Even maps are subjective

Cultural Insights — By on August 28, 2007 at 1:10 pm

Most of us grew up believing that maps and globes were accurate, objective portrayals of reality. At some point, though, we discovered that maps can be as subjective as anything else in the world of politics and diplomacy. That point is explained nicely in a recent article in the International Herald Tribune, about the cartography challenges faced by the Italian mapmaker Nova Rico.

“The problems of cartography are the same that exist in diplomatic relations,” said Stefano Strata, co-director of Nova Rico, which has been producing custom globes for 50 years in Impruneta, near Florence.

For mapmakers like Nova Rico, disputes over geography are commonplace. For a Turkish customer, Cyprus is shown split in two, a division that Greek Cypriots do not recognize. In one globe, Chile gets parts of Antarctica that on another globe go to Argentina. And in much of the Arab world, Israel is nonexistent.

“Maps aren’t faithful portraits of reality but subjective constructions,” said Vladimiro Valerio, an expert in the history of cartography on the architectural faculty at the University of Venice. “Maps reflect the design for which they are to be used. They reflect who commissioned it.”

In sum, he said, “cartographers don’t lie, but they take a position.”

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