World Map of Sediment Yields for Physical Geography

In preparation for exams last summer, around May, one of our physical geography professors, a specialist in hydrology and geomorphology, advised us to learn to draw a world map detailing sediment yields as part of our portfolio of diagrams.

Below is my attempt at doing this freestyle after an afternoon spent doodling the world map



Google Mashups

Google Mashups are another type of digital map work we were doing in our GIS lectures. Google Mashups are the pin maps used on Google Maps or that organisations sometimes use to show where they are. They’re quite easy to make. You just need a Google account. For our course practice we used some made up data about VW dealers in London.

The first step to making a mash up is to enure that the data set has latitude and longitude coordinates


The next step is to sign into google and open google mapsengine. In the options box on the top left corner click on ‘import’, and your screen should look like this:

11Go to the blue ‘select…’ box and select your spreadsheet. The next option it gives you will be to tick which boxes you want mapsengine to use to locate your pins. Tick latitude and longitude


The next option will ask you to choose a column to use as the title of your place marks (the title that will come up when you click on one of the pins).

When you’ve decided what column to use for your pin titles, press ‘Finish’ and then your map should come up something like this:


If you want to bomb Ukraine, you probably don’t know where it is

This is a quick post that follows up slightly on my previous one. In the last post I mentioned a talk from David Pinder, a Reader in Cultural Geography at Queen Mary University who quoted Cuco Fusco and Neil Smith’s critique of the use of maps for military and imperial purposes. I thought it would be interesting to highlight a study that points slightly in the other direction.

Ezra Klein wrote an article on (here) on April 8th, which looked at some research conducted by the political scientists Kyle Dropp, Joshua Kertzer and Thomas Zeitzoff. They asked over 2000 Americans to locate Ukraine on a world atlas, and then asked them if they supported US military intervention in Ukraine (this was at the time of the Maidan protests that looked like it could veer towards civil war). They found a strong correlation between a persons inability to locate Ukraine on a map, and their support for military intervention. In other words, if you couldn’t find Ukraine on the map, you were more likely to support the US bombing it (if you are American).

Maybe having knowledge of map isn’t such a dehumanizing thing after all.

Living Maps Seminar – Questioning the primacy of the map


cc. Waag Society/Esther Polak 2002

This is the third of the Living Maps 2014 seminar series, and the second I have been able to attend. It was held on March 11th at the Geography Building at Queen Mary University in East London (which has the unique situation of having a Jewish cemetery right in the middle of the campus).

Consisting of another three lectures, it dealt primarily with the issues of power, and the use of cartography as a way of imposing control over landscapes, and the use of counter-mapping to oppose this.

The seminar started with a talk from Øyvind Eide, a senior analyst at the Unit for Digital Documentation, University of Oslo. His talk, ‘Sand in the map making machinery’ looked at the problems of illustrating a landscape on a 2D map from a theoretical perspective. This follows on a bit from the talks that were given at the previous seminar which looked at how the map on its own was inadequate for the task of recording and presenting local knowledge and memories. Øyvind quoted a Sami poet and dramatist, and former reindeer herder, Rawnda Carita Eira who said “How could something as complex as the natural world be expressed as a two dimensional map?” The answer was, as expected, that it can’t. At least not on its own, but there is also the problem of what Øyvind called the ‘syntactic difference between the visual and the textual’ and it is this that is his ‘inherent’ sand in the map making machinery. Simply put, the textual and the visual will always convey different information about a place or landscape. On its own a textual description will suffer from vagueness, unspecification and disjunction in which the text will not match the point references of an actual map. Without the a topographical map, the text is easily taken out of context. This is because maps are reflexive – the points on a map are in relation to each other. A is to B what B is to A. Language and description on the other hand does not have the constraint of reflexivity.

