For all of us being around in our domain for a while we have witnessed quite some transitions not only in what we do and how we do it but especially also how we name it. We have seen the move from terms like “cartography” to terms like “GIS”, “geomatics”, “geoinformation science”, “geoinformation”, “geovisualisation”, “visual analytics”, “geospatial information management” just to name a few. All those terms have a short history that basically dates back to the inauguration of using computers to make maps.
Maybe you experience as well that it is hard sometimes to describe this “geo-spatial-visual something” to non-industry insiders, but there are universal term that everyone recognizes, and that’s maps and cartography. But, why we are not using this simple, universal and established terms?
Maps are big news right now. Influenced by companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft and the status of maps as a must-have on smart phones and web applications they are very attractive to many. The term “map” seems to see its repeated revival as a contemporary, relevant and attractive term for something contemporary, relevant and attractive.
However, it seems as if the term “cartography” is seen differently. Interestingly enough, often especially by those, who are the experts, the specialists and closely related to the domain. Maybe it is because it feels like it needs a different name to describe that the job we are doing in dealing with maps has become different. Often different technologies and methods are used, something which demands new and often very complex competences. How can it then still be named the same? Is it not necessary that the name describing what an industry is doing, what an expert in a discipline is doing needs to somehow reflect these changed competences which change methods and technologies? Is it not very much needed that I can name what I am doing as something most modern, complex, contemporary, as this will lead to respect, appreciation and recognition? And if I am calling myself a “cartographer”, being involved in “cartography”, will this lead to the same respect, appreciation and recognition, or will I rather be associated with something old-fashioned, out-dated?
There are for sure a lot of rationales for terms being used in our domains, and they all have their relevance. However, it seems as if the term “cartography” seems to become avoided, especially by cartographers, while many of the things being done under the umbrella of other terms could easily simply be called “cartography”.
In communication science we use the theory of semiotics to explain communication processes. In this model, syntactical, semantic and pragmatic dimensions are used. Unlike semantics, which examines meaning that is conventional or “coded” in a given language, pragmatics studies how the transmission of meaning depends not only on structural and linguistic knowledge of the speaker and listener, but also on the context of the utterance. In this respect, pragmatics explains how language users are able to overcome apparent ambiguity, since meaning relies on the manner, place, time etc. of an utterance.
If this is true, then it is an always ongoing process in how we use and understand terms. This use and understanding is influenceable. This applies to the term “map” and “cartography” as well. It is therefore in the interest of ICA to contribute to this process.
While the definition of “cartography” and “map” as published by ICA still lasts back to the 1970s we need to revisit this definitions. You will soon see some related action in this respect, and obviously we are very much interested in YOUR perspective and understanding.
How do you name what you are doing?