Thursday, April 26, 2018

Money! Knowledge! Geography! — Tracking Vesalius's Fabrica

Coming up for air just briefly to post a fun project with Dániel Margócsy tracking the spread of Andreas Vesalius's famous De humani corporis fabrica — the foundational work of the Western anatomical tradition — from 1600 to the present. Dániel and his collaborators have just published a book about their findings, and I helped map their data to show how copies of the Fabrica have been gradually displaced away from their European birthplace. The big shift happened when the new money of the US, and later Japan, began collecting old books as prestige objects.

Some bonus charts also appear in an article in Slate about how the Fabrica was read — especially for the sexy bits.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Vote for trees!

I'm excited to say that my arborregions project is a finalist for an "Information is Beautiful" award! If you're reading this before midnight on Sunday 10/29, could you spare a moment to follow this link and click VOTE for me? Most of the finalist projects are by professional media outlets, and I'm one of only a handful of individuals on the list. I'm looking for any clicks I can get!

Thank you thank you!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

New Maps of Slavery

I'm happy to share two further iterations of my recent slavery mapping.

First, a collaboration with Matt Daniels (of Polygraph fame) on the historical-geographic relationship between slavery and mass incarceration. Besides showing a remarkable overlap between the two (especially for prisons, but also for short-term jails), this was also an opportunity to put my new bubble-grid mapping technique to good use in an interactive narrative. Because the bubble grid doesn't rely on jurisdictional shapes, it's great for comparing data over very long time spans (200+ years) and for showing urban and rural population at the same time. This project is the second installment of The Pudding, a series of weekly visual essays for 2017. ("The proof of the pudding...")

Second, Michael Ralph and I have published an expansion of our slave-insurance map in the January issue of Foreign Policy. The size of our database increased from about 700 policies (in version 1) to over 1300 policies; the new policies are mostly from the archives of Baltimore Life. The overall pattern is similar — steamboats on the Ohio River, coal mines in Virginia, and skilled labor in Atlantic port cities — but the new data also includes more industrial occupations and information about slave values and premiums.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Trees, Trees, Trees!

Autumn is here — it's time for trees!

Three tree-related projects. First is a relatively simple (but data-intensive) rethinking of tree distributions. Instead of the usual species-level blob maps, I've made a series of maps showing the actual distribution of major tree types, plus some interesting higher-level patterns.

I've then used this same data as a starting point for a new kind of bioregionalist mapping: instead of a few discrete forest regions, I'm defining "arborregions" based on the similarity between a specific place and its wider surroundings. If bioregions are really meant as an alternative to the arbitrary lines of political jurisdictions, they should challenge not just the specific boundaries, but the hardness of those boundaries as well.

Finally, I've also taken a close look at every street tree in New Haven. After the ravages of Dutch elm disease, it turns out that Elm City doesn't actually have that many elms. Instead the city is a weave of a half dozen major tree types, with dozens of others scattered throughout.

And a quick bonus map, too: the apizza region of central Connecticut!

Friday, July 1, 2016


There is a book! At long last, there is a book!

After the Map: Cartography, Navigation, and the Transformation of Territory in the Twentieth Century has just been published by the University of Chicago Press. More info — along with high-res images, raw data, and a bibliography — is available on the book's website, I've spent almost a decade researching, writing, and revising this thing; I hope you like it!

To buy the book, the best prices are listed on

Monday, May 23, 2016

How high are the humans?

A quick bonbon! The global distribution of human beings by altitude: a histogram showing the number of people living at every elevation. Not surprisingly, coast-loving humans are a low-altitude species, and the distribution of humans is quite a bit lower than land in general — not even counting ice domes and barren deserts. Quick take-away: when you look out from the top of the Washington Monument, you are higher than half of everyone else in the world.

I also found some additional data for the early decades of American slavery: 1790 data for what's now Tennessee, plus small tweaks to coastal South Carolina and Indian lands in Kentucky before 1820.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Slavery in the North

The last of my trio of slavery projects: an interactive map of slavery in the north, town by town. Although it's easy to overlook northern slavery in comparison to its huge presence in the south, at the founding of the United States it was a serious part of the northern economy, especially in areas in New York and New Jersey first settled by the Dutch. Over two thousand slaves lived in New York City in 1790, and more than 60% of white families in what is now Brooklyn were slave-owners. Nearly every town in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Rhode Island had at least a few slaves.

