M.E. Denil

Conservation International, Center for Applied Biodiversity Science, Washington, DC, USA



A map is an extremely complex entity; operating simultaneously on several levels, leveraging a variety of experiences and learned responses, and speaking directly to each map user. The manner in which this takes place is correspondingly complex. The Semiotic function of the map as a sign, and as collection of signs, is one aspect of this, although this and other mechanistic explanations of the map cannot by themselves address the central question of quality: what is it that makes a map, and what makes it a good map? The difficulty is compounded when one considers that quality is, necessarily, an aspect defined by an interpretive community for itself; someone's good map is not necessarily everyone's good map.

It seems clear that some quiddity or map-icity observed to be present in a good map is in fact something negotiated between the map (as prepared by the map maker) and the map user (as a member of an interpretive community). This negotiation is carried out in a performance involving the map and user(s); yet the map (as a constant) must be prepared to meet, engage, and persuade any number of potential users bringing any number of expectations and understandings to the map. This paper investigates this operation at the nexus of craft, semiosis, and conceptual core in order to bring each particular aspect into sharper focus and to point the way to a broadly applicable and useful cartographic theory.