A university professor and writer working in Upstate New York, I teach courses on map design, geographic information policy, environmental hazards, and map history at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. I’ve been here since 1973, and like it. SU must like what I’m doing because in 1998 they promoted me to Distinguished Professor.
Fascinated by innovative mapmaking technologies and the growing diversity of map uses, I write books that explore the impact of cartography on society. Unlike most map historians, I focus on the twentieth century, a period rich in intriguing stories of misguided propaganda and technological trauma but poor in the rare and often expensive collectables that drive most cartographic scholarship for earlier periods. Convinced that what mapmakers do or don’t do affects us all, I enjoy the challenge of providing accessible insights for the general reader.
I’m also editor for Volume Six of the History of Cartography, a massive project launched in the late 1970s by Brian Harley and David Woodward. Until his death in summer 2004, David was my co-conspirator in planning Volume Six, which focuses on the twentieth century. Planning got serious early in the new millennium, thanks to a grant from the Science and Technology Studies program at the National Science Foundation. If all goes well, “V6” should be available around the end of the decade as a million-word, 1500-page encyclopedia.
My teaching and writing are so nicely intertwined that a distinction between ‘day job’ and avocation is impossible. I enjoy working with students, especially in design courses, where you can observe learning occur—the same reason, I’m sure, that many highly talented people like teaching first grade. And graduate seminars are especially valuable because I learn from my students.
Setting up an author website like this one was (and still is) a challenge. Personal websites have always seemed narcissistic, and aside from a personal homepage maintained for me at the Maxwell School, I've never had one. After all, why should anyone care about my misadventures in textbook writing or mixed feelings about e-mail? And do I really want to share these thoughts in public? But the opportunity to explore a new medium proved irresistible, so here we are.
Because the point of an author’s website is to sell books, it’s important to furnish cover art, capsule descriptions, and snippets of good reviews, all of which are here. And it’s apparently cricket to indulge in some shameless self-promotion, which you’ll find here as well. But suitably subtle, I hope.
I envy the author who can claim a skilled manual craft, outdoor occupation, or job experience in law, law enforcement, or finance. The best I can do is four summers searching microfilm as a file clerk for the Social Security Administration, several years (summers mainly) as a part-time research geographer with the U.S. Geological Survey, and sporadic service as expert witness for a handful of cases, only one of which actually went to trial.
Despite a dearth of scars and captivating job titles, I have some entertaining stories, like the time I left my first academic job (at the University of Rhode Island) after the dean threatened to make me department chairman. My better personal anecdotes mostly involve maps, and I relish working them into my books.
The “Monmonier algorithm”? Through the early 1990s my work focused on algorithms (computer recipes) for geographic analysis and map design. It’s gratifying when a technique you devised decades ago finds new uses in another field—like biological research. In 2004 Franz Manni, Etienne Guérard, and Evelyne Heyer, researchers at the Museum of Man, in Paris, published an article titled “Geographic Patterns of (Genetic, Morphologic, Linguistic) Variation: How Barriers Can Be Detected by Using Monmonier’s Algorithm” in Human Biology (vol. 76, pp. 173-90). Having “implemented Monmonier’s (1973) maximum difference algorithm in a new software package to identify genetic barriers,” they report that “this improved Monmonier’s method is highly reliable and can be applied to nongenetic data whenever sampling locations and a distance matrix between corresponding data are available.” To download a PDF file with my original paper, published in Geographical Analysis in 1973, click on the link below.
"Monmonier Algorithm" article