The main task of this project was getting the data, but I'm also trying some new techniques for blending interactive and static mapping. Town-level data has always been available for the north (at least after a bit of math), but it has never before been mapped or digitized. Not surprisingly, disaggretating 90 counties — many huge and unhelpful — into 1,600 towns means that new patterns emerge, and it's possible to connect broad trends with local reality in a new way. The interactive map gives detailed information about every town, but I've also made sure that the project can be downloaded as a stand-alone digital poster.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Slavery in the United States

I'm pleased to share a major new project on the history of slavery in the United States. Even after 155 years of mapping slavery, there are still serious shortcomings in most typical maps. My strategy looks for a way around the straightjacket of county-based data and the false impression of spatial precision implied by sharp county boundaries. I incorporate historical data on more than 150 cities and towns; I also use dots instead of counties. Not only does this help to distinguish rural and urban areas (which often had sharply different levels of slavery), but it makes it possible to see population density and the predominance of slavery at the same time. I've posted a graphic explanation of my strategy here.

The project also includes a map of "peak slavery" that shows the maximum number of slaves that ever lived in an area, along with the year of the peak. In the vast majority of the south, slavery was booming right up to the Civil War; only in Delaware, Maryland, and eastern Virginia was slavery in natural decline.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Slave Insurance (and more railroads)

Two things!

First is a collaboration with Michael Ralph on the history of slave insurance in the US. Most insured slaves were highly skilled, and they were disproportionately urban. They were usually rented to others — especially on Ohio River steamboats, in Virginia coal mines, and in skilled trades in Atlantic port cities. In many ways, what we see on the map is an unfree version of the emerging relationship between life insurance and wage labor in the north. And we know their names.

Second is a new version of my map of world railways, updated with new data and a much-higher-resolution download!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Fun with Hemispheres

The final edits on the book are now done! Stay tuned for the great unveiling of After the Map in the spring, probably late March.

In the meantime, I had some fun with hemispheres.

1. Following up on my graphs of population by latitude and longitude from a few years ago, I got curious about other ways to divvy population besides the usual hemispheres of Northern/Southern and Eastern/Western. The big discovery was the Human Hemisphere, which is the hemisphere (out of all the infinitely many possibilities) that contains the most people. But we can also go one step further and calculate the population of every possible hemisphere — including your hemisphere!

2. The other hemispheric enjoyment was a slightly ironic update to Richard Edes Harrison's iconic "One World, One War" map from 1942. Instead of showing a global war of convoys and transcontinental bombers, my version — "One World, One Market" — shows global capitalism interconnected by ships, railroads, and container ports.

3. I also made some quick maps of the land and water hemispheres for Wikipedia.

Finally, on a notably unhemispheric note, I added a quick graph showing the changing demographics of New Haven since 1790. This has likewise found its way to Wikipedia.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

My TEN favorite maps

Another big hiatus! I've been busy finishing my book (on the history of mapping in the 20th century) and caring for my new baby [!], which unfortunately hasn't left much time for making new maps.

But I'm really pleased to have three of my maps appearing in The Best American Infographics 2014 — just released today! And I'm not at all ashamed to admit that being in a book with an introduction by Nate Silver makes me unreasonably excited. One of those childhood dreams I never knew I had?

Also, as a follow-up to Aaron Reiss's interview–profile of me for The Atlantic's CityLab, where I discuss my five favorite maps, I have posted the full set of ten maps that I originally chose for my "long list," before Aaron and I eventually whittled it down to the final five. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Live-Chat about Place ... plus alphabets!

This week I've been a panelist on a Guggenheim Museum forum about space, place, and representation as part of their new exhibit of contemporary art in South and Southeast Asia. So far there have been three rounds of posts; the moderator is the editor of Cabinet magazine, and the two other panelists are an artist and a writer. It's been a good conversation about "spirit," nostalgia, and bottom-up mapping.

This afternoon I'll be taking part in a live chat with the moderator. It would be great to have the conversation be as lively as possible — take a look and join us! Come one, come all! The chat will be at 2pm Eastern.

On a completely unrelated note, I also made a quick map of the alphabets of Europe.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Discovery vs. "Discovery"

What did Europeans actually discover during the Age of Discovery? According to American Indians, not much. But I've been curious about those isolated parts of the world that really were unknown to humans before the 15th century. So this weekend I went ahead and made a map of Europe's original contributions to geographical knowledge, as subject to peer review by the rest of humanity. It mostly shows a bunch of small islands and a whole lot of ice.

