Drawing the Line by Mark Monmonier

Subtitled “Tales of Maps and Cartocontroversy”, Monmonier’s book attempts to explain how people make the erroneous assumption that maps are inherently truthful. Approached with none of he skepticism people bring to written information, maps are rarely recognized as the ideological symbols and propaganda they are.

Map viewers should question the very basis of a map: Do you accept the maker’s view of the world, their explanation for a geographic patter, or their brand of cartographic presentation, rather than that of the opponent’s? Controversy can also arise when maps are sued as debating strategies, their convincingly crisp lines and labels effectively concealing an argument’s tenuous assumptions.

The book starts out with the Peters  projection controversy, explaining how most maps utilize the Mercator projection and thus distort our understanding of the planet. Continents like Greenland appear larger than Africa, and critics assert this inflates the presence and dominance of North America and Europe (read: white people) in the world order. Bigger is, after all, powerful. Studying different projections in my cartography classes is always a tedious chore; many projections are merely variations of the other or built for a single geographic location. The chapter on projections was actually fascinating, and for the first time I was interested in learning more.

Unfortunately, the next few chapters were repetitive of another book by Monmonier that I recently read — whole passages appeared to be lifted from one book and inserted into the other. And even after the book moved on to other issues, I found my attention waning with each passing page. My interest was peaked again a later chapter when Monmonier picks up the process of legislative redistricting and the issue of gerrymandering.

The book suffers from interesting conundrum — there aren’t enough maps. Odd considering this whole book is about maps and cartography. It’s difficult to understand Monmonier’s criticism of the structure and presentation of maps when you can’t even examine the maps for yourself.

Books Mentioned:

  • Monmonier, Mark. Drawing the Line. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1995. Print. 368 pgs. ISBN: 0805025812. Source: Library.
  • Monmonier, Mark. From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow: How Maps Name, Claim, and Inflame. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006. Print. 215 pgs. ISBN: 0226534650. Source: Library.

The Honors Project:

I read this book for The Honors Project, my own personal challenge to read more books about economics, food, and/or geography in preparation for writing my honors thesis. My goal for this project is to learn as much as I can about these topics so I can formulate better questions and, in turn, produce a better honors thesis. You can find out more information by checking out my introductory post, project post, or spreadsheet of titles.

Book Cover © Henry Holt and Company.
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