Posts Tagged ‘cartography’
Adam Smith once famously observed…
How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.
– Theory of Moral Sentiments, 1759
He is a member of a stream of observers of the human condition, stretching back to the ancient Greeks, who believe that an innate goodness is at work in us all. But is it so?
Behavioral economists have revolutionized the standard view of human nature. No longer are people presumed to be purely selfish, only acting in their own interest. Hundreds of experiments appear to show that most people are pro-social, preferring to sacrifice their own success in order to benefit others. That’s altruism.
If the interpretations of these experiments are true, then we have to rip up the textbooks for both economics and evolutionary biology! Economic and evolutionary models assume that individuals only act unselfishly when they stand to benefit some way. Yet humans appear to be unique in the animal kingdom as experiments suggest they willingly sacrifice their own success on behalf of strangers they will never meet. These results have led researchers to look for the evolutionary precursors of such exceptional altruism by also running these kinds of experiments with non-human primates.
But are these altruism experiments really evidence of humans being special? Our new study says probably not…
Read more– and draw your own conclusion– at “Does behavioral economics show people are altruistic or just confused?”
[TotH to Mark Stahlman]
* P.J. O’Rourke
As we calculate the angles, we might spare a thought for Johannes Schöner; this is both his birthday (1477) and the anniversary of his death (1547). A priest, astronomer, astrologer, geographer, cosmographer, cartographer, mathematician, globe and scientific instrument maker, and editor and publisher of scientific texts, he is probably best remembered today (and was renowned in his own tine) as a pioneering maker of globes. In 1515 he created one of the earliest surviving globes produced following the discovery of new lands by Christopher Columbus. It was the first to show the name “America” that had been suggested by Waldseemüller– and tantalizingly, it depicts a passage around South America before it was recorded as having been discovered by Magellan. In his roles as professor and academic publisher, he played a significant part in the events that led up to the publishing of Copernicus’ epoch-making “De revolutionibus” in Nürnberg in 1543.
The 1603 Sphaera stellifera globe by Willem Janszoon Blaeu showcases cutting-edge seventeenth-century astronomy in three dimensions. Designed by printmaker Jan Saenredam, it is also stunningly beautiful. It features highly accurate observations of the Northern Hemisphere, and pictures the newly discovered constellations of the Southern sky, offering them as heavenly proof of the success of the Dutch colonial enterprise…
Read more– and find a version that you can zoom and turn online– at “Spin a 3-D Representation of a Beautiful 17th-Century Celestial Globe.”
* Henry David Thoreau
As we locate ourselves, we might recall that it was on this date in 1790 that the Aztec Calendar Stone (or Sun Stone or Stone of the Five Eras), which had been buried by Spanish conquistadors at El Zocalo in Mexico City, was rediscovered during repairs to the Cathedral there. Perhaps the most famous work of Aztec sculpture, it depicts the five eras (the Five Suns) of Aztec civilization; and, while it is called “calendar stone,” it appears to have been used as a ceremonial basin or ritual altar.
Still, maps hold us in thrall. Consider, for example, this exquisite piece created around 1715 by Johann Baptist Homann, a German mapmaker working in Nuremberg. It measures 2 ¾ inches in diameter.
This particular pocket globe came in four pieces that nest inside each other like matryoshka dolls. The outside case, made of leather and featuring an S-shaped hook that secured the two pieces together, is lined with concave representations of a celestial map, showing constellations as seen from the earth. (Celestial globes were among the earliest globes produced, and were once commonly sold alongside their terrestrial cousins.)
Inside, the terrestrial globe (on which California is depicted as an island, a common misconception of the time) is hollow. Split into two parts, it reveals an armillary sphere: a type of skeleton celestial globe that represents the movement of heavenly bodies through circles. This armillary sphere has a band around it that’s illustrated with zodiacal symbols.
Katie Taylor, of the Whipple Museum of the History of Science in the U.K., writes that pocket globes could have served as “status symbols for wealthy gentlemen,” or functioned as educational tools for children. Homann made no other globes, specializing instead in maps and atlases; he might have sold this pocket version as a trinket…
The globe is featured in Sylvia Sumira’s Globes: 400 Years of Exploration, Navigation, and Power. Read more in “An Itsy-Bitsy Early 18th-Century Pocket Globe” at Rebecca Onion’s essential The Vault.
* Herman Melville
As we plot our courses, we might spare a thought for Samuel Warren Carey; he died on this date in 2002. As a geology graduate student in Australia, he read a translation of Alfred Wegener‘s The Origin of Continents and Oceans, the book largely responsible for introducing the concept of continental drift to the English-speaking world; as a result, he became an early advocate of Wegener’s theory. Carey’s plate tectonics reconstructions led him to develop the Expanding Earth hypothesis– a theory now largely rejected by the scientific community, but one that generated research and debate that helped advance the field of tectonics materially.
Lake Superior contains a phantom island. After the American Revolution, the Treaty of Paris established the boundary between the United States and Canada as running “through Lake Superior northward of the Isles Royal and Phelipeaux to the Long Lake,” following an inaccurate map created by John Mitchell. In the 1820s surveyors discovered that Phelipeaux does not exist, and the boundary had to be negotiated anew.
Around the same time, the dramatically named Mountains of Kong appeared on maps of West Africa, apparently placed there originally by English cartographer James Rennell. It wasn’t until the 1880s that French explorer Louis Gustave Binger discovered that they don’t exist either. They persisted in Goode’s World Atlas until 1995.
One of the wonders at The Futility Closet– “an idler’s miscellany of compendious amusements.”