The take-away isn't just that humans had already spread around the world by the time that Europeans started looking for new trade routes and tropical riches. There's also an important lesson about the ability for non-Europeans to navigate vast distances and reach most of the world's islands first.

(Note that the research for this map was not always straightforward, as it required integrating present-day anthropology with sometimes-vague historical material. If you know something that I don't know, please let me know!)

Friday, May 24, 2013

Far Rockaway

Another quick weekend bonbon! I'm very pleased to post a map that Aaron Reiss made for Hannah Weyer's forthcoming novel On the Come Up. It shows the neighborhood of Far Rockaway, Queens, as seen by the central character in the book — it's something familiar, comfortable ... and isolated. (It's also a good contender for the best use of white space in all of New York City.)


Friday, May 3, 2013


For your weekend enjoyment, an indulgent exercise in nuance and beauty.

I picked four of the flattest areas I know (and love) and decided to make their flatness sing with the power of a thousand mountains. The result: a series of unfamiliar and wondrous microtopographical landscapes.

Now let's go climb some imperceptible cliffs!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Rorschach Urbanism

Oop! After yesterday's post, I thought of another question.

What's the biggest city in the United States — New York? Los Angeles? How about ... Anchorage! After spending an evening exploring the politics of metropolitan annexation and city–county mergers, I made a quick series of maps of the inkblot patterns of municipal limits — all in comparison to Rhode Island, naturally.

I've also been interested in the contrast in identity-space between the geographically large cities of Texas, Arizona, or Southern California and geographically small cities like San Francisco, Boston, or Washington DC. The contrasts can often be striking: only 8% of the residents of the Boston metro area actually live in Boston proper, while almost two-thirds of the metro residents of San Antonio live within the city limits. Do geographically larger cities enjoy more civic-mindedness, in addition to a wider tax base? My gut says yes, but I'm afraid I don't have any actual evidence yet.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Midwestern States, Midwestern Family, Global Food

Happy spring! It's a beautiful day for maps. I have three questions for you.

1. Where's the Midwest? I went searching, and the results are in.

2. Where's my family from? After a few months of getting dorky with old governmental records, I have some answers.

3. What's for lunch? Animals? Plants? Fungi? Algae? It's a cornucopia of Darwinian delights. (I suppose these aren't really maps in the geographic sense. But perhaps we can see them as maps of time?)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

French Kissing, Revisited

My eight-year-old niece just asked me how many times people in France kiss each other when they say hello. I remembered a fun web-survey project from a few years ago, but I thought that the maps shown on the web simplified the data too much, with each administrative département shaded a solid color — the tyranny of the majority! So I did a quick redesign using the same data, and voilà, we can now see the regionality of French greetings with much more nuance.

The sensibility here is similar to my other dot maps, but by doing a bit of math I found a way for ArcGIS to make smooth pointilist color mixes. The result is a hybrid of dot map and choropleth that seems quite promising for this kind of discrete data.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Four Cities and Some Planets

Whew, it's been a while! Teaching has kept me busy, but now it's time for an update.

I'm very pleased to present a project by Daren Keene, who has been drawing a magical sprawling imaginary city using only a pencil and dozens of 8½" × 11" sheets of paper. Appropriately enough, he's named his city Pencilvania. Daren's maps share a sensibility with the well-known project by Jerry Gretzinger, but the aesthetic is quite different. Daren's maps mix high-tech, organic, and topographic forms into an incredibly detailed landscape that seems to oscillate between cartographic verisimilitude and pure abstraction. Start exploring!

I've also added several maps of my new home, New Haven:
    Maps of age, race, and income.
    Maps of foreclosures since 2008.
    A map of public housing.
    A map of wonderful things to do, contributed by Aaron Reiss.

Working with my fellow historian Sarah Potter, I made some historical maps of segregation in Chicago. These maps have appeared in Sarah's article in the Journal of Urban History and will also appear in her forthcoming book.

Would you like some simple wall maps of housing development in the DC/Baltimore area? They do a nice job showing the transitions between urban, suburban, exurban, and rural.

Finally, I also made some quick diagrams showing the relative sizes of the planets and added data for Venus to my planetary histograms. Exciting times indeed.

Friday, May 13, 2011

More Dots!

