Q: Is cartography dead?
A: Denis Wood thinks so, me too (maybe – kinda depends on what you mean by “cartography”). Read his polemic Cartography is Dead (Thank God!) (download/view the PDF here originally published in Cartographic Perspectives number 45, Spring 2003). It isn’t that Denis believes mapping is dead – quite the contrary. There is so much exciting stuff going on with mapping it is hard to keep track of it all (see some of the links on the bottom of the Making Maps book main page). A lot of this work is outside of the realm of academic cartography, which itself seems to be rather quiet, at least in the American context (examples of recent cartographic research can be seen in the AUTOCARTO and NACIS conference proceedings and programs). There is some life beyond North America (see the ICA web site) and in “geovisualization” (maybe that is how cartography will survive in academia). The world of custom cartography firms and freelance cartography seems quite vital. The most wobbly, thinks I, is the state of academic map design. While you can find abundant ways to learn about GIS in general as well as ArcGIS, Java, Google Map Hacking, Flash, and other technologies for mapping, there are few places to learn about the design of maps in those contexts or in general. We seem to be back to the late 1940s when Arthur Robinson wrote The Look of Maps bemoaning the lack of attention paid to map design and suggesting an agenda to address the problem. Robinson’s agenda, largely based on advertising and psychology methods, user testing, etc. (and its evolution into cognitive map studies, which bobble along, squeezing out a few peculiar research articles a year – see Daniel Montello’s review article on “Cognitive Map Design Research in the 20th Century.”) didn’t necessarily provide much new practical information for map designers, and academic cartographic design research doesn’t seem to have found a comfortable place in the discipline of geography as design has in fields such as landscape architecture, architecture, and planning (and this, in the end, is my big problem with academic cartography – it has not done a great job of keeping up with all sorts of interesting conceptual developments in geography – but that is my own hang-up). Academic map design folks did get lots of dispersed map design know-how gathered together in text books, made it possible for map design to be taught at universities, and established cartographic labs (I wonder how many map designers developed their skills in those cartographic labs?). Alas, classic cartography texts (such as The Elements of Cartography and Dent’s Thematic Cartography) are out of date or unavailable, cartography faculty are replaced by GIS folks, cartography and map design classes are replaced by GIS classes, and the cartographic lab has transmogrified into something else – a GIS lab or whatever – usually for, well, making maps (with GIS!).