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LOOK: Cartography of the Strange LOOK: Cartography of the Strange

LOOK: Cartography of the Strange

by Morgan Clendaniel
October 29, 2009

At its most basic level, the map is a utilitarian device that clearly explains a given geography. At its most adventurous, the map embodies our innately human desire to know what is over the next hill, and the hill after that one, and it tells the stories of how we relate to each other. In that spirit, cartographers both amateur and professional have been embellishing the form over the years, creating all varieties of interesting, artistic, and just plain odd maps. For the past three years, Frank Jacobs's blog Strange Maps has been an increasingly wonderful trove of creative cartography. This Thursday, Jacobs will publish a book of the same name.

All of the works cataloged in Strange Maps: An Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities find a unique way to tweak the generic map, which speaks to Jacob's boredom with the standard form. "I've been a map nut since I was a little kid. I used to read atlases like other kids read books," says Jacobs. "But atlases didn't do it for me anymore, you're just reading the same book over and over."These are maps you're not familiar with. Jacobs's book is filled with cartographic exercises that range from the historical, like a map of Thomas Jefferson's proposal for naming new states in the Northwest territories, to the scientific, like a pie chart of which countries' coastlines offer direct access to Antarctica. And then there are the jokes, like the oft-forwarded map of North America divided between the United States of Canada in the north and Jesusland in the south.In years of running his blog, Jacobs has found that maps hold an appeal, even to viewers who might think they have no interest in cartography. "Maps have a primordial effect on us," he says. "It's a very compelling language that draws you in. Everyone reacts to maps."

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