A couple quick follow-ups to my dot maps of Chicago.

First, I made some similar maps for the Bay Area showing race and ethnicity, poverty, and education. Standard solid-color statistical maps are especially problematic in areas where there's a huge contrast between sparsely populated and dense areas, as is in many western American cities.

Second, I made a short video explaining my Chicago map, which recently won a mapping contest in Switzerland. Here it is! Enjoy!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Planets, Islands, Rural Roads, and the Inner City

A motley collection of updates to help us through the winter!

First, Andrew and Brian Jones have done an amazing thing. After Brian saw my astronomical calendar for New Haven, his brother Andrew decided to write a program that could make similar calendars for any place in the world. It's great! I've helped with some of the code and written a front-end interface to put the script on the web — now you can make your own calendar with just a few clicks. We've included all sorts of options, including the option to just let the script do everything automatically. Enjoy! (And please let me know if you run into any bugs.)

Second, I'm very pleased to host a project from Roberto Casati, Magda Stanová, and Stéphanie Roisin on the typologies of blocks and islands in Venice. It's a simple idea taken far beyond the ordinary. And the colors! Signor Nolli would be proud.

Third, I've created a response of sorts to Ben Fry's map of all the streets in the contiguous United States. By tracking down some good data for both the U.S. and Canada, I've made a map highlighting the real discontinuities of infrastructure policy on either side of the 49th parallel, rather than the data discontinuities that jump out in Ben's project. (This is no critique of his work; until recently, finding good road data was not easy.) The goal here is to see what kinds of questions we can ask once the data problem gets under control. This is especially relevant for understanding boundaries, since the idea of a boundary, the administration of geographic data, and the “ground truth” of geographic transitions are always intertangled.

Fourth, I had a short essay appear recently in the Boston Review, along with some more maps of race and income distributions in U.S. cities. I'm especially interested in challenging the “inner city” as a geographic euphemism, following up on those income donut maps I made a few years ago.

And finally, I added a link to the wonderful work of Armelle Caron. Lovely!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Rhythms of Place

Perhaps not exactly a geographic map, but it is a mediation on place: I've made a two-year calendar for New Haven, Connecticut that shows the intertwining rhythmicity of astronomical and cultural times, all of which depend on location.

Astronomically, this calendar is valid for four points on the earth, all in the United States (in Connecticut, Illinois, Nebraska, and Nevada). With some easy modifications, however, it would apply to all points around the world at the same latitude, and could be used without much trouble a few degrees north or south as well.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The wandering 48

One last little bonbon before I have to put things aside for a while. What would happen if the 48 contiguous states decided to traipse around the world, jumping from sea to sea in search of fun, excitement, and new markets? The cultural story is perhaps a bit too complex for a small online map, but the physiographic answer is here.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Friday, April 30, 2010

A quick demographic update

I've posted a quick update to my U.S. demographic maps. I changed from tract-level data to zip-code data (it seems a more intuitive metric), and added data for Alaska, Hawaii, and the populated U.S. Territories, and expanded my racial categories to include people who self-identify as multi-racial.

I also uploaded high-resolution files. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The cartography of segregation

Nearly every U.S. city is radically (and disturbingly) segregated, with stark divides of race, ethnicity, and class. I've been playing with various ways to show these divisions, using graphics which are equally evocative, provocative, and rigorous. I've posted two new projects, showing two possibilities: one for Chicago, and another for New York.

In both projects I'm reacting in part against maps which show ethnic areas using solid homogeneous colors, often highlighting only the majority group — such as this Wikipedia map of Bosnia and Herzegovina, or this New York Times map of Pashtuns in the Sulaiman Mountains. Not only do these maps fail to show local diversity or ethnic overlaps, but they visually reinforce the all-or-nothing logic of national territorial statehood that made the conflicts in question so intractable in the first place. These cases are crying out for new forms of mapping — mapping which could directly provoke new ways of thinking. (In other words, radical cartography to the rescue!)

I have high hopes of using such alternative cartographies to make a comparative series showing the morphologies of segregation across all major U.S. cities (something similar to my income donut project), but alas, for now I'm working on a city-by-city basis. In the meantime, see my wall maps of Phoenix for a different version of this same sensibilty.

As always, comments heartily solicited, and much appreciated!

