Contestation: The Movie (502.0KB)
PowerPoint show takes apart contestation . . .
and puts you on track to something more sustaining.
Rob Walker's review in Visual Studies (695.5KB)
The March 2011 issue of Visual Studies includes a New Media Review ("The Lie of the Land: Mark Monmonier on Maps") in which the University of East Anglia's Rob Walker critiques How to Lie with Maps, Rhumb Lines and Map Wars, and Coast Lines.
Time Problem: Ever greatly overestimate the amount of time you have? I did so last Friday, when I was on “Bridge Street,” a local mid-morning TV program, to plug my book Lake Effect. The show’s an hour long, and I figured I probably had ten minutes, and I wondered beforehand how I was going to fill them. When asked how I came to write the book, I mentioned (among other things) that my much of my research focused on the history of cartography, and then I mentioned that I was editor of Volume Six, which addresses the twentieth century, and I mentioned how big Volume Six is was and how long we had been working on it, and that it won’t be in print until late 2014. And when discussing my new book’s seven chapters (Recipe, Discovery, Prediction, Impacts, Records, Change, and Place), I had just started to talk about “Impacts,” when I was thanked for being on the show. One of the hosts graciously repeated the title of the book and indicated that viewers can find it at Barnes and Noble and on Amazon, and then the director quickly cut to a commercial. I can’t believe that I had squandered a good part of my time on a book (however worthwhile) that won’t be out for two years. Stupid. Stupid.
On Email: Electronic messaging is as much a curse as a blessing. Once a quick, cheap solution to telephone tag, it’s hopelessly polluted by indiscriminate forwards, demanding inquiries from complete strangers, and pleas to scam Third World governments or buy boner pills without a prescription.
Raised to respond gracefully to all letters, I now read less than a fifth of the messages in my inbox. (By contrast, snail-mail, especially if it’s handwritten, usually gets read.) And to the consternation of colleagues who assume we all check our inboxes compulsively, I don't. Email is a distraction, and some days I ignore it altogether. Any when not expecting a particular message, I force myself to ignore it until I've finished some real work. It's useful though, for arranging face-to-face appointments with students.
Listservs are a related aggravation. Some are interesting and even useful, but when the banal chatter gets too frequent, I eagerly unsubscribe. One listserve I can't ditch—admittedly, I haven't tried—is geolist, our department's internal newswire. Geolist has become a colossal pain thanks to colleagues who compulsively notify everyone on the list about books they’d like to borrow or forthcoming academic conferences they find intriguing no matter how specialized the book or meeting. The worst offenders are our office staff, who feel it's their duty or forward external announcements from their counterparts throughout the School who think the junk is relevant to every faculty person, staff member, and student in every department. Stop the bombing! Please.
Professorial spam has made the occasional system outage an unexpected delight. And thanks to Outlook's "Out of Office" Assistant, creative email holidays are easily arranged.
Among the most unwelcome electronic messages is the “invitation” to buy something, attend a conference, or submit a manuscript. A good way to deal with this kind of pretexting is to set a rule that will delete any message with “invitation” in the Subject line, or send it to Outlook’s Junk Mail folder. Will this destroy any worthwhile invitations? Possibly but unlikely because welcome invitations from strangers almost always arrive as snail-mail, on paper and perhaps even engraved (as for weddings). Or by telephone, which is inherently personal (or was, before robo calling). I learned to use routing rules years ago when a hyper graduate student started sending email blasts with subject lines starting with a trio of exclamation marks. (In the arsenal of special symbols, the ! should be used sparingly.)
On Book Publishers and Book Reviews: Like most authors, I watch for reviews of recent books, like my No Dig, No Fly, No Go, which drew supportive notices in Choice, H-Net, and Library Journal shortly after its release by the University of Chicago Press in May 2010. The promotions person at the Press had obviously done a great job getting page proofs out to influential periodicals that require an advance copy. I then waited eagerly, and perhaps too patiently, for critical comments in periodicals that prefer a bound, printed copy. She had sent me a list of 122 book review editors and other editorial staff who were to receive a finished copy—seems like a lot, but No Fly was being marketed as a trade book. When not a single review had appeared in a cartographic or geographic journal in more than 18 months following publication, I began to suspect that the review copies were never sent out. I checked with a half-dozen book review editors at publications on the list, and confirmed that none had received a copy. One did have a review scheduled but only because he had taken the initiative, a few months after the book’s release, to request a review copy. I knew that the promotions person with whom I had been working was leaving the Press about the time bound copies became available in the warehouse, and I had no reason to expect anything but a smooth transition. Take-away point: in working with a publisher, don’t assume too much.
