The headlines this week demonstrate how ubiquitous maps have become; yesterday alone there were at least 5 maps being used by The Guardian and the BBC to illustrate information to their audience. It is clear that both the type of information and the way it is being visualised are evolving but also that map makers and map users are diversifying.
With the Gaza conflict dominating the news, The Guardian is using data provided by reporters, officials and the general public alike to create a current, interactive Google Map of airstrikes and explosions in the war zone, which is constantly being updated as information unfolds. This emerging method of data collection, known as ‘crowdsourcing’, is largely facilitated by social media and is, notwithstanding accuracy and reliability issues, concurrently increasing in popularity and accessibility.
However, it is not only quantitative data that can be mapped effectively; an interactive Google Map published by The Guardian yesterday depicts their news coverage of the ‘Sahel food crises’ over the past year. Whilst this form of representation and design may give professional cartographers nightmares, this method of visualisation opens up new ways of identifying spatial and temporal connections and relationships from qualitative data sources.
In an article for Transactions, Rob Kitchin, Justin Gleeson and Martin Dodge argue that cartographic theory has seen a shift from a “representational to a processual understanding of mapping” and discuss what this means for cartographic epistemology. Using their experience of mapping ‘ghost estates’ in Ireland, a public geography project, Kitchin et al. demonstrate how maps “unfold through a plethora of contingent, relational and contextual practices” and show how maps are being made (and re-made) in diverse ways as solutions to everyday problems and tasks.
Cartographic theory is evolving and maps are becoming fashionable again. To me, one in particular highlights the exciting developments and opportunities maps can provide – Paul Butler’s map of Facebook connections. This does not map Facebook membership or borders and boundaries, yet the world, albeit a slightly distorted one, is clearly visible – a map of human relationships. As the journalist, Simon Garfield, states in his book ‘On the Map’ – “It was a map of the world made by 500 million cartographers all at once”.
Rob Kitchin, Justin Gleeson and Martin Dodge, 2012, Unfolding mapping practices: a new epistemology for cartography, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00540.x
Sahel food crisis – how the Guardian is covering the story, The Guardian, 19th November 2012
Gaza-Israel crisis 2012: every verified incident mapped, The Guardian, 19th November 2012
Simon Garfield, 2012, On the Map: Why the world looks the way it does, Profile Books Ltd, London