Art meets Science: Views of the Arab World

Arts-Science encounters‘ are much talked about but much less often put into practice (for their supposedly little economic benefit – not least in times of tight science budgets). Science and art are not such opposing worlds as we often see them today, as they were much less divided world in the past. As I wrote in my PhD thesis, “Cartography has always been connecting the worlds of art and science. McLuhan & Powers (1992) underline the importance of cartography by claiming that without the map ‘the world of modern science and technologies would hardly exist’ (McLuhan & Powers 1992, quoted from Thrower 1999: 1). One may not fully agree with this notion, but the importance of cartographic contributions to our understanding of the physical and social environments is hardly questionable.
More widely, science and art remain closely intertwined. From the view of science, this link is often to be found in the field of scientific visualisation. The exhibition Places & Spaces: Mapping Science for example “is meant to inspire cross-disciplinary discussion on how to best track and communicate human activity and scientific progress on a global scale” (see And where both worlds actively start to meet, the outcome can be a valuable contribution to a new perspective on research, as well as research can gain inspiring ideas for its own work. As stated in the Guardian, “the results [of such collaborations] can be seismic“.
Less seismic in a literal sense but not less inspiring have been some of the collaborations that originated from the Worldmapper project. Amongst these collaborations that I was involved in were the Story Map: What I Heard About the World by Sheffield-based performing artists Third Angel and the short film Sheffield – A City in Context by (again) Sheffield-based creative agency Human where we as academic geographers learned a lot about the approach artists take to see and explain our world.
A very different example of science and art encounters are the sculptures by Bay Area-based artist Jennifer Brazelton who came across my gridded population cartograms that I created as part of my PhD research and published online in the World Population Atlas. Here is an example of her work showing a sculpture based on the shape and structure of the gridded population cartogram of Syria, a country that made the most recent but also so far most lasting headlines in the events of the still so-called Arab Spring:

Sculpture and Gridded Population Cartogram of Syria
(click here for a full-size picture of the sculptureor here for the population map)

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World Population Cube

Last weekend I was invited to a workshop on future developments of society. The event took place in Berlin and was organised by the German research institution Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI) as part of the Foresight Process initiated by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The Foresight Process is described as ‘a strategic instrument (…) that provides technology foresight and the determination of future societal needs in terms of research and development‘. The workshop was a day full of creative buzz to squeeze interesting ideas out of the participants. To kick off the discussion everyone was asked to bring an item that symbolises one’s own work. For my work that had to be something abut maps. But to make it a more interesting item than a flat map I decided to craft a more sophisticated version of my maps that also stands for the challenging world views that lie behind the cartographic techniques that I work on. Cubic globes are not a new idea, but are quite handy when wanting just a little bit more than a simple map. They are much less work than creating a spheric version of the earth, and (as said by Carlos Furuti on his online cube globe collection) the cube is an ideal introduction to folding one’s own pseudoglobes.
My very own version of a cubic globe is the World Population Globe which I took with me to the workshop. It shows my gridded world population cartogram including topographic and bathymetric details and is reprojected onto a six-sided figure with square sides. If you want to create your own world population cube from my map, you can use the following template, print it out and have your hands on with a pair of scissors and a little bit of glue. The key instructions are shown on the printout (make sure to click the image or the links below for a full-size DIN A4 version of the template). Change your views of the world – enjoy the world population cube!

World Population Cube Cutout template
(click here for a full-size jpg imageor here for a pdf version)

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The Visualisation of Spatial Social Structure: Reflections on Critical Methods

‘(How) do we understand Capitalism? Reflections on critical methods’ was the title of a workshop on critical methods at the University of Manchester (September 13-14th). As the announcement of the workshop states, ‘there is no consensus on what critical social science is, exactly. Largely it is defined as not orthodox economics or positivist social science‘. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Global Spaces of Food Production


Global Spaces of Food Production
In the year 2000 there were approximately 15 million square km of cropland and 28 million square km of pasture which are represented in the two main maps. These are equal to 12% respectively 22% of the ice-free land surface. This is according to estimates of a study on the geographic distribution of global agricultural lands by Ramankutty et al (published in Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 2008) who used a methodology of combining agricultural inventory data and satellite-derived land cover data to come to these figures (data can be accessed via Columbia University’s SEDAC). Continue reading

Shared rain

This April has been the wettest April on record in the UK, while parts of the country are also in official drought – leading to headlines of the wettest drought on record.
The miserable weather was (is) a good opportunity to finally produce a high-resolution version of the map series that I created during my PhD research and which I presented at last year’s conference of the Society of Cartographers in Plymouth. Continue reading