Paisatg-e / Paisaj-e / Landscap-e / Paysag-e





Cartography and landscape

Carme Montaner
Director of the Map Library, Cartographic Institute of Catalonia

Upon reading the recent publication of presentations given at the seminar, "Challenges in Mapping the Landscape: Territorial Dynamics and Intangible Values", organised by the Landscape Observatory, it is clear that we need to rethink the concept of maps and their function in our society, at least their role these last two centuries. Inexorable technological progress has allowed for millimetric precision in today's maps. And this isn't just a question of Internet which offers us the possibility of creating, combining and sharing a large amount of information with some sort of geographical reference.

The question is, how can a map truly represent the feelings provoked by observing a given landscape? Up to what point does a map transmit these sensations along with other data? The map is a tool where its creator codifies information which the user later deciphers. What language can we use to transmit intangible values between the mapmaker and the user?

The first experiments in this field have been in the art world. The power of maps as images but also the multimedia applications available, such as constant updates by anonymous users through mobile devices, have opened new horizons for artists who are slowly entering the world of mapmaking.

The landscape catalogues published by the Landscape Observatory also represent an excellent platform to reflect on the future of cartography. The challenge of having placed all a given landscape's content on a map makes clear the tool's failures. In fact, they have led to a theoretical reflection on the tool used in order to research new possibilities. This newly published book of presentations serves to gather proposals, identified gaps and doubts by observers who have been unable to transmit all the landscape values through a conventional map. For this reason, the authors have expressed the need to find new ways to represent them.

A look back can also probably help us in this search. In ancient maps, such as Medieval nautical maps, their makers filled in continents with texts and drawings with references to myths and legends about those unknown places. For example, an image found in numerous old maps is the Mallorcan sailor, Jaume Ferrer, and his boat sailing towards the Cape Verde islands on a trip from which he would never return. Then there are the maps of the Americas, featuring men with enormous feet and holding a parasol to protect themselves from the sun in areas about which the only thing known was that they were very hot. Through these examples we can see that the representation of territories in maps combines measureable values (which are later unique to maps) as well as other information which is later excluded. Today, however, multimedia tools enable us to recover this content with the inclusion of texts, photos or sounds embedded in digital maps. The Cybercartographic Atlas of Indigenous Perspectives and Knowledge put together by the University of Ottawa is a step in this direction, but a long road still lies ahead.

The Landscape Observatory's contributions lead us, rightly so, to rethink maps from a theoretical point of view: what do we have to represent on a landscape map? We also have to think about up to what point we have to map landscapes. When a map represents a given landscape element, to what extent can it even change that landscape? I'm thinking, for example, if the representation on maps of spaces such as non-places as defined by the French anthropologist, Marc Augé, can end up being transformed into places. Without doubt, we need to reconsider up to what point representations on maps can transmit or constitute a landscape.

The debate on cartography and landscapes is an exciting one. New tools, new relations such as collaborative projects which break the current, rigid mapmaker/user structure, and, especially, new paradigms have to allow us to define 21st century cartography.

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