Charitable Donations Wasted on Too-frequent Mailings? Tired of repeated mailings that water down the impact of contributions to charities you support? This year we're enclosing a protest letter--click on the above link--with our annual checks. Will it work? Maybe, maybe not. But it's likely to shrink our 'giving list' to charities that don't squander donor support on repeated mailings.
Araders of the Lost Arc/Info? Got an urge to collect maps but don’t think you can afford it? Map collecting is not as expensive as you might think—and there’s no need to become one of Smiley’s people to save a few bucks. An intriguing hobby awaits anyone willing to be persuaded that collectable need not mean very old and extremely rare. For a hint or two, click here. Me? I own some maps I enjoy looking at but find books about mapping more interesting. I’m pretty eclectic too—This Giddy Globe (1919) shares a shelf with my first edition of Robinson’s Elements (1953).
Formulas for Disaster? In his preface to A Brief History of Time physicist Stephen J. Hawkings opines that each mathematical formula in a popular book on science reduces the potential readership by half. I'm not certain where the halving comes from, but the theory is plausible: a prospective buyer picks up a book, thumbs its pages, spots an equation, and moves on to something less arcane. An editor who worked with me on Drawing the Line in the mid 1990s voiced a similar concern and banned any mathematical notation.
Although Hawkings' insertion of a single equation, Einstein's famous E = mc², did little to undermine his book's astonishing success, I was no less uneasy about including a pair of mathematical equations in Rhumb Lines and Map Wars: A Social History of the Mercator Projection. The first is a summation of trigonometric secants derived around 1590 by English mathematician Edward Wright (1561-1615) to calculate the map distance y from the equator to the parallel at latitude φ as
y = d (sec 1′ + sec 2′ + sec 3′ + . . . + sec φ),
where d is the distance along the equator of one minute of longitude. The second is a more computationally convenient formula serendipitously discovered in 1645 by Henry Bond (1600-1678), who recognized that
y = R ln tan (45° + φ/2),
where R is the radius of the globe that defines the projection’s scale. The two equations facilitated the convenient calculation of projection tables that made the Mercator framework available to mapmakers worldwide. For their utilitarian power, they're quite elegant and worth a glance, even though the theory suggests I cut my readership to a quarter of its potential by including them.
If you're a mathphobe, don't be intimidated by the formulas. The book's about their impact, not their derivation.
On Arcane Academese: As editor of The American Cartographer years ago, I declared war on obscure, needless jargon. Revolutionary computer technology required new terms, but a clear, generally accepted alternative was usually at hand.
Techno-geeks are not the only merchants of gobbledygook. Academics eager to “intellectualize” a weak argument often resort to an elitist prattle that’s the scholarly equivalent of the cantankerous Renault Alliance (another French import). What's the point? By most definitions, good scholarship is a serendipitous mix of persistent questioning, systematic analysis, innovative insight, and obsessive but informed digging—with no need, really, for postmodern lingo.
On Editing: As Editor of Volume Six of the History of Cartography, I recruit contributors for over 500 encyclopedia entries covering mapping and map use during the twentieth century. I also monitor their progress; and review, clean up, and (ultimately) approve their manuscripts, often after negotiating enhancements or other changes. It’s always a pleasure to receive an entry from a contributor who understands the subject as well as the need to communicate clearly and point readers to important references.
Less a joy is the occasional need to reshape flabby, uninspired, or incoherent prose—as much fun, I imagine, as cleaning other people’s bathrooms. More onerous still is the continual prodding required to get some contributors to deliver any manuscript at all. Keeping track of tardy authors and renegotiating due-dates consumes over half my research assistant’s time, and a good chunk of mine as well. Far worse is the rare academic deadbeat who blithely reneges on his or her signed contract with the publisher.
On College Teaching: Like editing, classroom teaching has its joys and frustrations. You can lead a course to order, but you can’t make it think—or at least not all class members all the time. Still, the classroom is a powerful magnet for scholars. How else to explain the overproduction of Ph.D.s in humanities disciplines with limited prospects for academic employment except as itinerant or part-time instructors, what Marx might call the lumpenprofessoriate.
On Death and Language: When my number’s up (pardon the cliché), I intend to die, not pass—it’s not a test, is it? (And I never was much good at football.) If I didn’t prefer cremation, I’d be buried in a coffin, not a casket, by an undertaker, not a funeral director.
Skeptic Quoted in The Guardian (London), February 6, 2003, p. 3, "Threat of War: Spy in the Sky Good Enough for Most Experts on the Ground," by Stuart Miller: "Only one specialist approached by the Guardian was unconvinced. Mark Monmonier, an expert in space imaging at Syracuse University, said: 'The Bush administration either has little, or is playing its cards very close to the vest. Of course, what they're apparently looking for is not easily revealed on high-resolution space imagery. So much depends on intelligent inference, but inference none the less.'"