Øyvind used a number of examples to illustrate the differences including a 1995 absurd and surreal novel by Kazuo Ishiguro called The Unconsoled in which a man is taken on a journey from one point to another but which turn out to be the same place (a non-geometrical landscape). He also used the example of Peter Schnitler, who in the 1840s was commissioned by the Danish King to map the Scandinavian borders, an area inhabited by semi-nomadic herders, and with little notion of an un-dynamic, permanent border. To understand the landscape Schnitler had to interview farmers who’s farms and neighbouring farms were constantly shifting. Hybridity becomes the key to successful geocommunication, in other words, in much the same way as GPS does today. Texts, maps and other medias produce different images of the world, and the two of them can play together.

The second talk was given by David Pinder, a Reader in Social and Cultural Geography at the Queen Mary, University of London. Entitled ‘Map and be mapped’ it took a critical look at the use of cartography by those in power, the political motivations behind maps and the use of cartography in societies of control. He also looked at the various ways in which artists, cultural practitioners and activists try to intervene in the politics of space. Maps and the practice of mapping have long been tied to powerful interests, state power, imperialism and property ownership. Pinder started with examples of where maps have been used in military circumstances, first citing the Cuban-American artist, writer and feminist Coco Fusco who noted at the time of the Iraq War that the news frequently involved “men in uniforms pointing to, or better yet, walking across maps of the Middle East”, and the Marxist geographer Neil Smith who described the first Gulf War as the first full-scale GIS war. The assertion here is that the map, and the act of mapping can act to de-humanise and abstract real people in real places, and has therefore contributed to warfare, imperialism, conquest and control.

Pinder went on to look at examples of mapping as a means of countering top down control but before doing so cautions against a complacency in critiquing examples of counter-mapping. The greater use of new technologies, for example, needs to be thought about in terms of a context of globalisation and an intensifying digital divide in terms of access. Of no less importance is the very large issue of marginalisation. The encouraged participation of one part of a community may still exclude another, some may even be deliberately excluded (David Sibley has been one of the best at highlighting this with his book Geographies of Exclusion). What are the terms of participation? And how are local voices incorporated? “Mapping”, Pinder says, “counter or otherwise, is done under conditions not of ones choosing, in a world that is already thoroughly mapped.” Furthermore, the inter-relations of places (Doreen Massey again) seems, in my opinion, to be another inherent sand in the map making machinery.

The projects that David Pinder did use to illustrate counter-mapping have, importantly, been designed to stimulate critical thinking through symbolic challenge and disruption and have been constructed from within the systems that they wish to disturb. He gave the examples of

  • Amsterdam Real Time which asked 60 voluntary participants to carry a GPS with them for 2 months, producing a map which is constituted out of the every day movements of the participants (the map at the top of this post). Its purpose was to show how people moved through and used the urban space.
  • Catherine D’Ignazio, who goes under the artist-alias of Kanarinka, created a project called ‘It takes 154,000 breaths to evacuate Boston‘. In it Kanarinka ran the entire Boston emergency evacuation system (installed in 2006) as an attempt to measure the distance in human breaths. It was an attempt at answering the question of how you measure fear in a society obsessed with security and preparedness.
  • Paula Levine, a Canadian-American media artist and professor of art at San Francisco State University, created a project called ‘Shadows from another space: San Francisco-Baghdad, 2004‘ which mapped the missile and bomb sites in Baghdad, Iraq from the US invasion in 2003 upon San Francisco, with each site documented with photographs, maps and GPS coordinates, “the same technology used by the military to target original sites in Baghdad”. The opposition to the dehumanising effects of military maps was further illustrated by a small cannister left at each site which contained the names of all US military personnel who died in the invasion, and how they died.
  • Electronics Disturbance Theatre, a collective of cyber activists, critical theorists and performance artists who campaign for electronic civil disobedience, created the Transborder Immigrant Tool. It uses the GPS systems that the border police use to monitor migrant movement in order to evade the border police and help migrants find the best routes across as well as find water points. The Transborder Immigrant Tool has not simply been a tool to challenge the systems of authority in the US but a case of re-appropriating technology for the sake of life and death decisions.
  • Finally, Pinder gave the example of Hasan Elahi who is currently Associate Professor of Art at the University of Maryland as well as its Director of Digital Cultures and Creativity. Elahi is an interdisciplinary artist who examines issues of surveillance, citizenship, migration, transport, borders and frontiers. His main project was started in response to an incident that occured at Detroit Airport on 19 July 2002. Elahi, who is Bangladeshi born, was detained and interrogated about his movements, during which the FBI (who had mistakenly added his name to the US governments watch list) requested that he log his movements with them. Elahi decided to do that and much more, and started to log his every activity by recording and photographing where he ate, slept, went to the toilet, travelled to etc. His work is the result of his resolve to both pre-empt further problems, whilst raising questions on personal privacy and the selected targeting of individuals by the security services. (watch his TED talk here. It’s excellent!!).

