MapCarte 157/365: Histomap revisited by Santiago Ortiz, 2013

MapCarte157_histomapView the interactive histomap by clicking the image above

Maps don’t have to be made to look the same. Often, very abstract graphics can be equally deserving of the title ‘map’ even though they may not look anything like our conventional view of a map. In 1931, John B. Sparks produced what he referred to as a histomap which was a detailed diagrammatic layout and explanation of history with a focus on the relative power of contemporary states, nations and empires. It’s a pictorial map that plots four thousand years of world history linearly and which shows us how different countries came to be. The map begins at 2000 B.C. and identifies different ‘people’ loosely based on their geographical location in the world. Time passes as you read from top to bottom over 158cm and these peoples form identifiable groups and eventually, countries.

The original can be viewed on David Rumsey’s Map Collection site here¬†and is an excellent information graphic in its own right. It has twin timelines on the left and the right to aid rapid reading across and the sans serif typeface allows a copious amount of detail to be included. Colours are simple and bold and allow the ebb and flow of the relative proportions of sub-groups to be seen through time. Representing time on any map poses challenges because to be really useful we need to see comparisons between and across different periods. Sparks was successful to an extent because he chose simply to plot everything on one lengthy document but there’s no denying it’s cumbersome.

Step forward 80 or so years and technology offers a new way to view the information. Rather than completely re-imagine the original, Santiago Ortiz has taken it and amplified it by creating a scrolling magnifier. The reader’s focus remains central to the image and simple mouse movements up and down (no clicking or dragging!) make the diagram scroll. The entire diagram fits within the window on screen and simply warps to unfurl as you explore. When you do click, you open a second tab that links to the Wikipedia article for that century. The map, then, not only gives information directly through the original image but adds to it through a link to additional resources. It’s an organised graphical map portal to world history.

There’s often very little that can be done to improve upon classic information design yet Ortiz brings a new approach, user interaction and aesthetic to the work. He enriches it and makes it attractive to modern eyes using modern viewing and data linkage mechanisms.

MapCarte 59/365: Physical Geography by Adam & Charles Black, Sidney Hall & William Hughes, 1854

MapCarte59_physicalgeographyAn atlas map measuring 27cm by 38cm, the depiction of the world’s major mountains and rivers in this way has become a common representation since its publication in the mid 1800s. The map is more of an illustration, being hand drawn and applying a heavy dose of abstraction in order to portray nearly 30 rivers and over 250 mountains.

Rivers are straightened and mountains given a relatively uniform appearance but the clarity that comes from being able to compare on a single page is the key to the success of this map. Immediately we can see the relative height of mountains or length of rivers. We can measure against a scale on the right margin and the map also presents features grouped by continent.

There are some very nice touches such as the spewing volcanoes, the location of some towns and cities and even a small elevation of famous buildings in London for scale across the foot of the page. Here, perhaps is the forerunner of the modern information graphic (infographic) yet at its core it remains a map since it clearly maps out the geography of these physical features.

A zoomable hi resolution version can be viewed on the David Rumsey map collection site here.