Maps inspire exploration and fuel our passion for discovery. Like the city of Rome, they embody layers of history and stories. However, maps are unique in the stories they tell, and are superior at depicting geography and spatial relationship compared to other forms of communication. Maps enable us to efficiently and intuitively understand complex spatial arrangements that would choke a narrative or subject a reader to intolerable tedium.
Today the predominant use of maps is for navigation, typically presenting an idealized version of reality on a small mobile device, or computer screen, complete with turn-by-turn directions ensuring arrival at a destination. The ubiquity, immediate access, and use of digital maps we enjoy today is far different from the state of maps prior to the 21st century. Until the 19th century maps were objects viewed only by the powerful and privileged classes, who often were the commissioners of the cartography.


Jon Caris
Director, Smith College Spatial Analysis Lab