As we remember that the map is not the territory, we might recall that it was on this date in 1759 that the the first exhibition galleries and the reading room of the British Museum opened. The institution had been established in 1753 by King George II and Parliament– the first of a new kind of museum: belonging to neither church nor king, freely open to the public, and aiming to collect everything. With the subsequent acquisition of of Montagu House in Bloomsbury, and the inclusion of several “foundation collections” (including the Lindisfarne Gospels, the sole surviving copy of Beowulf, and many others of the most treasured books now in the British Library), the museum moved toward reality. (The Trustees had rejected Buckingham House, on the site now occupied by Buckingham Palace.)
Among the earliest treasures on display in 1759 were a starved cat, a rat, a tree trunk gnawed by a beaver, and a mummified thumb found beneath the St. James’s Coffee House. This emphasis on books, manuscripts, and “natural history” (perhaps better said, “cabinet of curiosities”) began to shift when in 1772 the Museum acquired for £8,400 its first significant antiquities: Sir William Hamilton’s “first” collection of Greek vases.
“A map does not just chart, it unlocks and formulates meaning; it forms bridges between here and there, between disparate ideas that we did not know were previously connected”*…
Just one of the scores of maps available at the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab’s Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States.
And as a (more global) bonus: Edward Quin’s 1830 Historical Atlas in a Series of Maps of the World as Known at Different Periods, with an Historical Narrative, featuring 21 plates that visually depicted what Quin called “the world as known at different periods.” Dramatic clouds cover the “unknown,” rolling back slowly as time moves on.
Click the image above or here for an enlarged and animated version of the GIF that runs through the plates in sequence, from 2348 B.C., “The Deluge” (Quin, not unusually for his time period, was a Biblical literalist) through A.D. 1828, “End of the General Peace.”
* Reif Larsen, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet
As we travel through time, we might recall that it was on this date in 1861 that New York City Mayor Fernando Wood, a “Copperhead” (sympathizer of the incipient Confederate cause), suggested to the New York City Council that New York secede and declare itself a free city, to continue its profitable cotton trade with the Confederacy. Wood’s Democratic machine was concerned to maintain the revenues (which depended on Southern cotton) that maintained the patronage that provided its electoral margins.
“I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future”*…
Jason Rentfrow and his team at the University of Cambridge analyzed a total of 1.5 million online surveys to create a psychographic survey of the U.S. The results, published in the latest issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, cluster traits together, with the darker colored areas indicating higher correlation… and reveal three distinct regions: “Friendly & Conventional” (blue), which extends across the Midwest into the South; “Relaxed & Creative” (green), made up mostly of Western states; and “Temperamental & Uninhibited” (orange), which takes in the Northeast, plus Texas.
* Jack Kerouac, On the Road
As we self-diagnose, we might spare a thought for Thomas Phillip “Tip” O’Neill, Jr.; he died on this date in 1994. Elected to the Massachusetts State House of Representatives in 1936 (at age 24), he rose to become that body’s first Democratic Speaker in 1949, a post he held until he was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1952. In 1977, at the same time that Jimmy Carter became President, O’Neill became Speaker of the House. He retired in 1987, making him the only Speaker to serve for five complete consecutive Congresses, and the second longest-serving Speaker in U.S. history (after Sam Rayburn).
It was, of course, O’Neill who famously reminded us that “All politics is local.”
This speculative map imagines a world divided into 665 territories of approximately equal population (10-11 million people each). The logic of the map does not entirely discount existing ethnic or national boundaries, but neither is it beholden to them. The particular political rationale behind these divisions is not addressed – whether these are independent nation-states or provinces of a world government is left to the imagination of the viewer. The map is rather meant to provide a visual representative of the radically unequal distribution of the world’s population. For example, one New York City and Long Island = half of Karachi = one Russian Far East = one of every Pacific Island. What does this make you think about the current distribution of the world’s resources, the movement of populations and the arbitrariness of territorial divisions?
Explore this “geography thought experiment” at World of Equal Districts.
As we ponder proximity, we might send hard-boiled birthday greetings to James Myers “Jim” Thompson; he was born on this date in 1906. Arguably the finest of all pulp-crime writers, Thompson began his career as a “traditional” author, publishing his first two novels, Now and on Earth and Heed the Thunder as hardbacks. After these books failed to find wide audiences, Thompson found his voice in crime fiction, grinding out hellish tales for paperback mills such as Lion Books and Gold Medal. While he was quite prolific– Thompson once produced 12 books in 2 years– his crime fiction wasn’t paying the bills; so he turned to screenwriting, working with Stanley Kubrick on The Killing and Paths of Glory, to writing for TV series (Mackenzie’s Raiders, Cain’s Hundred, and Convoy), and to penning novelizations (e.g., Ironside).
But through it all, Thompson wrote thrillers– noir nuggets that included The Killer Inside Me, Savage Night, A Hell of a Woman, and Pop. 1280. Thompson was convinced that recognition would come to him only after his death; and while two of his novels (The Killer Inside Me and The Getaway) were made into films during his lifetime, he was, sadly, largely right. Since his death in 1977, both those films have been remade (The Getaway, twice, if one counts the first half of the Rodriguez/Tarantino mash-up From Dusk ’til Dawn), and several others adapted: The Grifters (nominated for four Oscars), After Dark, My Sweet, and This World, Then the Fireworks, among others. More to the point, Thompson’s writing has increasingly been appreciated for the marvel that it is.
The guy was over the top. The guy was absolutely over the top. Big Jim didn’t know the meaning of the word stop. There are three brave lets inherent in the forgoing: he let himself see everything, he let himself write it down, then he let himself publish it.
– Stephen King
If Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett & Cornell Woolrich could have joined together in some ungodly union & produced a literary offspring, Jim Thompson would be it.
– Washington Post