Friday 8 August 2014

BCS President's Bulletin July 2014

The summer months tend to be when the news stories dry up and the media outlets are obliged to drag out the funny, the odd, the non-news and frankly the fairly weird news stories. But luckily 'silly season’ hasn’t extended as far as this bulletin which retains its sense of decorum – but let’s face it by the August bulletin I might be running out of ideas. Have you been away on holiday yet? How far did you travel and how long did it take you to get there? My guess is that for most people it will have been less than 12 hours, so just be thankful that you weren’t travelling in 1881 which is the date of this Isochronic World Map. To quote its explanatory text, “Isochronic travel chart for passengers showing the shortest number of days journey from London by the quickest through routes and using further such conveyances as are available without unreasonable cost. It is supposed that local preparations have been made and that other circumstances are favourable”. Europe could still be reached ‘within 10 days’ so as long as you went for a fortnight you’d probably be alright; the east coast of America was between 10 and 20 days and for the long haul to Australia you would need to allow more than 40 days. Which set me thinking and prompted me to issue a challenge. The technology now at our disposal must make it fairly simple to calculate a similar map for today which will show just how much the World has shrunk. We know where the Proclaimers could have travelled from (something that the Commonwealth Games recently hammered home time and time again), so calculating an updated ‘Isochronic Travel Chart’ should be relatively straightforward. Sounds to me like an excellent project for a BCS Award entry.


In  what the headline calls ‘soft’ power, the Vietnamese have hit on a new way to push their case for ownership of disputed islands in the South China Sea, map dresses. This latest move by Vietnam has allegedly generated more Chinese media coverage than Vietnam’s naval clashes with Chinese maritime forces in the South China Sea. China and Vietnam have been involved in several rounds of violent maritime clashes in recent months, especially since early May when China surreptitiously installed an oil rig near the Paracel Islands which were taken by China from Vietnam in 1974 after a short but fierce naval battle. The traditional dresses are printed with maps of Vietnamese islands in the South China Sea claimed or occupied by China.

Cartography on the Web

An interesting site that propose a list of “Map vocabulary all kids should know”. It’s by no means an exhaustive list and I think I would probably not agree with all kids having to know ‘Goode’s Interrupted Homolosine’, but everyone to their own. Full details at


Children are obviously very much to the fore as there is also an extensive syllabus produced called the 21st Century Skills Map for Geography. Whilst it is American it does contain a lot of good material and although Cartography per se doesn’t get much dedicated coverage there is a lot of map work and GIS involved and it’s heartening to see forward looking concepts such as ‘media literacy’ being covered and the cartographic elements are mostly found in the ‘Creativity and Innovation’ section. Altogether a little bit more inspiring than the GCSE curriculum presentation.


Those of you who attended the Symposium in 2012 may remember that Georg Gartner, President of the International Cartographic Association, was one of our guests and proposed the toast to the Society at the end of the Gala Dinner. He has recently published an article entitled Why Maps Matter"The Relevance of Cartography," A Cartographer's Perspective” It makes very interesting reading and underlines what we have been saying at the BCS for sometime, that despite the changes in technology and access Cartography is as important now as it always has been .


A recent article in Maplines covered the topic of maps of fictional lands, a common cartographic pastime. This website takes it a step further by collecting together some truly stunning examples of fictional cartography, where the creator’s art is allowed to run free resulting in some beautiful images.

Society of Cartographers

As part of the celebrations of their 50th Anniversary the Society of Cartographers arranged a talk at University College London by Ed Parsons, the Geospatial Technologist of Google. Entitled ‘Celebrating Cartography’ the talk was a fascinating review of the use of maps and geographic information today and the way that it has grown over the last ten years into a multi-billion pound industry. Now that it is so familiar, it is sobering to note that Google Earth recently celebrated just its 10th birthday. We have adopted what was ground breaking technology remarkably quickly and it is easy to forget that with the rapid technology advances things that we take for granted haven’t actually been around all that long. Google Maps has undergone a similar ‘mass adoption’ and there are now one billion users, with one third of all internet users accessing Google maps every month. The improvements that have been made to Google Maps have moved it from being a functional if rather ugly product to something which now embodies much that is good in modern online cartography and it was duly recognised as such in the ICA Map Carte selection a couple of months ago. I think the key point that Ed made, however, was the way in which everybody is now using maps on the web. We are not just looking at maps on the web, we are using them much more to support our day-to-day activities, be it journey planning, finding the nearest Indian restaurant or checking out areas to buy a house, which are just a few examples of how they are being used. As Ed mentioned in his closing remarks, Maps are now being used more widely than at any point in history.


ICA MapCarte


My selection from the Map Carte nominations this month starts with a classic from the 1840s, a birds eye view of China, which appears to be years ahead of its time. We are now very used to perspective views as a means of portraying geographic information, but this was produced at a time when the producer’s imagination and vision played a large part in the composition.



Topographic maps of Switzerland are an art form and have long been recognised as probably the best topographic maps in the world for design, consistency and presentation. I don’t think I can improve on the description as on the MapCarte website, so here it is:

“The new range of 1:25,000 scale maps by Swisstopo, of which the Hauenstein sheet is one, shows that they have not lost their eye. Building upon the legacy of elegant maps that have gone before, this updated design shows clear lineage with contemporary flair. The lines are cleaner, the marks almost more deliberate. The text is so well placed it looks as if it sits perfectly at home amongst the other map features. The density of information is almost unbelievable and to achieve such a well balanced product without recourse to more omission and simplification is astonishing. The classic Imhof-inspired hillshade lends a clarity and brightness to the topography and gives it the unmistakable look of a Swiss topographic map

I am currently reading 'One Summer: America 1927' by Bill Bryson. In one chapter he describes the huge changes that the building of so many high rise buildings had on New York. It’s ‘population’ swelled immensely although most of it was daytime working population, where a single skyscraper could hold 50,000 people. Joey Chedarchuk has taken a similar theme and show New York, or more specifically Manhattan, as a ‘breathing’ city reflecting its population throughout the day.







BCS Awards


The Awards are now open for 2015, so I hope you are all planning on which categories you are going to enter. One additional ‘bonus’ this year is that the winner of the Stanfords Award, which also took the overall BCS Award, currently has pride of place in Stanfords Shop window in Covent Garden. So if you really want to get your map in the public eye, what better way than to enter it for the Awards next year?


Restless Earth


I mentioned earlier the level of attention that cartography for children and students is getting on the web and the interest in our Restless Earth workshops certainly backs this up. We circulated all schools who have expressed interest in Restless Earth and we now have 28 workshops arranged for the academic year 2014/15. We have almost become the victims of our own success as resourcing these is becoming a challenge and we discussed at Council the possibility of appointing an Education Officer. We are currently seeking sources of funding for this to see if is feasible as we can’t really continue to rely on volunteers for what has become such a large programme. If you know of any charitable trusts who may like to support this please let me know as we would like to target our appeal. Similarly if you feel you could offer to support a workshop by coming along on the day to help that would be great, the current programme is available on the Restless Earth page of the BCS website.


And finally


Well, as it is the ‘silly season’ I thought I’d include a silly map. This one apparently shows what each nation leads the world in. The website is no more specific than “They collected the information from various sources and sprinkled in some quirkier rankings” The fact that Myanmar (Burma) leads the world in speaking Burmese is perhaps not surprising, but that the UK leads the world in ‘Fascist Organisation’ is at best surprising and at worst downright libelous. The full zoomable version is at




Pete Jones MBE FBCart.S CGeog
8th August 2014

Twitter: @geomapnut


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