Continuing on the theme of counter-mapping, the final talk came from Iain Boal, a social historian of the commons. Iain Boal is part of a collective of historians, writers, teachers, artists and activists called the Retort Group which had instigated a project called West of Eden. Its purpose is to catalogue and map an ethnography of commons and communal enterprise in the San Francisco Bay area in response to their largely being written out of history and the visual representation of the West today. Today America is characterised by a classical liberal almost-obsession with private property and the contemporary idea of communes is often linked to failure and eventual criminality. But California and the San Francisco Bay area has a history of communards and utopian missions and colonies, and as the ‘wrestling Anglos’s punched their way into the West’ they first declared the land as public. The contrast between todays views on property and the views of the western pioneers was illustrated by Boal with the example of shipyard waste material which at the time was left for whoever needed it. It was not theft but a commons. Boal states that the story of modernity, by contrast, is the ‘construction of scarcity’.

The West of Eden project was not an example of counter-mapping as described by Pindar who used examples of where new technologies have been re-appropriated, but instead an attempt to re-insert and remember a way of life that is anathema to the modern construction of what America is today. The mapping of the utopian missions and communes, at first glance reinforced the idea of their non-permanence until you investigate deeper to discover just how long many of them lasted for, and the various reasons for their eventual failure. Criminality was most often not the end result. Intense poverty often was, however. Their eventual failure was occasionally the result of a lack of carrying capacity where they became too big for the space they occupied, such as the Morning Star Ranch which was founded in the 1960s. The main reason, however, was their eventual eviction by the state authorities. Boal notes that what typically happened when a commune was set up was that the authorities would try and come after it, usually using planning codes as a legal means with which to do so. One particularly interesting example Boal gave was of the Native American occupation of Alcatraz which lasted for 19 months from November 1969 to June 1971 which towards the end dwindled in population due to a kind of dilution of its original purpose but was eventually forcibly removed after having been essentially embargoed by the State.

It would be immensely difficult, if not a little daft, to say that criminality and the cult-of-the-leader were evils that did not occur. They almost certainly did. Yet Boal argues that in many cases the problems laid with a particular tragedy of the commons. But rather than the tragedy that Garret Hardin wrote about in his essay of the same name, it was an altogether different tragedy. Garret Hardin highlighted how in a grazing commons, there is an incentive for a farmer to over graze as the benefits accrue to him, but the costs are born by all. In the communes in California, however, the tragedy was that however many times a commune was attempted, there was always someone with enough power to shut it down.


The second project that Iain Boal mentioned was the May Day Rooms, located in London’s Fleet Street. Like the West of Eden project, it was set up as a means to archive examples of social, cultural and political dissent and describes itself as a “safe house for vulnerable archives and historical material linked to social movements, experimental culture and marginalised figures and groups”. And like the West of Eden project, it aims to reinsert what often becomes a forgotten history. (The May Day Rooms website can be found here).

While Øyvind Eide started by looking at the problem of contextualisation of a map vis-a-vis visual and textual representations, David Pinder and Iain Boal took this further to show how maps have been re-appropriated in order to add context to space and the people who have inhabited it. Pindar gave examples of how the technologies that governments use have been used to challenge policy. Boal showed how the history of dissent has largely been removed from official information and maps, and gave examples of projects which have sought to safeguard that history. What all have shown, however, and what the themes of the seminars so far have shown, is that mapping and GIS are useful tools, but on their own do not allow for the full diversity of human experience. The seminars have not been seeking specifically to provide answers but instead to bring to the fore debates on contested issues, encouraging you to think critically on the motivations behind a map and to think about the particularly important issues of marginalisation, exclusion, surveillance and the attempts by authorities to create public order and a conforming public.


