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News and Comments - Index

NEWS & COMMENTS - 1988

Back Volume Availability

As predicted last year,  Vol. 1 is now out of print and unavailable.  It is difficult to extrapolate sales figures, but all volumes except Vol.  2 appear to be in short supply.  A word to the wise is sufficient.

Changes This Year

The major change is the addition of a geographical index.  This was done in response to a clamor from users, meaning two or three people wondered if it was possible.  But for everyone who writes, there are probably a hundred who do not.  A geographical index is not as simple as one might think.  Dividing the world up in some sort of consistent way requires arbitrary decisions.  For example, is Madagascar properly classified as part of Africa or part of the Indian Ocean?  Should maps of Danzig be classified under Poland or Germany?  Early maps of the United States generally show only the territory east of the Mississippi.  Should these be classified under U.S. or Eastern U.S.?  There are still a few rough edges, but the system is probably about 95 percent satisfactory.  After all, Bermuda is Bermuda and England is England, no matter how they are sliced.  The language dictionaries were upgraded, and the dictionary of German catalog terms was replaced with a dictionary of German words found on maps.  Those needing the former can use one of the previous editions.  Some of the more common titles have been standardized.  The alphabetization scheme has been modified since catalogers and standard reference works often add commas or other punctuation to make a title clear, or replace "and" by "&." Because of this, alphabetization now ignores commas, periods, apostrophes, colons, and semicolons, and treats "&" as if it were "and." Because of space limitations, the zip-sorted directory of United States dealers has been omitted.

Vinland Map Controversy Simmers On

The Vinland Map, supposedly done in 1440 and showing part of America, was pronounced fake in 1974 because the pigment contains titanium dioxide of a type first available in 1927.  But 1985 tests at a University of California cyclotron indicated that titanium dioxide was present in quantities 5,000 to 10,000 times less that the 1974 results.  Details have now appeared in Analytical Chemistry, and are briefly summarized in Nature (July 16, 1987).  Another account appeared in the May 10, 1987 New York Times.  Both Dr. McCrone, the 1974 expert who branded the map a fraud, and the cyclotron people are standing firm.  Interestingly, McCrone also branded the Shroud of Turin a fraud.  That relic is scheduled to undergo scientific analysis in the near future to see if it could have been used for a burial around 30 A.D.  Adding to the mystery, the rare book dealer who brought the map to light promised the map's owner confidentiality.  The dealer stated that after McCrone's 1974 report he "was subjected to an inquisition, during which I had to protect the persons involved, but I remained certain the map is exactly what it purports to be." The use of the term inquisition is interesting, since some have speculated the map's source was Spanish.  A few well-known historians of cartography have gone out on a limb to pronounce the map genuine.  Others think the outline of Greenland is "too modern."  Reputations are at stake.  One of the cyclotron scientists has put a sign outside his office reading "War Room."

More Ancient Mapping!

Last year the theories of Charles Hapgood were mentioned.  Two works on ancient Chinese exploration and mapping of western North America have just become available, and are discussed in the book review section.

Portions of Canada Vanish!

The Canadian government, long a refuge for unproductive elements, has embarked on an ambitious plan to change the geography of Canada.  In response to Eskimo and Indian demands, placenames will revert to their earlier incarnations.  About 120,000 locations will be converted, sufficient to provide an estimated ten years of paper-shuffling make-work at taxpayer expense.   When that runs out, there is no need for panic in the halls of government.  There will still remain about 4.5 million so-called "nameable geographic features," sufficient, I calculate, for another four centuries of happy renaming.  Ironically, the new placenames are apparently being collected and compiled by whites.  One hopes those doing the fieldwork understand the native languages.  There are stories about explorers asking natives the names of rivers or mountains and duly recording on their maps the native equivalent of "What are you talking about?" or "Do you have any tobacco?" Among those slated to vanish are Mackenzie River (Den Cho), Jean Marie River (Tthedzehk'edeli), Frobisher Bay (Iqaluit), and Resolute Bay (Kaujuitok).

Map Confiscators at the Door?

Next to sea monsters, perhaps the prettiest decorations on old maps are square-rigged sailing ships.  That icon is now under siege in Chicago, where it appears on the city seal.  Black politicians of the Windy City have branded it "emblematic of the approach of white man's civilization and commerce," and it is likely that $2 million will be spent to reprint the city's stationery, restrike policemen's badges, and re-embroider their insignias.  A proposed revision would replace the ship with Chicago's first black resident, a gentleman accused by some of running whisky to the Indians.  One newspaper suggested replacing the motto on the seal with In Hoc Quid Mihi?  (What's in it for me?), the commonest phrase in Chicago politics.  Should the antiship movement catch on, map collections may be threatened.  Gun  collectors often warn that the dreaded "gun confiscators" will burst into people's homes if gun control legislation is passed.  The equally dreaded map confiscators may soon be breaking down doors looking for prohibited symbols.  Farfetched?  Not really.  Faces on the Madaba Mosaic were gouged out by Iconoclasts in the 9th century, and I once had a large-folio world map by Jaillot with every fleur-de-lis and Roi crossed out.  As for Chicago's seal, it should be replaced on aesthetic grounds.  The hideous medallion was obviously designed by committee.  Possibly the only uglier thing on the planet, strangely also located in Chicago, is Picasso's giant Head-of-Baboon sculpture looming over Hon. Richard J.  Daley Plaza.  It is said to reflect his estimate of the evolutionary level of midwestern Americans, and to be his permanent revenge on Chicago for some imagined slight.

How Many Bytes?

Since this publication relies on computer technology, an eye is kept on similar endeavors.  One such effort is the transfer of the entire Oxford English Dictionary to disk.  The contents of that famed lexicon are estimated to be about a thousand million bytes (a gigabyte).  One byte equals one character.  Shakespeare's total output is about 16 million bytes, and this book is about a million bytes long.  When the O.E.D. has been reduced to electronic pulses, it will be possible to do such things as graph the number of new words entering the language each year broken down by language of origin.  The project is called Oxford English Dictionary Integration, Proofing & Updating System, known affectionately as OEDIPUS LEX.

Reference Books Galore!

It is sometimes difficult for collectors to find books about early maps.  The Spring 1987 catalog of Tooley, Adams & Co.  lists 352 titles, and is worth a look by those interested in beefing up their reference library.

Periodicals of Interest to Map Collectors

The Map Collector.  Published quarterly, with articles on early maps and map collecting, and also advertisements by dealers.  Map Collector Publications, Ltd., 48 High St., Tring, Hertfordshire HP23 5BH, England, £25 per year.

Mapline.  A quarterly newsletter with brief articles, news of the map world, and reviews of books.  Mapline, The Newberry Library, 60 W.  Walton St., Chicago IL 60610, $6 per year.

AB Bookman's Weekly now has one issue per year devoted to cartography, travels & exploration.  Box AB, Clifton NJ 07015, $60 per year.

David C. Jolly
Appeared in Volume 6 (1988).
 

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