Written History Needs Maps

Guest post by Pieter S. Burggraaf, 2015

Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it, and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light.

– From the pen of Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911)

The telling of history needs illustrative maps. In a rather simple view, history is the movement of people across geography in the past. Henry Walker and Don Bufkin captured this idea in their wonderful reference book Historical Atlas of Arizona. According to these authors, “History is the story of man—his actions, his comings and goings, and his settlements. As most of mankind’s actions and travels and the places” where men and women settled are “controlled by natural settings—terrain, climate, geography, and even geology—an understanding of the land is essential to an understanding of history.”(1)

Unfortunately, in so many books today about historic events, and even many of the classic books of yesterday, the text usually screams for a map to illustrate where events happened and what the people of the times thought they knew about the lay of the land. In many written histories, the maps used seem to have been an afterthought with authors or publishers plugging-in whatever they could find. Many times, the maps used do not provide the details that are necessary to support the text where the maps are called out. Often the maps used are disconnected from the period of history being discussed. Or, large maps are crammed into a small book format rendering them illegible.

When I began writing The Walker Party, The Revised Story my goal was to put equal effort into the many maps that I felt the work needed. It took some time for me to get map-making right—almost six months—but I eventually taught myself some basic cartography and developed techniques that suited my limited skills.

So, I have created each map in this book to fit legibly on a book-size page. Where possible, I have based the background geography and the positions of rivers, towns, and other geographic locations upon a period map. Each of my maps includes notation about its source. In addition, some of the maps in this book include reproductions of the original hachures—the classic symbols for representing geologic relief in cartography—from the source map.

Readers who are familiar with the areas depicted on the maps in this book will undoubtedly find misrepresentations compared to today’s maps. These should not be considered errors as such, but rather indicative of the incomplete knowledge of the territories of New Mexico and Arizona at the time. This will help the reader understand why the people in this story were often off by many miles when describing where they were or where they were going, or in many cases simply had no clue as to their whereabouts.

Finally, I have written extended captions that enable each map to stand alone with its intended information. I believe that you will find the maps that accompany this revised, more expansive story about the Walker party very informative, and I trust that the text will be equally rewarding.

by Pieter S. Burggraaf, 2015

Notes for Written History Needs Maps:
(1) Henry P. Walker, Don Bufkin, Historical Atlas of Arizona, Second Edition (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press,1986), iii.

Excerpt from The Walker Party, The Revised Story: Across New Mexico and Arizona Territories and up the Hassayampa River, 1861-1863, by Pieter S. Burggraaf, available from Used with permission. Read more about the book and view more of the maps in the Ortelius Showcase.

[Footnote to my readers: This article originally posted on the website, I thought it surely worth reposting. Forgive the shameless reference to my own commercial ventures.]

Indianapolis’ Most International Public Schools

Central Indiana is the epicenter of an explosion of English language learners (ELL). Where I live in Nora, our neighborhood elementary school is one of those hit hardest by rapid change. In April, The Star, Chalkbeat Indiana and WFYI Public Media collaborated on a week-long series of articles documenting the impact of the rising ELL population in Indianapolis’ schools. If you are interested to learn more, this well written article provides a back story to where we are today: As immigration reshapes Indianapolis, schools struggle to keep up.

To be sure, there are many interesting questions about the who and the why. But of course my favorite question is, “Where are those schools?” Using CartoDB’s web mapping tools, I created a simple multivariate map that displays the percentage of English language learners (ELL) school population and their relative size of enrollment. It is interesting to see the distribution of these high ELL schools, particularly noting those in Nora and Indy’s west side.

What the map doesn’t show is school performance. A few of the schools in red, those with the very highest ELL population in the state, also demonstrate high achievement. For example, on the west side of Indianapolis, in 2013-14, Carl Wilde School 79 received an “A” as its final letter grade for school accountability from the Indiana Department of Education. This is a school that consistently shows exemplary performance year after year. Nearby, Meredith Nicholson School 96 received a B as its final letter grade, a two letter grade increase from the previous year. With extremely high ELL populations, these school merit further study as examples of successful integration of ELL students without sacrificing school performance.

The Geographic Inequalities of Broadband in Indiana

Indiana is participating in the National Broadband Program as a multi-year, multi-agency effort to map areas in the state that are currently served by the state’s 170+ broadband providers. The results from this will be integrated into a national broadband availability map, and will provide a solid foundation for future broadband deployment efforts at the state and national level.

“Broadband access supports our economy, attracts businesses, and enables Indiana to be globally competitive.  It improves the quality of life for Hoosiers through better communication and learning,” says Jim Sparks Indiana Geographic Information Officer regarding Indiana’s participation.

