On Tweet Maps

Gentle readers, welcome back. Forgive my prolonged absence (even lengthier on Cartastrophe). I’m unemployed, and it turns out that being unemployed can be a great deal of work, as I’ve been working harder these past couple months than when I was actually being paid. Much of my time has gone to building an atlas of my river transit maps, but I’ve also been taking some time to work on other projects.

One of those projects which I’ve lately taken on as an amusing diversion is making Tweet Maps, which are simply maps that can be constructed within a post on Twitter. Here’s one I put up earlier today on my account, @pinakographos:

Prime Meridian: North Sea (((GBR))) English Channel (((FRA-ESP))) Mediterranean Sea (((DZA-MLI-BFA-TGO-GHA))) Gulf of Guinea

It’s a fun challenge, and it gives cause to think a bit more deeply about how representations are constructed, and what a map really is. Something I used to tell my students was that map readers are used to looking through maps — ignoring the representation and instead seeing the place it stands for. When most of us look at a map of Iceland, we don’t see patches of colors and lines and letters. We just see Iceland. But cartographers work in the layer of representation, and don’t have the luxury of looking through it. We have to create that transition between seeing bits of ink and imagining a territory.

Making these Tweet Maps is a nice way for me to break out of the standard cartographic visual paradigm and think about how little it can really take to convey a space. I also hope that the unfamiliarity of this map style will make it just a bit harder for readers to simply look through the representation, and become more aware of that intermediate step that occurs between seeing some marks on a page and seeing the place that it symbolizes.

But mostly I just do them because they amuse me.

For more maps in the series, look for the #TweetMaps hashtag on Twitter.

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