Art and Cartography

Culture and Art

3709.2 - An Assessment of Cartographic Methods for Cultural Mapping

Monday, July 3
4:30 PM - 4:50 PM
Location: Harding

Introduction and Significance

Maps that characterize attributes of human culture such as language, ethnicity, and religion have a long history within thematic cartography (Crampton 2010). Today, these maps serve a range of diverse purposes, including maps used by social scientists to visualize and understand the cultural composition of a place, maps in the media to explain the complexities of current global events to the general public, and maps produced by government intelligence agencies to support diplomatic relations or military intervention in foreign lands. Such “cultural maps” have had lasting, and sometimes controversial, impacts in both positive and negative ways: to promote peace through treaty negotiations in the aftermath of war or conflict, and as instruments of propaganda by those in power (Monmonier 1996), including oppression of cultural minorities.

Categorizing Cultural Mapping Challenges

Aside from their societal significance, thematic maps that visualize ethnicity, language, religion, and other attributes of culture (both historic and contemporary) are prone to several cartographic design challenges given the inherent ambiguities and complexities associated with mapping human culture. The purpose of this presentation is to categorize cartographic design challenges inherent to cultural mapping. Specifically, I identify and describe three primary challenges common to many cultural maps through a review and assessment of existing thematic maps: 1) Representation of uncertainty related to data quality of “best available” statistics for characterizing cultural attributes (e.g., ethnicity, language, religion) as well as ambiguity associated with geographic boundaries between culture regions; 2) Symbolization of intricate categorical data related to cultural attributes; and 3) Multivariate symbolization to represent complex correlations between multiple cultural attributes. These three challenges are illustrated through several examples collected through a systematic inventory of published maps depicting ethnicity, language, and religion that are housed in prominent map holdings (e.g., Library of Congress), with a focus on contemporary maps found in thematic and national atlases as well as map series published by national government agencies. Examples from the inventory demonstrate these challenges, along with innovative design solutions. A matrix of the various uses of cultural maps for different audiences and design challenges for each, illustrated by examples for each type of map, is presented in order to summarize key findings from the assessment.

Towards Improved Methods of Cultural Mapping

Given the continued significance of cultural maps for societal purposes, the growing emergence of geographic datasets of cultural attributes that enable thematic mapping, the expansion of such maps in web and interactive formats, and the unique cartographic challenges associated with cultural maps provides opportunities for improved methods of visualization. The cartographic challenges identified from the review and assessment of existing thematic maps of culture are critiqued within the broader context of the development of improved “best practices” for cultural map design. The presentation will conclude with prospects offered towards improved design strategies, including the ongoing development of a comprehensive, globally recognized international geospatial taxonomy and symbology schema for cultural mapping.

Keywords: cultural mapping, thematic mapping, map design, symbology

John Kostelnick

Associate Professor
Illinois State University

John Kostelnick is an Associate Professor of Geography and Director of GEOMAP at Illinois State University in the United States of America. His research interests include geovisualization, cartographic symbolization and design, crisis and humanitarian relief mapping, and cultural mapping.

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