Landscape organizes everything within sight.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The diplomatic map


Le Monde diplomatique is my favorite political journal. It's available in English translation online, and it monthly details world economics and politics in a piercing, deep-analysis style the Economist only aspires too.

Moreover, Le Monde diplomatique has maps. Really good maps. Maps of oil pipelines, poverty, the world as seen from Tokyo, financial misdealings, migration around the world, the imprint of Chernobyl, and the spread of AIDS.

In the eighteenth century, having good maps meant the difference between winning and losing the war. Even then, regions had technological specialties, and map-making was the most important. The French inevitably had the best cartographers around, and the British were left playing a catch-up game which alternated between training British cartographers according to French methods, using spies to steal French maps, and paying off French deserters to come work in Britain.

How interesting then that two hundred years later America may lead the world with military signals intelligence, satellite technology, and Google Earth, but the French people remain still well before us in terms of map-reading skills.


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5 Comments:

Blogger Scott Paeth said...

You missed a great opportunity to name this post "A Conspiricy of Cartographers" -- one of my favorite lines from "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead."

10:33 AM  
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4:29 AM  
Blogger Citadin said...

Yes, le Monde Diplomatique is always a very good read. There is a good short analysis of the elements of cartography in the May issue (the English version is not out yet.) It basically underlines the framework of cartographic representation and its effects on the framing and perception of the issues encapsulated within the territories depicted.

"[la cartographie] nous invite à beaucoup de retenue dans nos analyses, les liens entre les phénomènes cartographiés étant souvent incertains."

There is also a good article on Jean Genet. (I didn't realize that Beauvoir was as short-sighted about geopolitics as her sidekick was short-sighted -I'll boycott her Flore table this summer- )


I went through two years of boarding school in the countryside in Champagne, middle school. Invariably, there were some compelling reasons to breach the disciplinary code (forays into the neighboring farms, into the girls' dorms, late night quiet parties that weren't quiet enough, and of course mischief for the sake of mischief) and the punishment, that was always dished by the geography teacher (toughest faculty member), was to reproduce freehand a detailed map of a continent on a large piece of paper, a 2-3 hour job. During the schoolyear, I punished my way through the seven continents and took some pleasure into going above and beyond with the color schemes and cartographic minutiae, which definitely annoyed the teacher.

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Blogger Citadin said...

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9:49 PM  
Blogger J said...

LOL. thanks, Citidin! Fascinating. I've heard professors railing about the lack of geography education in the States for years now.

10:09 AM  

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