The mapping portion of the program intends to identify areas that are underserved and ideally expand access to those areas. Indiana is an active participant in the program, and rightly so – several areas of the state and key demographics are currently underserved. From an user interface perspective, personally I find the national broadband availability maps (different from the IndianaMap) leave something to be desired. I find them generally too technical to communicate much to the average consumer, though they surely are packed with information that will assist at the national program level. Be sure to look at the “Show Gallery” link at the bottom of the page for some nice perspectives (it is easily missed). As a work in progress, it is also worth keeping in mind that the maps may over-represent some areas and under-represent other areas based on individual states’ current participation in the mapping program.

Lest we underestimate the potential impact of the broadband program in Indiana, let us look at the current “state of the state” according to another source,

Indiana on the Patchwork Nation Broadband Map

Wow. Indiana really stands out.

Interactive Map of U.S. Oil Imports Since 1973

RMI (Rocky Mountain Institute) provides a timeline-based interactive map depicting the U.S.’s historical imports of oil since 1973. Map controls can slide to specific dates and highlight five periods by major oil crises, including history briefs in the sideline. Map units can be displayed in oil or U.S. dollars. Map can also be put on auto-play. This is a well-done interactive map and interesting visualization of the flow of resources over time.

Rocky Mountain Institute is an independent, entrepreneurial nonprofit think-and-do tank™ that drives the efficient and restorative use of resources (from the RMI website).


Mapdiva to Make New Mapping Software for the Mac

I’m pleased to announce the launch of Mapdiva, LLC, a partnership among Graham Cox and Jill Saligoe-Simmel, to develop Ortelius™ – powerful map illustration software for Mac OS X. Ortelius is characterized by its ease of use and beautiful graphics capabilities for which Macs are known. Our new company anticipates the release Ortelius in the first quarter of 2009.

Role of Sketching in Map Design Layouts

Sketch map figure from Slocum 2005

Hand-drawn sketching plays an important role in the digital arts. The larger a project is, and the more concepts a client will need to see, the more sketching will prove its worth in your design process. Consider using rough sketches for composition or layout options in your next project. Or push yourself to do a handful of thumbnail sketches before firing up your cartography software of choice. Create ten well thought out map design options (not seven to make three look good).  Select three and refine each.  Select one for final design.

In Role of Sketching in the Design Process, Sean Hodge discusses sketching for rapid concept development in traditional design.  This same process should be considered in cartography.

Cartographer as Designer – It’s a Process

Example Map by XNR Productions

Those who design maps for use by others engage in a specialized form of communication.  They create images to represent physical and phenomena in three-dimensional space, but they create them on two-dimensional surfaces. To do this effectively, a cartographer must understand not only the phenomena on which the maps are based, but also how to work with them to communicate information to others.  No amount of skill with computer software can rescue a map that displays a lack of understanding of the cartographic design process. Read more

ScapeToad Cartogram Software

ScapeToad is an interesting, free, stand-alone cartogram software for Mac, Windows (and available platform independent). ScapeToad 1.1 is available for download under a GPL license.

Classical thematic mapping displays spatial patterns of theme or series data depicted on familiar reference maps of standard land-area polygons, which are typically distorted only by the selected projection. A cartogram is a map in which some thematic mapping variable – such as travel time or Gross National Product – is substituted for land area. The geometry or space of the map is distorted in order to convey the information of this alternate variable. There are two main types of cartograms: area and distance cartograms. To see examples, provides a nice collection of cartograms.

(from the ScapeToad website) “The visualization of social phenomena through classical thematic mapping often leads to unsatisfying representations… Cartograms are a well-known technique used to compensate for this inconvenience by breaking the link between statistical regions and their topographical areas. Consequently, this liberates one visual variable (that of polygon size) for a more relevant use, such as the representation of the relative social importance of these regions (usually measured by the size of their populations), while leaving intact their topological relations.”

Flex Projector for Interactive Creation of Map Projections

Flex Projector is an interesting new program for anyone who has ever been interested in map projections. The program provides a great hands-on interface for understanding more about how map projections work as well as to create your very own. Alpha 0.32 was released 1 April 2008 for Linux, Mac and Windows by Bernhard Jenny, Oregon State University, and Tom Patterson, US National Park Service.

According to their website ( Flex Projector is a freeware, cross-platform application for creating custom world map projections. The intuitive interface allows users to easily modify dozens of popular world map projections—the possibilities range from slight adjustments to making completely new projections. Flex Projector is intended as a tool for practicing mapmakers and students of cartography. It took a couple tries to get the shape files to show up in the map window, but once they did I was off and running. Very ingenious application. I think this will become standard material for every introduction to cartography class out there. Its well worth a look for all mapping professionals.