*The Living Maps seminars is a series of seminars and lectures, running one Tuesday a month which explores new directions in critical cartography. The next seminar is at the UEL Docklands Campus on May 13, 6-8.30pm, titled ‘Marginalised Bodies, Liminal Spaces’ which looks at issues of disability and the fight for access to the city.

*Links on the speakers:

  • Øyvind Eide

  • David Pinder

  • Iain Boal

The Living Maps Seminar Series 2014


There is currently a series of seminars under the umbrella title of Living Maps (see doing the rounds in London once a month at the moment. I managed to get to the second one yesterday titled Hidden Histories. It consisted of three talks by three different speakers and was a fascinating look at how the histories and voices of communities get overlooked. One of the overriding messages of the seminar was how maps themselves are insufficient as a medium for recording the memories, and hidden histories that exist in places.

Halima Kanom, who works at the Museum of London Docklands and created the site Wander East Through East, gave a talk on the old Limehouse Chinatown in London. The talk was of particular interest to me because it has been an intention of mine to produce an illustrated map of the old Chinatown in Limehouse, ever since I discovered its historical existence on a Birkbeck field trip last year that consisted of a guided trail around the East End district of Bishopsgate. Halima created an audio trail called ‘Wander East through East’, as part of her MA in Heritage Studies, exploring the original Chinatown in London. She gave me a number of interesting sources to look through and I will update on it as and when I make more progress on it.

Toby Butler’s talk linked very closely with Halima’s. A lecturer at the University of East London, he has led community-created projects to produce memoryscapes of local areas, particularly at Royal Docklands in the East End. Both he and Halima use oral histories and different digital medias to offer a different, more immersive way of visiting and learning about a place.

Toby’s lecture was on projects that seek to interview communities in order to create, alongside them, a trail through the area. The aim is to incorporate locals in the promotion of their area and to enable visitors to gain a much more in depth knowledge of a particular area, through the promotion of local knowledge. Toby described it as ‘providing thickness to a place’. One of the specific issues he brought up was the issue of censorship when producing maps of the trail. A great deal of information was collected from community interviews, only a small amount of which is ever able to appear on trail maps. Further to this, he also raised warnings about the sponsorship of such projects, and that sponsors will often want to present certain images. He gave an example of an interview with an old man who lived in the Royal Docks who spoke of the gang crime that existed when he was a lad. His last line was ‘it existed then, just as it exists now’. The local council who had sponsored the project did not want the interview to appear because of the negative image it presented of the area. Toby felt he had to acquiesce. However, he makes sure he always quotes the interview when giving talks on the subject.

Another issue he raised, which is more specific to the act of making maps, was the interconnectedness of places. He cited Doreen Massey who wrote about how every space connects with lots and lots of other spaces. As such, creation of a map becomes difficult for those very same reasons of censorship mentioned above. How, when local areas contain so much local knowledge and histories, that are connected to so many different spaces, histories and memories, do you physically map such knowledge?

No less related to this, and possibly the most interesting talk to me (particularly as for the last 10 years a great deal of my work has been in horticulture) was given by Bob Gilbert, a former Director of Sustainability at Islington Council, now a journalist and author of The Green London Way (2013). Bob takes a forensic natural history approach to the study of urban environments, using urban flora and fauna as an archaeological tool with which to discover the past. He gave a number of London examples including the London Rocket, a white flowered member of the mustard family which rocketed into growth following the Great Fire of London in 1666. Though it has largely disappeared it still exists in pockets as a form of living archaeology. Another example included another member of the mustard family, commonly called the Brown Mustard which seeded from the plants imported by Bengali immigrants to London’s East End.

