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Welcome (with an apology)

Like many personal websites, this one has not been updated conscientiously. That disclosed, I am attempting some appropriate changes as time permits. Wish me luck: what you're seeing here is a work very much in transition, if not progress.


As a university professor and writer working in Upstate New York, I taught courses on map design, geographic information policy, environmental hazards, and map history at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. I had worked there from 1973 until May 2021, when I retired. SU has been a great academic home, and they must have liked my work because in 1998 I was promoted to Distinguished Professor. Upon retirement I became Distinguished Professor Emeritus—emeritus status is more or less automatic as long as a colleague remembers to nominate you. The big honor was SU's giving me its Lifetime Achievement Award for 2021.


The ultimate recognition occurred when the American Association of Geographers, at its March 2023 meeting, in Denver, bestowed its own Lifetime Achievement Award (one of four for the 2023 "class") "for his profound scholarly influence on the fields of cartography and geographic communication, for his impactful teaching and mentorship, and for his service to the discipline of geography and to the AAG."

Fascinated by innovative mapmaking technologies and the growing diversity of map uses, I have writen 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 was also editor of Volume Six of the History of Cartography, a massive multi-volume 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. It was a decades-long slog but in 2015 the University of Chicago Press published “V6” as a million-word, 1500-page encyclopedia.

My teaching and writing were so nicely intertwined that a distinction between ‘day job’ and avocation was 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 were especially valuable because I could 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 still maintained for me at SU's Maxwell School, I had 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 what you see here was launched.

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 chair. My better personal anecdotes mostly involve maps, and I relish working them into my books. If you're curious, check out Adventures in Academic Cartography, the memoir I published through Amazon in 2014.

In November 2016 I was inducted into the GIS Hall of Fame, an honor conferred by the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA), and in early 2022, the American Association of Geographers named me an AAG Fellow, class of 2021. (In 2004 I was named an ACSM Fellow by the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping, but alas the ACSM disintegrated in 2012, and CaCIS, its geospatial successor, has no honorary fellows.) Other honors include a Gugenheim Fellowship, awarded for 1984–85 by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship; Syracuse University, Chancellor’s Citation for Exceptional Academic Achievement (1993); the Pennsylvania State University, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, Centennial Fellow (1996); Association of American Geographers (the AAG's old name), Media Achievement Award (2000); American Geographical Society, O. M. Miller Medal “for outstanding contributions in the field of cartography” (2001); Canadian Cartographic Association, Award of Distinction “for exceptional scholarly contribution to the field of cartography” (2002); Association of American Geographers, 2002 Globe Book Award for Public Understanding of Geography, for Spying with Maps (2004); Syracuse University, Excellence in Graduate Education—Faculty Recognition Award (2005); Outstanding Research Award, Syracuse Chapter of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society (2007); the Pennsylvania State University, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, Charles L. Hosler Alumni Scholar Medal (2007); German Cartographic Society, Mercator Medal (2009); and YMCA’s Downtown Writers Center, Central New York Book Award in Non-Fiction, for Lake Effect (2013).


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.

MaxDiffBdys (846 KB)

“Monmonier Algorithm” article