Friday, May 11, 2012

Not Your Family Vacation Atlas

Often, students and patrons seem to wonder what it is they can gain from our collections of map materials beyond the obvious uses, or the nostalgic, wanderlust aesthetic. And it's true, many maps are inspiring - they bring us to think about travelling to places we've never been, places we've never thought about. We use them as a very real guide on all sorts of trips. However, someone had to make those maps, and the process of making them is a historically and politically loaded one, that should be kept in mind when looking at any map.

Just yesterday, we exhibited (and continue to have on display) work by Community High's Melanie Langa on the mapping of the Arctic, which was greatly influenced by who was mapping it, how they related to the people that they were gathering information from, and what they were hoping that the arctic would look like. As her research shows, and as you can see if you drop by to see the exhibit, the Northwest Passage didn't turn out at all like the mapmakers had hoped; they're confusion in dealing with the Native Americans, and assumption that there would be a usable trade route through this uncharted land led to some very inaccurate, sometimes completely imagined maps of the Arctic.

There are also a myriad of politically and socially charged maps and atlases in our collection that may interest anyone skeptical of the weight that maps can hold in society. Just a few days ago I stumbled upon this gem:
 This is an atlas unlike any you've seen on a family road trip; it contains 10 maps and essays about the social issues involved in mapmaking. This book claims to provide a critical foundation for an area of work that bridges art/design, cartography/geography, and activisim." It questions why maps are they way they are, and how the map comments on or omits information from "globalization to garbage; surveillance to extraordinary rendition; statelessness to visibility; deportation to migration." You can read more about this atlas here: or simply drop into the Clark and take a look for yourself.

If that isn't interesting enough for you, take a look at Frank Jacobs' book "Strange Maps: an Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities." This is a book compiled of blog posts (from his blog by this odd map enthusiast. Though more overtly out-there, these maps have as much relevance as any others, as someone at some point in time saw fit to put the effort in to create them. Having grown tired of traditional maps, Frank started finding, posting, and writing about these maps. These include maps of countries had their war history been different, maps of imaginary places, and many more. Again, this book is available here in the Clark Library for anyone interested.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

"The Imaginary Arctic" Exhibit!

Come to the Clark Library today to see a presentation on the mapping of the Arctic, put together by Community High's Melanie Langa at 4:00! There will be refreshments, and Melanie will be giving a short talk.

Weather Report

Weather patterns and other natural phenomenon are an endless source for creative ways to display data. From plotting disasters to recording blustery days, information about weather across the globe can be used to create a stimulating picture of both the mundane and extraordinary. The following are a few visualizations that caught my eye:

-Major Earthquakes Compiled in NOAA Global Significant Earthquake Database

We may get our fair share of snow and freezing temperatures in Michigan, but there is a tradeoff: we rarely need to worry about earthquakes, hurricanes, or tsunamis. This benefit of life of in the Midwest is made clear in the map below, which highlights the density and magnitude of seismic activity from 2150 B.C. to present day and the populations most at risk. The visualization was featured in a Mother Jones blog post late last year. The blog explored recent research, presented at the American Geophysical Union meeting in fall 2011, that suggests that large earthquakes could be triggered by tropical cyclones.

Map credit: Credit: Benjamin D. Hennig, Sasi Research Group, University of Sheffield.

-2011 Hurricane Season
This four-minute video is another NOAA visualization found through a Mother Jones blog post. Through these timelapse images, you can see each of last season’s tropical storms – from Arlene to Sean – emerge, swirl, and die out. While many never approach land, others, including Hurricane Irene, which gathered the most U.S. news coverage in 2011, come dangerously close to shore.

Video credit: NOAA Visualizations,

-United States Wind Map
Part art project, part weather map, this constantly updated visualization tracks wind speed across the country in real time. The map, created by Google visualization researchers Fernanda Viegas and Martin Wattenberg, uses data from the National Digital Forecast Database, which collects information about a variety of weather elements, including dew points, temperature, and humidity. Note that the site is best viewed in the Chrome browser.

Image credit: