Legibility Confidence: Randomly-Generated Maps

Authors: Nicholas Bauch*, University of Minnesota
Topics: Cartography, Geographic Thought, Cultural Geography
Keywords: art, cartography, data, legibility
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Council Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In this presentation I show some maps I have made that are populated with randomly-generated data. Cartographic vision involves a particular way of seeing, one that implicitly asks the map reader to conjure an enormous amount of baggage to make sense of the image in front of them. Some of this baggage includes recognizing the “correct” shapes of cities, countries, landforms, and continents, as well as the conventional symbolic coding of things like color (e.g. blue is water) and line weight (e.g. thicker is more). Another part of this baggage, however, involves the underlying data that inevitably becomes summoned and whirled into a picture of geographic space. While one can earn critical credit for questioning the underlying data of a map, there does still persist a data assumption that the data mean anything at all. If clean, properly acquired data give a better picture of reality than messy data, at what point does this happen? At what point does our confidence in the communicative power of maps come alive? If there is always hesitation and qualification in mapmaking and map reading vis-à-vis its truthiness, is there a point in the other direction when we can confidently say ‘I have no idea what this is a map of’?

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