Assignment 6 – Maps

As Marlow states in The Heart of Darkness, maps were once trickled with blank spaces waiting to be filled (Conrad, 16). It’s not as if the location left blank did not exist, but rather, it was land that was not yet explored. Though we cannot actually smell, see, or touch what is located on the map, our culture has conditioned us to use maps on a daily basis. Essentially, we are reading into the location’s history, as the discoveries of others from the past have layered the map with details (e.g. pacific winds). Further, children do not learn how to read and understand maps from birth; it is a residue of our culture (Wood, 7). We are able to “link” a territory to what’s depicted on the map due to our cultural understanding of maps, as “maps link the territory with taxes, with the likelihood that an earthquake will strike or a flood will rise …crime rates, area codes, with road networks or the stars visible on a given date (Wood 10).” All of the information given to us from the past has been incorporated into the maps. Therefore, we align our reality with what is presented in maps, and base our lives around these illustrations. All of the streets and buildings presented in maps are also existent in the reality that we can see and hear; thus, we are keen to trust it.  -Hidy

_The Power of Maps_ tells us that “maps link the territory with what comes with it,” namely, taxes, geographical features, statistics, and political attributes (10). Building upon this, I would define a map as any collection of information organized in some kind of uniformly structured, random-access way. A traditional map, i.e. that of the BART system or national weather patterns, stores one or more features (color-coded BART lines, or temperature/weather) organized by geographical location or region, in such a way that anyone anywhere in the system can, with uniform ease, access the information contained in the map. The _Power of Maps_ also gives an example of a mental map, as does Marlow in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, whose present location triggers a historical and philosophical discourse – in other words, his mind provides a map for stories rather than borders or facts.

A map provides easy and direct access to its information, but its usefulness ends abruptly at the borders of the information it contains. The voids in Marlow’s childhood maps provided nothing but incentive, and even his mental map failed – probably the reason “he broke off” for a “long silence,” having exhausted his first story (14). -Jonathan

The BART Map, a “boundary map” enables us to link the territory of the Bay Area to the transportation system that exists there. It does this by showing the routes of the various Bay Area Rapid Transit lines, showing approximately where the trains go, and the stops that they make. Although it does not have the exact location of the stations, it allows us to see how to get from one place to another in the system by telling us how many stops we have to go for, and if we have to transfer lines at any point through our journey. It also informs us of some irregularities in the scheduling of the BART at the stations close to SFO. The national weather map, however, is a “thematic map”, which enables us to link to the territory that is known as the United States by (most of the time) denoting where each state is, and (sometimes) denoting the topography of the territory. It also informs us of the temperature in each region of the territory, the wind and pressure patterns throughout the territory, and (sometimes) the cloud cover throughout the territory.  -Omead

The BART map connects the territory to the idea of public transit in the Bay Area. The map itself is relatively non-specific, failing to describe anything but the basic layout of the land and the particular cities or areas where the BART stops, certainly far from accurately describing the actual territory we walk upon. Clearly, the map functions to describe only the possibilities of moving from one point to another, without giving any indication what those points truly are. In this way, the map links the territory to what comes with it, as described by Wood, though only in a limited sense. Unlike Conrad, the viewer of the BART map is unlikely to be intrigued by the blank spaces and lack of detail — he or she merely wants to know how to get from point A to point B, not necessarily what lies between and beyond. However, this is perfectly feasible given the purpose of the map — it is not meant as a general reference work, but as a means of conveying a specific set of information to viewers seeking that specific set of information. -Ashlyn

Both maps are physical-political reference maps; they “pay attention to physical environment and cultural features”(12). One example of how these maps enable us to link a territory to something else is explained through the concept of a “map-immersed world”(34). This refers to how we are surrounded and constantly consult maps, not realizing they are only a manifestation of the real thing. We create this link because we rely heavily on maps, making them second nature.

The localized BART map exemplify how “maps enable our living”(12). Much of our daily transportation is reliant on it and we automatically link the BART map to the underground transit system and the latent rules that accompany it.

A national weather map covers a broader region, attempting to portray the world as close to what we might see but is not the real thing. The knowledge of how to read a weather map is not natural but a “residue of our cultural activities”, automatically linking it to the country’s varying weather and temperature. The information we view on maps is a compilation of past observances. As Wood states, “the map doesn’t let us see anything, but lets us know what others have seen or discovered.”   -Lisa

A map fundamentally is a means to navigate, to get a rough image of a certain territory or region. At best it is a visual summary of the area around us, an immediate snapshot of physical landmarks that may or may not be altered over the course of time. Perhaps most importantly, a map enables us to draw a tangible connection between our perception of the world and the world as it actually is. Dennis Wood’s writing highlights this fact when he writes that “ this, essentially is what maps give us, reality, a reality that exceeds our vision, our reach, the span of our days, a reality we achieve no other way.” (pg, 6) The manner in which maps are made speaks volumes about the way we see the world at any given time, they are the link between the past and present states of the world both in terms of symbol and scale.  Additionally they mark the points of the region that are specific to that particular area, or in other words they “link the territory to what comes with it.” (pg, 9) This is an invaluable trait and it contributes to the long-running importance that maps have. -Jhernae

Wood talks about how our perception of the world comes to us “naturally.”  “It is a residue of cultural activities…”  In effect, our perception of maps is very similar.  We take what other people said and personal experiences from our daily lives and we are then capable of translating that information into a viewable, flat, 2D form.  Conrad’s Heart of Darkness tells us the same thing: “…by this time it was not a blank space any more.  It had got filled since my boyhood with rivers and lakes and names.”  Through mental maps and swift imagination, we are able to “link” a territory to something else.  We are able to decipher the legends and keys that are printed and equivocate them to toll roads and high ways and rivers and streams.  We know that when we see that light blue on a map, it’s the equivalent of a large flowing body of vast, salty water.  Though we cannot actually see the trees and grass that a map denotes, we are able to justify its representation.  -Clara

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