Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘maps’

23 APRIL, 2010

The Beauty of Maps: Seeing Art in Cartography

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What 13th-century astronomy has to do with the shape of the internet and the British Library.

We love maps. And we love data visualization, of which maps are among the earliest and most ubiquitous examples. As location continues to tickle the tips of trend analysts’ tongues and location-based applications take over the mobile landscape, it’s interesting — if not necessary — to understand the historical context of our relationship with location and geography.

That’s exactly what a new BBC series titled The Beauty of Maps: Seeing Art in Cartography explores.

The site features five of the world’s most beautiful historical maps, five of the most ambitious and fascinating digital ones available today, and video highlights that explore the stories and cultural contexts behind these maps. (While the video content may be restricted to people in the UK, we recently uncovered a nifty way to access blocked content on the web — and it includes a step-by-step guide to cracking the BBC iPlayer specifically.)

From Psalter’s cartography circa 1260 to a map of today’s global data exchange to a colorful NASA map of the dark side of the moon, the site is a treasure trove of cartographic fascination.

The effort is part The Map as Art, part Strange Maps, part essential education for the age of location.

To further indulge your cartographic cravings, we recommend these excellent resources for historical cartography and vintage maps:

Know a great source of cartographic inspiration? Do share below.

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20 APRIL, 2010

Follow The Money: Visualizing the Structure of Large-Scale Communities

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Visual economics, or what virtual currencies have to do with real neighbors.

Money makes the world go ’round. Or so the saying goes. Whether or not that’s true, money does go around the world, wrapping it in an invisible web of socioeconomic and geopolitical patterns.

Northwestern University grad students Daniel Grady and Christian Thiemann are on a mission to visualize these patterns. Their project Follow the Money investigates the structure of large-scale communities in the US through the prism of how money travels. Using data from the popular bill-tracking website Where’s George?, the team identified geographically compact communities based on how much currency is changing hands within them as opposed to between them.

This may sound like dry statistical uninterestingness, but the video visualization of the results is rather eye-opening, revealing how money — not state borders, not political maps, not ethnic clusters — is the real cartographer drawing our cultural geography.

When we made the video, we wanted to produce something that anybody could watch and understand what was happening, but at the same time we didn’t want to have to dumb down any of the ideas.” ~ Daniel Grady

The project was a winner at the 2009 Visualization Challenge sponsored by the National Science Foundation and AAAS and.

But as cash nears extinction in the age of plastic and electronic transations, we’d be curious to see a visualization of payment networks in all the forms and formats today’s money lives in — physical, electronic, and even virtual currencies like Facebook’s AceBucks, World of Warcraft’s gold, or Second Life’s Linden dollars.

via Visual Complexity

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15 APRIL, 2010

Cartograms: Making a Point with Distorted Maps

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Why space is relative and how popular media are making entire continents disappear.

We love maps. And we love data visualization. Naturally, we love cartograms — maps of countries and areas distorted to reflect non-geographic information about them. These representations provide a succinct and visually digestible way to comprehend complex data about the world’s hisotrical, social, political, economic and health reality, among other issues of interest. Today, we look at three particularly eye-opening cartograms that put today’s geopolitical and socioeconomic reality in perspective.

EXTERNAL DEBT

As the world continues to try to make sense of the full context and implications of the financial crisis, University of Sheffield postgrad Ben Henning took a look at the real dimension of the world’s external debt. The map reflects the ratio of debt to GDP, based on 2010 estimates by the World Bank and CIA.

In case you were wondering — or looking for an economically stable place to move to — that green patch amidst the European redness is Luxembourg, doing even better than the stereotypical financial forerunner in yellow right below, Switzerland.

NEWS

There’s no question that news media shape our perception of the world. But, in just four minutes, head of Public Radio International Alisa Miller shows just how distorted the news’ portrayal of the world can be.

Miller’s eye-opening talk embodies the core of why we believe citizen journalism will be a potent game-changer in news, the real “fair and balanced” way to do things.

POPULATION

Today’s moderately educated adult has no qualms about the world’s overpopulation problem. But this issue is as much one of scale as it is of distribution. Earth’s bloated population, combined with its uneven and disproportionate distribution, makes for a number of social, economic and environmental hazards. This cartogram presents a map of the world, with land areas weighted for population size, making all these disbalances unmissably prominent.

Seeing overcrowded India and China explode while Russia and Canada, with their vast, barren and unpopulated Arctic landscapes, shrink does bring the notion of “public space” to life by visualizing, effectively and powerfully, the relationship between “space” and “the public.”

BONUS

The Daily Mail, a source of otherwise questionable reliability and taste level, has a surprisingly excellent series of cartograms that paint an issue-weighted portrait of the world.

Though three years old, the maps are incredibly eye-opening, reflecting everyting from alcohol consumption to HIV prevalence to toy exports.

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