Until very recently, only sea captains, astronauts, and serious nerds cared about geographical coordinate systems.

But guess what, maps just got cool.

I've always been a secret map nerd. I love looking at them, new or old, digital or paper.  My love stemmed from practicality. If I look at a map, I am 99% more likely to get where I am going than if you give me other types of directions (drive up the hill and take a right at the candy cane building onto a street that is named after a tree just doesn't work for me). Once I've looked at a map, I can carry the image around in my head and refer to it when I am feeling lost. Sometimes, I'll admit, I need to "get into the map," Joey Tribbiani style, but only when it is of the pop-up variety.

I once wanted to decoupage my dresser with maps. (Instead I painted it in a gray scale). I have about 10 maps sitting in a pile, waiting to be used for future art projects. Every time I see something map related, I "oooh" and then bookmark it for future reference. And just yesterday, we had a guest speaker in my library class, and I completely nerded out over maps. Which reminded me of the post I have been meaning to do about all the cool map things I have been finding. 

A while ago I saw these map installations by Shannon Rankin.  They are so simple yet gorgeous. I love the circle-within-circle pattern. I also appreciate her use of map pins. Clever!

Maps are already abstractions of geographical information, so why not abstract the abstraction? Armelle Caron does just that when she takes cities (like the New York City map below), pulls apart the pieces, and reorganizes them. This is the best kind of OCD one can have.

These maps that were designed by Harold Fisk  in 1944 to show the historical geography of the Mississippi River are not actually art, they just look like art. Maps are awesome that way.

And if you are tired of tracking your travels via a Facebook application, you can buy this map, tack it to your wall, and scratch the countries aside as you travel places and in doing so uncover cool colors and interesting factoids (yes, I did just write 'factoid'). Neat-o.
Okay, okay. You are probably thinking to yourself that having a secret love of maps and maps that have been turned into art is not so nerdy. It is, in fact, cool in an I-live-in-Brooklyn-with-the-hipsters-so-I-can-like-maps kind of way. But... here's my secret. I don't just like to look at maps anymore. I like the idea of all the data behind a map. And the layers upon layers of data that are and that can be in maps. The idea of collecting information and transforming it into a geographic representation of the data makes me want to.... wait for it... swoon. I am weak at the knees over my love for maps.

So my new mission is that I am going to learn about maps and map making. I've been teaching myself about GIS software, as well as how to find, download, and then ultimately use the data within those systems. I've also spent an embarrassing amount of time on the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, you know, just hanging out, looking at maps.  What can I say. I'm hooked. And I promise when I make my first map (even if it is something ridiculous like tracking the Christmas tree sales across the US in 2010), I will share it here. Because you care.

*Post title is a quote from the guest speaker whose name I can't remember. 


  1. This reminds me of a little second hand shop here in Nashville that is selling off all their old maps for unbelievably cheap. I feel I should buy them all, because maps are becoming obsolete with the Google era and map quest. Even if i just put them away in my steamer trunk for my kids one day it would be worth it. because the way things are going my children might never see the beauty of an old map.

    On a separate note one time i buried treasure on an island off the coast of Florida and made a map and sent it to a friend that was visiting that island a few weeks later and he followed the map and found the treasure! maps are a beautiful thing. thanks again for a wonderful post.
    Jason Bynum

  2. Rule to live by: Never resist purchasing old maps, especially if you have a steamer trunk to store them in! Also, I loved your story about the buried treasure. Thanks for sharing. :)

  3. these maps (http://www.etsy.com/shop/studiokmo) are my current obsession. if i ever spontaneously come across an extra $1000, i am absolutely going to get a map cut of boston. it would look killer on the bright grass-green wall of my green-and-white bedroom...