Maps, Time, Geography: 2 Books to Delight the Mind

Books Education
Image: Princeton Architectural Press
Image: Princeton Architectural Press

I recently had the opportunity to read through two books, unrelated to each other except that they are both put out by the same publisher (Princeton Architectural Press). But they both speak to the same part of my mind: the part that loves visual organization. And it doesn’t hurt that history plays a vital part in both books as well.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved to look at maps. Maps of all kinds. Road maps, house floor plans, diagrams, graphs, and more. I love to know how things work and how they are laid out. When I was a kid, even my favorite Family Circus cartoons were the ones where Billy wandered around doing myriad things, leaving behind him a dashed line so you could follow along as well. I adore any well-done visual representation. I often explain my feelings as graphs. So when I saw these two books, they caught my attention right away.

You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination by Katharine Harmon

Maps help us make sense of place. Physical, mental, procedural, imaginative… All kinds of place. Map out your town. Create a map to get to where you want to be in your life and career. Create a mind map to see where your ideas take you. The map of our solar system, alone, created ripples in history that changed lives.

This book collects all kinds of maps throughout history. Filled with image after image, the book delights with so many kinds of maps. It begins with various maps of the human body, both realistic and fantastical. It then moves on to personal space, art, the larger world, the inner world of fantasy, and more. Some maps are useful, others just nice to look at. Some are thought-provoking, others can be quite controversial. Each map included in the book will interest and/or surprise you. While there are a few traditional maps included, mostly it includes unusual maps that help us see parts of the world and ourselves in different ways. In addition, in between the map collections are map-based personal essays written by others. This book is perfect for any map nerd.

Image: Princeton Architectural Press
Image: Princeton Architectural Press

Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline by Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton

What does history look like? How do you draw time?

Timelines make sense of time, events, and history. They help us to see how things are interrelated by seeing what kinds of things happened around the same time.

This book shows us the great history of representations of time in Europe and the U.S., spanning from 1450 until now, with some dips into the time before the Common Era. Traditional timelines, unusual timelines, and even a chronological board game patented by Mark Twain. Mercator even makes an appearance.

The book goes through representing time through lines, tables, codices, illustrations, genealogical trees, dots, and more. As it often did, astronomy plays a strong role in many of the timelines from the past, and since religion was the context of chronology for so long, we learn much about history from how history itself is represented. Such detail and meticulously done content included in this book is something we don’t see much anymore, since it’s so easy to draw curves and straight lines on a computer.

Much can be learned from how we represent the past. In addition to the history itself, we also get science, religion, culture, art, class, philosophy, education, linguistics and language, technology, style, calendars, geography, culture, and world perspective. Like the book above, this one holds plenty of information and visuals for close perusal.

You Are Here and Cartographies of Time are both wonderful books to study and enjoy, taking your time to notice all of the details. Both maps and timelines are and have always been opportunities for the makers to exhibit their meticulous attention to detail as well as their ability to do art, and these books display those opportunities magnificently.

Note: Copies of these books were provided for review purposes.

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