Critical Cartography

Affective and More-than-Representational Mappings

4111.3 - Mapping Dark Places

Tuesday, July 4
9:10 AM - 9:30 AM
Location: Hoover

Maps have the capacity to create and affect our impressions of a place ex situ, with the power to suggest emotions that help us to understand and process our experience of real and imaginary landscapes. Current trends in map theory regard maps less as ontologically secure representations and more as contingent, fleeting, fluid and relational entities (Rosetto, 2012). Instead of passive tools simply designed to assist map users with orientation, maps are active agents that encourage engagement with the landscapes they portray. Yet cartographic practice tends to maintain aesthetically idealised and sanitised portrayals, from community-led parish maps to state-supported initiatives such as the topographic mapping of the national landscape. Indeed, maps tend to offer ‘good views’ of their subjects that promote the aesthetic - as well as the political - interests of those behind their construction. The cartographic portrayal of dark landscapes therefore poses an aesthetic paradox where the authentic rendering of places such as Auschwitz-Birkenhau (called ‘the epitome of dark tourism’ by Stone, 2006) is seemingly at odds with the cartographer’s eye, creating an ‘anxiety of representation’. By comparing the cartographic portrayal of a selection of sites associated with wartime Nazi Germany, this study describes and illustrates different approaches to addressing this anxiety of representation. In particular, it explores the extent to which cartographers are embracing aesthetic qualities that could be more aligned to visitor experiences associated with 'dark tourism'. The conclusions find that for some of the sites examined, the cartographic lens is shifting its aesthetic language away from an idealised representation of landscape and towards a different mode of authenticity that seeks to immerse visitors more fully in their engagement with these landscapes. The findings therefore suggest that 'dark aesthetics' should be used more widely in cartography to evoke a fuller breadth of emotions that may be associated with particular places.

Alexander J. Kent

Reader in Cartography and Geographic Information Science
Canterbury Christ Church University

Alex is Reader in Cartography and Geographic Information Science at Canterbury Christ Church University. He is also the current President of the British Cartographic Society, Chair of the ICA Commission on Topographic Mapping, Editor of The Cartographic Journal, and is a committee member of UK Cartography, the Charles Close Society, and the Society of Cartographers. Prior to joining CCCU, Alex was Head of the Cartographic Unit at the University of Southampton and since graduating from Cambridge he has spent 17 years lecturing in the associated fields of cartography, GIS and remote sensing.

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