range of the Himalayas. Perhaps more importantly for readers, the height of the balloon was just above the highest elevation that Humboldt himself had climbed (5914 feet), as well as the highest levels at which vegetative life–for lichen, 5488. As it rises above this barrier of living vegetation, and beyond the furthest height of the German explorer, the lone balloon is a triumph of the modern world, and an exploration of the unknown that was great as the ascension of peaks or waterfalls. The balloonist suggests a sort of French victory in the transcendence of previous bounds of knowledge, and a sign of national pride for the Andriveau-Goujon workshop (fl. 1805-94).
Readers of the map could not only recognize the transcendent flight of Gay-Lussac, but could project themselves into a range of comparable adventures. The map is not in any familiar sense a projection–or a uniform transference of a conformal expanse to fixed bounds. There’s not even a pretense of uniformity in the map, because the assembled landscape discards usual cartographical operations that ensure continuity, fix orientation, establish directionality, or claim exact measures of adjacency. All are sacrificed for one criteria of scale–height–that provides a lens by which the cartographer’s fantasia of representing how space can be viewed.
The notion of such a mental transcendence of space-and idealization of the basis of knowledge–was of deeply Humboldtian spin, and rested on his neo-Kantian comparative categorization of the relative height at which he scaled Mt. Chimborazo to place it in the context of the scaling of Mt. Blanc, Vesuvius, and the elevation of Quito. The scaling of mountains provided a sense not only of worldly retreat–as, for example, Petrarch, who ascended Mt. Ventoux for a new look on life and worldly vanity–but of global triumphalism of geographic plates, trumpeting natural knowledge of the Andes as a register of global sophistication by tallying a comprehensive compendium of all terrestrial mountains of in a panoptic survey of heights.
Unlike Humboldt, however, the atmospheric ascension of the balloonist implies an imagined prospective of an actual landscape, where the pictorial embraces, domesticities, and processes the comparative, and presents a pictorial unity of comprehensive scope–in ways that echoed how the prospect of ballooning was long associated with maps.
The synthesis is truly cartographical because of how it “writes” space against uniform indices to offer a domestication of geographic diversity and variety within the inhabited world–even while abandoning actual inter-relationships. A fantasy of mapping, stripped of coordinates, enlists the familiar repertory of cartographic conventions of accuracy to offer a compendium of statistical knowledge. The cartographer abandons the usual cartographical conventions of noting spatial orientation, directionality, or adjacency, as well as cartographical signs, but transfers statistical measurements to a pictorial view in which heights can be viewed in relation to one another. This popular format of mapping uses our familiarity with mapped space to sacrifice the need to record or establish location to fashion a comparative collation of known topographic variations. Optimistically, it shows the world as a unity and unified landscape, without divisions of nationality, in a project in which knowledge about the world is curiously disembodied (in numbers) and re-embodied in a single tableaux of global synthesis.
The elegant steel plate from Gilbert’s Modern Atlas, 1840 arranged the world’s rivers and the heights of its mountains by length across an imagined chasm, juxtaposing Western and Eastern Hemisphere, running off from the spine of the bifold plate, even abandoning indices in a prospective view of the globe’s natural splendor that suggest a reduction of natural philosophy to one triumphal prospective view: akin to an unveiling of a natural harmony of revealed knowledge, the cleverly combined plate of Rivers with Mountains is not only an economic illustration of information but encourages an imagination of how rivers descend from the mountain ranges that flank them–including the now-iconic figure of Guy-Lussac’s aerialist feat as a way of entering the tallest heights ascended by man in the upper left and upper right as an index of human achievement before this natural splendor, as if to ask the reader to imagine achieving a view over this imaginary landscape from an awesome prospective, if not the landscape that it might afford.
Although there are no recognizable cartographic indices in the, the Tableaux comparatif reveals a familiarity with the collation of information in mapped space, rising above the range of important cities that formed points of spatial orientation on most maps–including, but by no means limited to, Paris, Rome, London, Geneva, Mexico, Bogota, and Quito, among others, that were noted prominently in the various maps and pocket atlases that its printers also produced, Whereas most maps map itineraries, routes, pathways, or memorable sites of human interaction, the Tableaux is a compendium that draws from different human experiences, correlated with one another in a space that does not exist, but assembled in a single whole. It is a sort of surrogate for the totality of what we know about the inhabited world and its bounds, and the victory of the diffusion of a form of cartographic writing: its readers were able to place each of the world’s greatest rivers in their geographic situation,–but now afforded a chance to measure (or rank) the Nile beside the far longer Amazon and Mississippi, in order to decontextualize and historicize the limits of global knowledge, and afford a transcendent view.
