In our first three (has it really only been three?!) days of class, we have read about the use of Geographic Information Systems, or GIS for short, in the humanities, and about the various subtle traps one might fall into if one is not diligent in map-making. A particularly challenging issue for any young would-be cartographer is that of ethical and honest map-making. The first thing one must confront is that maps are inherently and inevitably biased, due to their nature as a means of compressing an enormous amount of information (space and place are huge, not to mention three dimensional) and projecting it onto a small flat image. In this process of compression, one must, or at the very least least one should, confront directly the painful truth that information will be left out of the picture, and while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, one must take care that one’s own biases do not go unchecked in this process. Furthermore, as we have learned, people are often naive in their map-reading. Perhaps exactly because (well-made) maps are so comprehensible and seemingly authoritative, it becomes easy for the reader to put aside their critical-thinking-caps and simply accept the map as it is. To make matters worse, if one is overly admissive or defensive about one’s biases, the map’s authority may be detrimentally undermined.
Though at first, it may seem intimidating and/or impossible to possibly work through all of these issues simultaneously and still find time to actually collect the data and make the map. However, I find that by keeping in mind that everyone who ever made a map has had to deal with these very same challenges, and has (presumably) come out unscathed, we can alleviate our anxiety, and begin to get down to work and make a map.
I like the way you end on a positive note, and agree that we will find our way through this ethical and technological quagmire. :)
Have any of the readings been particularly influential in the ways you’re thinking about maps and mapping? I detect some implicit references in your writing, but it would be nice to see footnotes or parenthetical citations, so long as the full citations get into your post somehow. Keep up the good work!