It reminded me of a project that the Arnolfini in Bristol undertook. A Brazilian artist Maria Theresa Alvez mined the ballast heaps that ships dumped at the mouth of the Avon at the height of the British Empire, for seeds. She then cultivated them and created a garden from them on a barge on the river. It is a fantastic example of the rich, global history of an area.


The ‘Seeds of Change’ project barge in Bristol. Photos courtesy of Max McClure

The seminar left me with a question that I wish to explore a bit more, which is how a map could be designed which would display the transient, dynamic, and inter-linkedness of human life, memory, history, and relationships between people and place.

I have a few basic ideas, which I will post more on as I develop them.

*The Living Maps seminars is a series of seminars and lectures, running one Tuesday a month which explores new directions in critical cartography. The next seminar is at Queen Mary, University of London on March 11, 6-8pm, titled ‘Grounding Knowedge’ which asks the question – if maps are graphic propositions about the world, how does their reading differ from that of texts or cultural memoryscapes?

*Links on the speakers:

  • Bob Gilbert

  • Toby Butler

and on memoryscapes:

  • Halima Khanom

The benefits of GIS

Maps, as I have mentioned before, are simply infographics. More specifically, they are data visualised spatially, over distance. So far this blog has only talked about hand drawn maps, due, quite simply to the fact that I have before now, not had any experience at geographical information systems (GIS) software. I have recently completed a GIS module at Birkbeck, as part of my geography degree and as such, I would  like to elaborate a bit more on GIS as a whole. Whether done digitally or by hand, GIS is simply mapping. It has become a firm discipline in its own right now, and due to its spatial approach, it offers huge benefits to the analysis of data.

The father of this approach, was a man called Dr. John Snow, who, in the 1850s, produced a map of cholera outbreaks at the height of an epidemic in Soho, London. The importance of this map was that it was able to locate where the outbreak was centred. Snow’s map contained only a small amount of data: street names, locations of residents with cholera, and the location of water pumps. By viualising the epidemic spatially, Snow discovered that the majority of people suffering from the disease lived around one specific pump on Broad Street. In one map, Snow had discovered the source of the epidemic.

Dr. John Snow's cholera map, Soho, London

Dr. John Snow’s cholera map, Soho, London

Dr John Snow

Dr John Snow

Today Snow’s approach is used for all kinds of purposes, from crime to health, demographics and deprivation. For the purposes of the running of our daily lives, GIS shows the position of authority boundaries, the location of hospitals, it routes delivery vehicles, helps foresters manage silviculture, and enables coastal engineers to decide where the best places are to construct sea defences. It has become the bread and butter of the geographers tool kit. My GIS lecturer, Maurizio Gibin, summarized the importance of GIS when he said “Everything happens somewhere. Knowing where some things happen is critically important. GIS is a special class of information systems that keeps track not only of events, activities, and things, but also of where these events, activities, and things happen or exist.”

Below I have uploaded my first attempt at a digital map that was created using software called ArcGIS. It was part of an assignment to show population density data in London, in super-output areas (SOAs) – in this case post code regions I think. Now that I’ve mastered some of the basics, there are a few projects I would like to undertake which I’ll keep under the sleeve for now.


Prior’s Green

Have completely forgotten to post on this. My first commission was to produce a map of the new Prior’s Green estate in Takeley. It still hasn’t been transferred to the council yet so a map of the entire estate has not been made public and it doesn’t appear on OS maps either.

It is a basic map due to the small amount of information available. The north part of the estate was still under construction when I drew up the map so it will most probably be slightly innaccurate when that part of the estate is completed.

The plans that I managed to get for the estate were in fact not wholly accurate to what the estate turned out like, so I had to cross-reference it by walking the estate and correcting slight anomalies. This was unfortunately not possible for the north section of the estate. Ordinarily I would have no problems jumping the fences of half constructed sites to have a look. Unfortunately they were slightly too high for a short guy like myself and so this time it wasn’t possible.

Below is a picture of the Prior’s Green Estate map