September 13, 2005 | THIS ALTOGETHER THUNDER

White Spaces

“He looked at maps, and wondered what lay beyond their edges: maps made in the Shire showed mostly white spaces beyond its borders. ”

The Fellowship of the Ring

I’ve had a long-time fascination with maps, so what better way to kick off a new section of this slowly-coalescing website than with a look at one of my favorite sites for medieval maps? Eh? What do you say?

Whatever happened to map-making? Maps were once filled with decoration, with speculation, with awe and wonder at the world that cartographers were discovering. Mapmaking was truly an art, a far cry from the National Geographic maps that I grew up with. At the time of Mercator (1512 – 1594), things still looked pretty amazing. I am a firm believer in the combination of functionality and practicality, and frankly, I wish Rand McNally was using artwork like this to make highway navigation a little more aesthetically pleasing.

If I could work for Google Maps, I would be working on a matrix that showed stylized peasants tilling the fields, toothy whales attacking frigates, an anthropomorphic moon, and mysterious whitespace at the end of the interstate declaring “Here there be giants.” Sometimes not knowing was way cooler.

I don’t mean to criticize modern cartographers here; clearly we have a lot of reasons to have functional maps and a lot of important information to fill in. Maps shape our perception of the world and it’s important to keep that perception as accurate as possible. But it is great when that perception includes beauty as well.

Anyways, definitely spend some time at Historic Cities.