While maps have the appearance of objectivity, they are in fact subjective documents. Although the information displayed may be scientifically verifiable, the selection of data to include, the emphasis placed on specific items, and the form of the map are all subjective decisions by the cartographer.
Mark Monmonier has written extensively on the uses and misuses of maps. His best known book is How to Lie with Maps. In Drawing the Line he looks at controversies in which maps become tools for propagandists, or even are the cause of disputes.
He starts with the debate over the Peters-Gall projection, which represents the relative area of land masses at the cost of distorting shapes. Despite Peters' claims that his politically correct projection was new, it actually had been devised in 1855 by one James Gall. It is not known where Peters studied cartography, but he was clearly expert at promotion, and received a great deal of favorable mention in the press, as well as a strong counter-attack from the cartographic establishment. Monmonier provides detailed and even-handed coverage of the debate.
Chapter headings such as "Place-Names, Ethnic Insults, and Ideological Renaming," "The Vinland Map, Columbus, and Italian-American Pride," and "Boundary Litigation and the Map as Evidence" reveal some of the flavor of the book. The history of the infamous Gerrymander map and distortion of electoral districts are covered, as well as where to put waste sites, and dealing with environmental and other hazards. Naturally, there are a number of maps in the text including several quite fascinating maps on the risk of earthquake and volcanic eruption in certain areas. This book is recommended to anyone wanting a better understanding of maps.
Jon K. Rosenthal, 1995
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