As the ascension of the balloonist occupies a crucial pride of place in the 1834 map, verticality is the implicit theme of the map, which registers heights and lengths, to be sure, but focussed on the collation of knowledge by elevations, including forest lines, barometric readings of the elevations of cities, and heights of mountain ascents to make it a repeated object of visual curiosity that merits intensive scrutiny to local landscape detail.
The Tableaux stands as the culmination of known science, and the triumph of the map–and Geography–as a subject able to comprehend the physical sciences. One might take the map may be a final redaction of the Ortelian ecumene (the inhabited world), which it processes for the mind’s eye, but takes the idiom of a pictorial landscape to decontextualize the abstracted record of geographical knowledge. And also to the observer’s eye: for the data accumulated and synthesized is clearly both “figured” and “represented” to be readily recognized by viewers familiar with maps. The synoptic register of mountains, rivers, waterfalls and rivers that exploited the four-color potential of maps. The image was based on a map first assembled in Paris during the 1820s, before being widely reprinted in schoolbooks or atlases through the century as a compendium.
Inscribing the landscape with remarks on vegetation and marking the turning points of ports on rivers, which the cartographer has straightened for adequate comparison as if from a laundry line, the picture is a representation of the use of the inhabited world as well as of the limits of its inhabitability, and a condensation of all that needs to be known about the world and all one shall, presumably, ever know.
The collage-like landscape, if impossible, placed global features for the observer in a way that reflected their own competency and sophistication, boasting its accuracy and transparency in the manner of a geographic map.
Rather than constitute a new genre, the assembly of the world’s principle mountains had become a sub-genre of geographical knowledge, echoing the French taste for lists, perhaps, and the mastery of geomorphological features in ways ways that suggest an imaginary landscape, and the power of placing the world’s known mountains beneath the viewer’s eyes, as the hemispheric division of principle mountains of note suggested, in this 1825 atlas that abandons territorial bounds, but presents the romantic mountainous landscape as divided between the hemispheres,–with the ancient Egyptian pyramids, topics of huge touristic attraction that were almost included in a French patrimony in the post-Napoleonic period, if by erudition alone, front and center–
–between both hemispheres, as if in a signature of French erudition. The synthesis of global triumphalism in a pictorial landscape is the triumph, as it were, of pictorials over borders, in a graphic synthesis of volcanic and ice-capped glacial mountains arranged for the viewer in a landscape panorama of sheer verticality, measured on a scale rooted, at its base, by the limits of human achievements–the Egyptian pyramids.
Instead of offering any spatial or directional frame of reference, the Tableaux is strikingly framed by statistical tables that serve as the basis for its ordering of space–an imaginary space, that compiles locations in relation to one another, without correspondence to actual directionality or adjacency. Adjacency and orientation are sacrificed in the hope of registering human measurements and achievements of measurement, conducted “après les observation des plus savants voyageurs” with the truth-claims familiar from geographic maps, but by expanding its level of synthetic view and the scope and range of its qualitative content o a degree that few earlier geographic maps had ever dared. By collating these measurements in a truly utopic map, the cartographer transformed these multiple observations into a single scene that viewers could readily survey–in a supremely confident of compendium of collective observations that demand our trust, and promise to enlighten ourselves about the world’s entire form. The arrangement of these observations in a map allow us to measure distances in ways that were not possible, moreover, in a simple map: in a map, we see a river, like the Nile, as difficult to measure given its many twists and turns to its source, but all–even the Amazon–are now laid out in their relative lengths for easy measurement.
This format of mapping, both for its synthetic scope and pedagogic utility, was extremely popular. Indeed, the genre was so popular as a synthetic view of space that it was widely imitated–if without the detail of the French balloonist. An undated German reprinting grouped ranges of mountains not only by size, but actual geographic location in continents, as if the map was somehow an image of the members of different continental families–elevation of mountain ranges trumping coextensiveness of global expanse:
The imagined landscape of global topography, newly indexed for ready consultation, imagined the landscape as a library catalogue. A contemporary Russian chart comparing rivers expanded on the genre in its own manner, displaying rivers as if their estuaries lined up to open to a contiguous body of water, to facilitate their comparison:
More often, this variety of map disembodied rivers or topographic markers from its surrounding landscape, oddly tracing the outlines of aqueous bodies alone:
All exemplify a recognized cartographical imaginary; the geographical compendia became popular tools to synthesize information for schoolchildren at their fingertips. The abstraction of the Ortelian globalism that reconciled topography with political bounds was dismissed, with a French wave of the hand, in a sort of cartographical magic trick that reduced space to a flat surface of the engraving, and hierarchalized rivers by size.
