A quick note inspired by the news that the Minecraft community is working on replicating the world at a 1:1 scale in its game. Seems like a good time to post a favourite piece by Jorge Luis Borges, On exactitude in Science, originally written in 1946 as a literary forgery, Wikipedia tells me.
…In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.
Students examining Tectonic Quilt, which they help to create with artist Ben Volta.
Becalmed in Philadelphia enroute to ISSRM, a highlight of my airport layover has been some time spent with the so-called Tectonic Quilt, an ink-on-paper public artwork collectively created by Ben Volta and local fifth grade students. The artists used country boundaries filled with abstracted national symbols and colours as overlapping puzzle pieces to reconstruct the continental shapes most of us find familiar. A close look causes consternation – are those watersheds? – and then surprise – is that New Zealand where Japan should be? Finally, however, it challenges this Geographer’s self-conception of familiarity with the globe. Plucked from their context, the shapes lose meaning. I think the students are suggesting perhaps our national differences should, too. I could take objection to the stars and stripes forming the ‘ocean’, connecting it all, but I think their heart is in the right place. There could be a wink here towards the notoriously poor knowledge of world geography of US citizens, especially youth. Frankly, I’m not feeling much more geographically literate, today. I couldn’t find Canada – maybe it was overlooked?