Mark Monmonier



When silos fall in love: new meaning to the notion of being supportive.
Madison County, New York, February 20, 1993.

The National Refill Association—defending your constitutional right to a "Second" cup of coffee since 2009. You may have my coffee mug when you pry it from my cold dead hands.

"Drawing power," indeed. Our local mall developer used this map to convince gullible politicians to reduce the tax on his existing property, Carousel Center. Millions of people would come to Syracuse to shop, he claimed, and the resulting sales tax revenue would amply compensate city and county governments for the lost revenue. It worked—the map, that is. The developer had no new tenants lined up, and his partly finished addition was boarded up after CitiBank refused to advance any more money for the project. Although the Syracuse Post-Standard was largely skeptical, it ran this version of the Destiny USA map on December 3, 2002.

My GPS navigator suggested a surprise detour off NY 5 into a subdivision near Utica. Apparently the two sections of highway were connected only through the side road, off to the right. [This was my second GPS, a Garmin Nuvi 360. It was stolen in August 2011, when the car was parked—locked, I'd thought—at the BJ's Wholesale Club in East Syracuse, NY, where a week later I bought my third GPS, a Garmin Nuvi 1490T. Not only did the 1490T cost only a third of what I had paid for the 360, but its screen is larger and its labels more legible. So far no needless diversions.]

Old family photo, Lake Placid, NY, mid-1980s.

Is the Mercator projection really Eurocentric?

Parody of Nazi geopolitical maps developed for my graduate seminar on cartographic propaganda.

My brief career as a cartoonist: neither Trains nor The New Yorker was interested.

Sign in Boonville, NY: Residents' days might be numbered, but must the name underscore the point?

Budapest, Hungary, 2005 International Conference on the History of Cartography.

My daughter Jo, aware of my fondness for the Visibility Base Map, suggested this image.

Geographic ignorance or haste makes waste? (an AP news map from the 1980s)

Five Islands, Maine (August 2005), with me in the foreground—added 10 months later with Photoshop.

Wiscasset, Maine, August 2004.

Marge and I share our home with several felines. On warm days Gretta (above) relaxes in the sink.

The mission at Carmel, California (May 2005), with me again. (Gretta got into the sink all by herself. Really.)

Milking a familiar slogan?

Triomphe of representation: my photo with Paris Hilton.

Ironic juxtaposition of signs on the Washington coast (2004). As far as I know, it's still for sale.

Rants, etc.

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.

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.'"