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Welcome to the website of the International Cartographic Association
Welcome to the website of the International Cartographic Association
Map of the Month 04/2014: Back in time feature on Géoportail
Map of the Month 03/2014: Tongariro National Park
Map of the Month 02/2014: Collins World Watch

President’s Blog: It’s OK to be a Cartographer!

A graffiti wall in Dresden, 2013

A graffiti wall in Dresden, 2013

In my opening address at the International Cartographic Conference 2013 in Dresden, Germany I argued, that there is quite some confusion about the status, relevance and importance of Cartography. While the term “map” is most popular and sees its arrival in big business debates amongst major software companies, in mass market applications related to new technologies such as mobile devices or in the mass media, the term cartography provokes the question “Is that still around?” It is more likely that those, who are involved in making maps nowadays call themselves not a cartographer but rather something else.

I argued further, that the enormous relevance of the ever growing amount of geodata and geoinformation can only be “unleashed” when it becomes accessible to human users. To make geodata and geoinformation accessible to human users means to try to package it in a way that it can be perceived, “digested” and used, thus simply communicated. I argued further, that this was and is exactly the aim and contribution of cartography. Maps are most successful in being the interface between spatial data and human users. They order information based on the spatial attribute, they engage to explore, the can be entertaining, they help to become spatially aware, they tell stories, they help me to position myself in a particular topic by showing entities and their relations.

I argued that without this contribution we would be somehow “spatially blind.” Maps enable us to answer space-related questions. Maps can be used to support spatial behaviour. I argued further, that in order to enable spatial thinking, spatial planning, spatial reasoning or decision making cartography is needed. I pointed out that maps are the most successful and powerful instruments to enable spatial awareness.

By looking at those arguments as a way to describe the relevance of cartography as a discipline and the enormous drive and popularity cartography gets from applying most contemporary technologies I argued in my take-away messages:

  1. Cartography is relevant
  2. Cartography is attractive
  3. Cartography is most contemporary

If my arguments are trueg, then there is no need to step back or hide away as a cartographer but rather the other way around. It is of high importance that cartography and cartographers are actively contributing their skills, knowledge, methods and research to the geospatial domains.

I therefore argued, that
It is OK, to be a Cartographer!

Georg Gartner
President of the International Cartographic Association

President’s Blog: How do we name what we do?

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?

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