Paleocartography vs. neogeography

Richard Treves, whose Google Earth Design blog concerns itself with design issues surrounding the effective use of KML, has been interviewing the chairman of the UK’s Society of Cartographers, Steve Chilton, with part 1 and part 2 now out. Steve Chilton says, among other things:

Now we have the so called neo-geographers […]. The development of tools and techniques such as APIs […], Google Earth and geo-tagging, have considerably lowered the entry level skills for anyone to get into the spatial arena, and massively increased the number and influence of data users (the new map producers). […]

These neo-geographers (or even neo-cartographers) have two particular and notable characteristics. Firstly, they invariably have no knowledge and understanding of cartographic principles, but more importantly don’t care about them. In all probability they would like to turn these principles on their head and even throw them out altogether.

So called?!! :-) What I think distinguishes neogeographers from mere paper cartographers is that because neogeographers often come from a web-development background, they find it normal to separate content and presentation. Meanwhile, virtual globes like Google Earth sidestep the need to compensate for the constraints of a flat sheet of paper when visualizing data. Complaining that neogeographers don’t know their Peters projection from their Mercator projection is like complaining that car drivers these days don’t know how to crank-start an automobile.

I guess I just proved his point:-)

9 thoughts on “Paleocartography vs. neogeography”

  1. Umm. I read this — and then I read the first couple paragraphs, and I instantly stopped after reading this.:

    “The Society of Cartographers (as the Society of University Cartographers actually) was started in the UK in 1964 because it was realised that many cartographers were working in isolation in their one-person or small units and that a forum for communication of techniques and sharing of new ideas would be really beneficial. So, the Society’s aims were set as “fostering and encouraging the study of cartography in all its aspects, and in particular, promoting and maintaining high standards of cartographic illustration”.”

    Why did I stop? The exact same motivations for reducing reclusion in the cartography sphere is what he’s essentially against in the modern ‘neogeography’ sphere.

    The only thing that I see happening, is a parrellel to the same situation they were in prior to organizing and sharing — but yet — sharing and organization does exist to a broader extent now via the Internet.

    Try to get into his little ‘club’ and tell me how willing they are to ‘share’ these days. Give me a break.

  2. Maybe you sure keep reading. Just may have a different opinion or may be not. :)

    It was a good read.


  3. It’s really the same story in this industry, actually. Once you’ve seen it unfold a thousand times over, you really become pretty quick in spotting it in the discussion.

  4. Daniel,

    If you read the whole interview you’ll find Steve explicitly admits that (in his opinion) cartographers aren’t getting out there and communicating their skills to the software makers and neo-geographers. And that isn’t to say that cartographers know it all either, you can’t zoom in on a paper map and that changes lots of things.

    As to getting into their little club, I met him in the first place as he invited me to come to their summer school last year and tell them about Google Earth. He’s (sucessfully :) ) nagged me into coming back this year too.


  5. I really think it’s human nature. Old school vs new school, so to speak. It has always been there and will always be there. Regardless of the industry or segments of society.

    What’s funny is seeing the new school eventually turn into the old school.

    At least there are a few who are trying to bridge and merge the gap. Even if at times it seems fruitless.


  6. Okay, so I read it based on the suggestions here.

    I’m left with the same assumptions that I had initially when reading the entry paragraphs. Although I might agree, to an extent, his rationale for encouraging experienced producers to work with the so-called ‘neo-geographers’ (or cartographers, or whatever he wishes to call them) — he’s actually not counting in that that is what’s happening.

    The make-up of the community-like atmosphere that’s developing in this area is based on a mix of less experienced, but interested and passionate individuals — those who want to see where they can take this, and with a great deal of imagination. A number of us experienced producers are actively helping, encouraging, adding suggestions and feedback where ever and whenever it’s necessary. In fact, I keep receiving messages asking how someone might make their imagery look better — or whether a color-scheme is appropriate.

    We are participating. He just doesn’t seem to recognize it. We add criticism of apps, including and especially those that were designed by Professional Cartographers.

  7. An excellent point has been raised regarding new school becoming old school…

    Decades ago, SYMAP and topology were “new school” the digital cartography revolution, and the “old school” muttered and complained. Much “old school” cartography, mature and established, went out the window as new paradigms were explored.

    And what do you know, once the technology catches up, folks “discover” things like the cartographic work of Eduard Imhof, we have folks like Edward Tufte revisiting and highlighting classic charts and maps with respect to clearly and cogently presenting content, and then these lessons creep back into digital cartographic presentation, as they had previously been pursued in manual cartographic production.

    It’s a classic case of domain expertise and the combined knowledge of an older, established community sneering down their noses, even as part of the market gives way to the ignorant, impatient upstarts geared with fresh technology – but eventually the “old school” catches up and/or is rediscovered, and brings the best of both worlds back into play.

    We’re seeing the same thing with NeoGeo… At some point, some of the novelty will wear off, it will to some extent become part of the mainstream, and many of the ancient, tried-and-true knowledge of cartographers and paleoGISers past will be “discovered” and reintroduced, using the “neo” tools as the medium.

    And the cycle will repeat itself again and again.

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