Saturday, January 31, 2009

I Love Maps

I've always loved maps. Road maps, topographic maps, thematic maps, hand drawn maps, new maps and old maps. In my second stint in college I had a few classes in cartography. We learned about scale, latitude and longitude, different types of projections that have been used, and all kinds of other rigmarole. Lots of the knowledge from that class has disappeared from my memory bank. I enjoyed the cartography class immensely and did well in it. But the less than practical information has vanished.

However, when I think back on those years at Montana State University, and I think of maps, I think of the first day of "Cultural Geography" taught by a Professor Wycoff. On the first day of class he assigned homework: to draw a map of the city of Bozeman without using any references. He told us it would not be graded so just sit down with a pencil and paper and draw a map of the town and to include various landmarks for reference.

It was astonishing to compare my map with the other student's maps. Obviously, some students were more familiar with Bozeman than others. Some students were better draftsmen and artists than others. Without fear of exaggeration, as a former graphic designer and lover of maps, I can say mine was one of the best looking. But maps drawn from memory are interesting not because of their accuracy, but because of what they reveal about the map maker.

I think I could have looked at those maps and told you with some accuracy about the life of the map maker. Some maps had incredible detail about the location of the various bars and taverns. Others highlighted the high school, or the ski area, or the hiking trails, or the football stadium. Most maps showed where the map maker lived and the MSU campus. It was obvious to me that things included on the map were important to the author. I remember one young lady had delineated all the shoe and clothing stores on her map. I didn't know her, but I'll bet I could have picked out the best dressed young lady in the class and it would have been her map

It was also interesting to see the level of accuracy and how it varied. Of course, everyone was most accurate about the things they were most familiar with. Some students got the campus "right on" but the city streets of Bozeman were nearly non-existent. These were students new to to town. Others had street detail that made you think they worked for Bozeman City Planning. Bozeman natives, no doubt.

Some maps showed lots of care and precision, attention to detail and an attempt to put things in the proper scale. Others had inattention to scale and detail that was pure fancy, and you expected to see a hand scrawled "Here be dragons", or a picture of a ship sailing off the end of the world.

So, with the above in mind, I'll let you look at a map I drew the other day of Leran. I haven't been there in four and a half months and this is from memory. You might be able to discern the important landmarks in my mind; the bar and the boulangerie and l'Impasse du Temple where I've had some really fine meals. So, given that the purpose of the map was to give someone who's never been to Leran an idea where to find our house, how did I do? For those of you who live there or have been there, or you wish you could go, you can give me a grade if you like and any input will be appreciated. It's not too late to change it. I'll give you a headstart and point out one glaring error: there is no compass rose or reference to north. You can click on it to enlarge.

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