Atlas Trends

3707.1 - Futures for Atlases Grounded in the Past

Monday, July 3
4:10 PM - 4:30 PM
Location: Maryland B

The mushrooming in the number of print atlases appearing in the last five years comes as a surprise in contrast to past predictions regarding its demise. Ten years ago, the publication of printed reference atlases nearly came to an end, as digital atlases and, more importantly, the abundance of internet map services were taking over. However, this in hindsight, doesn't seem to be the end, but marks the end of an era. Today, if you put a reference atlas, such as the Times Atlas, on a table it will still draw similar attention as it did years ago. The humble school atlas, then next in line to be replaced by publishers' atlas apps for school tablet computers, is for many still a precious thing to hold on to and cherish. Atlases are still valued, but in evolving ways. For example, in 2014 the 14th edition of the "The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World" was published by Harper and Collins, described as "the benchmark of cartographic excellence".
On the other hand, if it comes to quick spatial queries, constantly updated web mapping services take over. Online maps for navigation are now used daily by millions of people. They are the entry point for most engagements today with cartography, and for many they will remain the sole type of map they use, but for others, their limits and the presence of high-quality atlases and printed maps open other perspectives.
The ongoing diversification and return to print media in many parts of the world leads to some important questions: how will atlases face the challenges of developing visualization models, shift in user demands and changing funding and distribution? Some consider a redefinition of the term "atlas" relative to the transformation from paper to digital media, the later e. g. shifting the focus from a collection of maps to a collection of data sets. However, this position contradicts the latest revival of printed atlases with contemporary topics such as An Atlas of Countries That Don't Exist (Middleton 2015) or Mapping it out: An Alternative Atlas of Contemporary Cartographies (Obrist 2015) or Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas (Solnit, Jelly-Schapiro 2016).
In this presentation we offer a tentative analysis of these developments structured around considerations of how atlases are being constantly reinvigorated as a highly valued medium and how manufacturing of atlases has undergone rapid transformation in the last 20 years. We propose opening up considerations from media-related discussions to take up key challenges including the role of curation, how and what people will want to interact with the atlas, transparency and openness of data usage and recent debates on the story-telling abilities of atlases. We suggest that the atlas concept has evolved and developed numerous types.
These can be understood by reviewing the past development of print atlases, their former and current production and perception milieus (Bourdieu 1979). By looking into the history of atlases, one can easily identify rapid changes in atlas manufacturing approaches. These were driven by improving changes in different parameters such as use and users, media and visualization techniques or funding and marketing that resulted in a constant mutation of the atlas concept. Today, most of these multi-stranded developments are still important for the production of atlases. Thus, the introduced milieu concept is important for contextualizing and deconstructing the rich settings for atlas production and use (Bryant 2014, Buisseret 2003).
In this sense the diversification of atlases, goes hand-in-hand with the diversification of media and society. Some atlases remain references, go-to works for large groups. Many more atlases are becoming ways for more specific groups to gain an appreciation and develop their understanding of the world. We are not looking at all at the end of atlases, rather their blooming in many unexpected ways.

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Francis Harvey

Leibniz-Institute for Regional Geography

Head of Department, Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography
Professor of Visual Communication in Geography, Institut for Geography, Leipzig University
Previously Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota and Senior Lecturere at Leicester University with visiting appointments at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow and Münster University.
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3707.1 - Futures for Atlases Grounded in the Past

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