P.J. Jordan

Austrian Institute of East and Southeast European Studies


Insular maps in the sense of maps on which only a selected area is mapped in full or of maps on which detail does not extend over the whole map face are frequent and even the preferred mode of representation in national and regional atlases. This is understandable, since national and regional atlases as well as atlases of large-scale regions (1) focus on a state or a region with the intention to highlight it and (2) wish to avoid as much as possible comparable data collection also for adjacent areas of neighbouring countries or regions, which can be rather tiresome, even if only a small part of this neighbour country or region is shown on the map face. The rendering of adjacent areas may (3) also urge the involvement of experts from these other countries or regions or may (4) even have political implications in some very specific cases.

Insular representation on topographic as well as on thematic maps has, however, also a couple of disadvantages depending on and varying with map themes. The most obvious is the lack of comparability of the country/region highlighted with its neighbourhood. This disadvantage is mostly deliberately accepted in exchange for the benefits mentioned before. There are, however, also disadvantages much less taken into consideration. A very serious among them is the fact that insular maps do not reflect the full scope of locational relations of places nearby the border or in border regions right in the country/region portrayed. This fact has grown in importance in an integrating Europe, where country borders have changed their meaning and locational relations are ever less affected by borders. Thus, insular representation reduces the quality of information even on parts of the country/region to be highlighted.

The paper will hint at this and other problematic aspects of insular representation by examples of recent national and regional atlases of European countries differentiating between map themes. It will in this way throw a glance into a rather grey field in atlas cartography and contribute to a “cook book” for atlas editors to be conceived in the framework of the ICA Commission on National and Regional Atlases.