From geovisualisation to neocartography: Maps in a digital world

The ICA Commission on Neocartography
Changing technologies have always had a considerable impact on cartography and continue to do so. Several technological revolutions marked important steps in the practice and process of creating maps. Mechanical, optical and photo-chemical technologies changed the way maps were produced. Then, the discovery of electronic capabilities made a new dimension in map production accessible: Not only most of the design techniques were transferred to digital platforms, used at some step in the production of almost all maps created today, but also the possibility to deal with huge amounts of data that can hardly be analysed by a single person enables cartographers to find ways to automate data processing for cartographic visualisation. This is where the term neocartography comes into play, which gives credit to the most recent trends in the field of map-making.
The recently established Neocartography Commission of the International Cartographic Association (ICA) states, that “many examples of new and innovative mapping are being produced outside the normal orbit of existing cartographers or map producers. The term neocartographers is being used to describe map makers who may not have come from traditional mapping backgrounds, and are frequently using open data and open source mapping tools. Another difference is in the blurring of boundaries between map producers and map consumers. The availability of data and tools allows neocartographers to make their own maps, show what they want, and often be the intended audience as well – that is to say they may make the maps for themselves, just because they can. There is a real need for a discipline to be established to study this essentially undisciplined field of neocartography.
The ICA Neocartography Commission held its first official meeting following the annual conference of the Society of Cartographers in London yesterday. In my introductory talk From geovisualisation to neocartography: Maps in a digital world I outlined my understanding of neocartography and gave a brief overview of some of the major trends in cartography caused by the digital turn that started to transform the discipline since the 1960s. I emphasized the need to look beyond technical and practical aspects of the changes, and to see this as a chance for cartography to shape the evolution of maps, rather than being a passive observer of trends driven by others. Neocartography should be a chance to broaden the discipline by embracing revived interest in maps. This should be an inclusive approach that includes all aspects of visualising geospatial information regardless their diverse labels – be it Geovisualisation, GIScience, or the very traditional understanding of cartography.
Neocartography should look at the impact of the digital turn on cartographic practice and cartographic principles, just as it should reflect on more theoretical aspects of the ethics and philosophy behind geospatial visualisations. These are the slides of my talk which give a little flavour of these reflections:
Perhaps slightly pretentious, I concluded that “contemporary cartography needs to be redefined according to today’s challenges. This is a chance to revive cartography as the main contributor to a new understanding of our world. As early cartographers explained the world centuries ago by discovering previously unknown physical spaces, it is now a necessity to tell the stories of the spaces of humanity. One new role of cartography is to contribute to an understanding of those spaces that we still do not fully understand, and to analyse how these can be visualised.” Here is what I said in full length:

More videos and other material from the event is online at the Neocartography Commissions website. Gary Gale also wrote a blog post about his concluding talk titled History Repeats Itself And So Does The Map.

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