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Physical Atlas of the World

A few years ago I made a physical atlas of the world. The goal was to take on the “general” reference atlas — I wanted to see if I could radicalize it a bit while still staying within the bounds of genre. I think the result was reasonably successful, and a big paper copy is now sitting on my shelf. But I quickly realized that I'd need a lot more time, and many more collaborators, to really make anything of it, and as a pulp-and-ink project it remains at the proposal stage. So why not post it to the web instead?

Drop me a line — I'd love to know what you think!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I think we'll all agree on what the world needs now. High-resolution, ready for printing!

Monday, March 8, 2010

I'm very excited to be able to post a project by the Chicago artist Brett Ian Balogh. Brett does a lot of work with sound and space, and he's made a great series of maps showing how the geographies of the three major US megalopolises are inscribed in the invisible "Hertzian space" of the broadcast mass media. Take a look: Boswash, Chipitts, and Sansan. Reimagined government data strikes again!

Like what you see? Why not drop Brett a line and let him know!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Some warm astrogeology on a cold winter's day

Gems of pure beauty, found buried in a government website. I'm reformatting and reposting some USGS maps of planetary geology, for your health and enjoyment. They're lovely! Five rocks to choose from: mercury, the moon, mars, io, and ganymede. My thanks to Micah Maltsberger for bringing these to my attention!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Several new and exciting maps

A big update! My old site layout was reaching the limit of expandability, making it almost impossible to add new projects. After a thorough renovation of my interface, including new organization of projects into multiple categories, I'm finally able to upload all the various maps I've made this last year.

Most of my energy has been directed to paper maps and exhibition material of various kinds:

1, Here are some wall maps of Phoenix that I'm quite happy with; the goal was to push conventions about land management and social statistics in ways that ask new questions about stewardship and segregation. I presented these maps a few weeks ago as part of the "Remapping the Desert" series sponsored by the Future Arts Research program at Arizona State University.

2, In the May issue of National Geographic are some maps of mine accompanying an article about mapping and territorial claims in the Arctic Ocean. I've posted some unpublished studies of climate, oil, changing territorial claims, and revisions to the map of the Arctic seafloor. The biggest thing to notice here is that the traditional idea that countries are bounded by a "hard shell" of a single perfect boundary is being revised even as I type; under the UN Law of the Sea, there is now a feathered edge of different maritime rights at different distances from shore.

3, Another wall map, just for kicks: world railways! I'm also inching my way towards tackling a world map in earnest; this is my first foray into some of the thorny issues of distortion, continuity, and conventions at the global scale.

4, Last spring I renovated my maps of American agriculture for an exhibition at the Harvard Graduate School of Design; they're a big improvement over the old ones, not least because data from the 2007 census is a lot cleaner than the 1997 data. I also made a quick animation of world cropland since 1700 for the same exhibit, based on data from agricultural geographers.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Everyone loves the contiguous 48

Chicago artist Kathryn Rodrigues just sent me a great project, and we've had the pleasure of webbifying it for you to enjoy! Yes, now it's official: the United States as the measure of all things. Why not drop Kathryn a line and tell her what you think?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

More cartography!

Ahoy! A few little bonbons after a bit of a hiatus:

1, I lived in Washington DC this summer, and made a series of demographic maps to help myself get oriented. Take your pick: race, poverty, income, education, violence, or theft! Although it does take a while to find them, there are indeed cracks in the dichotomies of white and black, rich and poor.

2, Some more cheap fun with histograms, this time for Mars and the Moon alongside the earth.

3, Everyone loves intermodal transport. I’ve posted part of a pamphlet I did for a longshore workers’ union showing the NAFTA intermodal network. And it's for sale! (All proceeds support the non-profits that sponsored the project.)

4, A train leaves Chicago heading north at 50 mph. A second train leaves Green Bay going south at 45 mph. They pass each other along the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan. Quick — how far away is the horizon?

Finally, I’m pleased to announce that a few of my maps have been included in Daniel Tucker’s traveling map archive, which is part of the Experimental Geography exhibition curated by Nato Thompson. Right now it’s on display at the DePauw University art museum, and will be moving around the U.S. through 2010. Included are poster versions of my cities, reservations, and The Cargo Chain. If you happen to be heading through central Indiana any time soon, stop by and check it out!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

RSS feed for radicalcartography!

Hello! This is an RSS feed for the news from Whenever I add new content to the site, I will publish my news stream here, with links as appropriate. Feel free to contact me with any questions!