To be sure, John Thompson’s earlier undated “Comparative View of the Heights of the Principal Mountains and other Elevations in the World,” dated to 1817, presented a composite prospect of mountain tops from different hemispheres, in something of a cartographic collage that took advantage of the aesthetics of landscape to abandon the principles of coherence or spatial proximity that paramount in most geographical maps. Thompson, a Scottish cartographer, united the relative heights of the mountain tops of the eastern and western hemispheres, comparing the presence of buildings, cities, vegetation limits, and even fauna in an aestheticization of empirical observations that bridged Ecuador’s Mount Chimborazo, beside which flies an Andean Condor at an altitude of 21,000 feet, and figured Alexander von Humboldt himself scaling the peak, as well as Lake Toluca, Quito, Caracas, and Mexico City, in the same frame as Nepal’s Dhaulagiri, 27,677 feet–promising a global prospect if without either the Chilean peaks or Himalayas.
If the map of mountains echoes Humboldt’s maps of mountains, Thompson had issued the first comparative atlas of rivers–“A Comparative View of the Lengths of the Principal Rivers of Scotland” which had a purely choreographic intent, in 1822, in one of the first comparative river chart of the century, just after his inclusion of the comparative chart showing the height of global mountains for the 1817 edition of his “New General Atlas” (Edinburgh), which built on Humboldt’s 1805 work–and also acknowledged that dependence by including Humboldt in his map, scaling Mt. Chimborazo. The map of Scotland’s rivers offered an even more pictorial rendition of the many rivers that watered Scotland’s heaths–and is striking for representing the same sort of Kantian transcendence that inspired Humboldt’s own work.
“Comparative View of the Lengths of the Principal Rivers of Scotland” (1822) (Courtesy Rumsey Associates)
But the esthetic appeal of the composite map’s original designers and cartographers, Bulla and Fontana, had designed it in the 1820s as a landscape for viewers to enter and explore in ways that Thompson did not fully exploit, so careful was he to preserve and synthesize the newly arrived data of naturalists. The slightly later Bulla and Fontana Tableaux comparatif retains the four-color format of printed maps; the original Bulla and Fontana from 1826 was exquisitely hand-colored in a range of manners that spectacularly heighten its coherence as a landscape that is inviting to the eye: the warmth of these hand-painted colors is hard to ignore, and contributed to how the map was cast as a landscape picture.
The set of impressive rivers that emerge from the upper edge of the Tableaux extend, for example, from a grassy region near their mouths, the waterfalls are thunderously crashing with white spray, the snowy peaks with their blueish hues imposingly weigh heavily upon the stoney landscape beneath them: the mountain ranges indeed fill up the yellow frame of measured indices, which serves as a pictorial frame for the scene, unlike the neo-classical border that frames a band of white in the later Tableaux. In Bulla and Fontana’s map, the icy light-green valley underneath the mountain ranges invites eyes,and suggests a reserve of ice from which one can believe the set of lengthening waterfalls contain the freezing cold run-off of icy plateaux. It seems that this wonderful post-Enlightenment map not only synthesizes measurements, but presented to the post-Napoleonic Europe the harmony of a state of total geographic knowledge as another green world, in true Renaissance fashion, in a sort of bucolic land that was both richly irrigated, filled with waters indicated by the synecdoche of waterfalls,and ready to be cultivated by man, even as Europe had been dissolved by wars and the migrations of soldiers and military campaigns planned in military maps.
The 1836 expansion of the comparative chart of mountains, rivers, and waterfalls engraved was produced by the prolific cartographic partnership Goujon and Andriveau, and proved particularly popular–meeting a clear demand for the investigation of natural spectacles such as volcanos, whose synchronized explosions are rendered on the visual center of the map that claims one’s visual attention in almost all of its parts, echoing the memory of the global influence of the eruption of Mount Tambora during the Napoleonic Wars, perhaps illustrating a sense of the climatological inter-relations even in a map that abandoned the rendering of accurate geographical relations: volcanoes almost provided an acknowledgment, almost, of knowledge of the ecological complexity, after actual inter-relations had been abandoned in the name of the economy of map-engraving.
Both include the easily overlooked detail of the balloonist who surveys the landscape. The balloonist seems to be something of the hero of this scene, who has not only entered into the picture but, in one’s imagination, is able to survey the entire expanse that lies below. His view would be what would look more like a map, even though what we see reflects the range of geographic knowledge that we can collate through our own unsurpassed cartographical abilities.
We read more maps than ever before, and rely on maps to process and embody information that seems increasingly intangible by nature. But we define coherence in maps all too readily, without the skepticism that might be offered by an ethics of reading maps that we all to readily consult and devour. Paradoxically, the map, which long established a centering means to understand geographical information, has become regarded uncritically. As we rely on maps to organize our changing relation to space, do we need to be more conscious of how they preset information? While it is meant to be entertaining, this blog examines the construction of map as an argument, and proposition, to explore what the ethics of mapping might be. It's a labor of love; any support readers can offer is appreciated!