Tag Archives: history

Etymologic cartography

I propose Etymologic cartography as a field of study: Somebody had the simple but appealing idea to simply translate the toponyms on a map to English. In this case the subject in question is the USA:

Map of the USA with state names in English

Some of the names are rather interesting (and were unknown to me), e.g. Asleep for Iowa, Flattened Water for Nebraska, Great Hills for Massachusetts, Lord of War for Delaware, Dugout Canoe for Missouri (see here for an ordinary USA map for comparison). Note also, that both peripheral Alaska and peripheral Maine consider(ed) themselves the Mainland and that Idaho was apparently named such as a practical joke (really!? – possibly!)!

Also, the map nicely answers a question a friend of mine recently wondered about (and which I couldn’t answer): Kansas apparently means Wind, while Arkansas means People of the Wind!

The principle of etymologic cartography is of course easily transferred to other geographic areas. Though, coming to think of it, given its history the USA has probably a substantial (more than average?) density of toponyms that don’t stem from the local language but rather from Spanish or Aboriginal American languages (think, for example, Utah). I wonder what other countries or regions would especially lend themselves to such an experiment?

(via gisn8)

Evolution of NYC

Interesting for history/urbanism/New York buffs:

The evolution of the New York skyline

Evolution of New York skyline


The evolution of the New York street grid (review of a book):

The Commissioner’s Plan of 1811, the map and surveying scheme that set the blocks at 200 by 800 feet all the way up the length of the island, was an audacious gamble on growth. From 1790 to 1810, the population of New York had tripled, and the commissioners predicted that by 1860, New York would have almost the same population as Paris, then home to half a million people. (They were wrong, of course — New York would top nearly 800,000 by then.)

(via Swissmiss)


Enclaves, Swiss-made

I’ve highlighted the NY Times’ Opinionator blog before. Back then, Franc Jacobs wrote a piece about the delimitation of the rather fuzzy geographic entity called “Europe”.

Today, there’s a new blog post about Enclave Hunting in Switzerland. After the mandatory clichées (the relevance of the “National Yodeling Festival” can probably be gleaned from the fact that it takes place only “once every three years”… – as opposed to, say, the Montreux Jazz Festival), the piece gets more interesting when it explores the many national (intercantonal) and in fact two international enclaves of Switzerland. The curious topology of the two Appenzells and Sankt Gallen are dealt with as well as the enclaves of e.g. Fribourg and Geneva.

The two international enclaves of Switzerland: Büsingen and Campione (NY Times)

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“Everything is a remix”, presumably also this title

If you’re into creativity, you may have heard about Everything is a Remix. Its premise is that many things we consider original ideas are rather derivatives or combinations of existing ideas. It all comes down to


Everything is a Remix is a four-part video series which digs into the creative process. I’ve just watched part 3, highly recommended:

[vimeo 25380454]

You can watch the whole series here.

I guess one could lament the idea that there are no original ideas (hmm, recursion? ;), on the other hand (and I think that should be the dominant view point) this notion takes off some burden you may have been carrying around with you. You do not have to be 100% original in order to be creative, simply because it is not even possible: Copy, transform, combine!

(via SwissMiss, Brain Pickings)

Where’s Europe?

Via the GIS Doctor (in itself a fun blog) I got introduced to NY Times’ Opinionator. The Borderlines category on the Opinionator is maintained by author/blogger Franc Jacobs who “writes about cartography, but only the interesting bits.

Borderlines writes about interesting stories around country borders. So far, I’ve read the superbly entertaining and well informed “Where is Europe?“, which deals with the problems geographers face(d) with regards to defining the geographic extent of “Europe”. It’s all there: the perspectives of the Britons, Swiss, Croats and Eurocrats, Turks, Russians, …, the back and forth of the European boundaries, especially (but not only) those in the east and south and some surprises, even for geographers.

There's a plethora of pitfalls when dealing with this beast... (NY Times)

Is this an off-topic post on my blog?

Eh, depends: because, here we have great examples of the fiat and bona fide divide when it comes to geographic regions and objects, the fuzziness or spatial vagueness of toponyms and the regions they denote, qualitative spatial reasoning, vernacular geography, etc. – some of which I have dealt with also in my PhD thesis and which also pertain to stuff you do with GIS, spatial analysis and geovisualization.

Very interesting stuff! But for now I’ll spare you the details and recommend “Where is Europe?” and Borderlines.

“History of Cartography” for free

Chicago Press gives away History of Cartography as PDF for free!

If you are a cartography buff, you have to check out this offer. Topics span:

  • Cartography in Prehistoric, Ancient, and Medieval Europe and the Mediterranean
  • Cartography in the Traditional Islamic and South Asian Societies
  • Cartography in the Traditional East and Southeast Asian Societies
  • Cartography in the Traditional African, American, Arctic, Australian, and Pacific Societies

(via All Points Blog)

The sketchbook holding the GUI design of early Macs

I remember my early days of computing: There has been a lot of command line stuff going on (and QBASIC programming). Then came Windows 3.1 et al. on our home computer and Macs at school. Later, at university with Unix there has been more command line action again. Nevertheless, computing has clearly become more graphical (a bit more recently also haptic) and much less textual.

When the Mac was being developed, artist Susan Kare was one of the early hires of the team, her first assignment being font design for Mac OS. She came up with the first proportionally spaced (rather than monospaced/typewriter) digital font for the Mac. Later she assumed the task of designing visual GUI elements for Mac OS, using a $ 2.50 graphing book. Head over to PLoS for the full story (and numerous sketches) about how some of the iconic elements of the Mac GUI came into being (and also which sketches didn’t make the cut).