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Earth Science


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Representing the Republic by John Rennie Short (Reaktion) provides an intriguing account of the mapping of America from its colonial origins to 1900 The most significant maps and mapmakers are discussed in a survey that begins with the first European mappings of New Netherlands in the early seventeenth century and concludes with the Rand McNally atlases of the 1 890s

Maps tell us a great deal about the transformation of America's national identity. Having undertaken extensive research in map collections, including working with rare archival materials, prominent geographer John Rennie Short provides an account of how maps have both embodied and reflected power, conflict and territorial expansion throughout American history. His richly illustrated text focuses on maps of colonial claims, surveys of the American West and national atlases, paying particular attention to how and why certain groups were included on or excluded from maps. The book offers a fresh perspective on North American history and geography

 The Geographical Imagination in America 1880-1950 by Susan Schulten (University of Chicago Press) offers a view of the effect of commercially produced maps, the works of the National Geographic Society, and academic and K-12 geography work together to create a public image of the size and significance of USA territory and the world. Schulten argues that during the last two decades of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, the place of geography and cartography in education, in popular culture and politics was turned from an elite art and craft into a mass-market product. Schulten's chronicle of the rise of the National Geographic under visionary editor Gilbert Grosvenor is insightful, especially when discussing the paradox created by Grosvenor's editorial policy of presenting readers "pleasant information," designed to provide "mental relaxation without emotional stimulus." This policy led the magazine to depict favorably what it designated as the "progressive" changes in Italy and Germany in the 1930s. Equally interesting is the discussion of the power of maps, "the silent arbiter(s) of power." Specifically, her analysis of the symbolic message embedded in the Mercator projection, that flat world map familiar to schoolchildren past and present picturing the United States safely centered between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, far from the mysterious East and troubling West, brings new perspective to the latent political statements maps make by their design. She focuses on historical standpoint rather than from the cartographical art making more of atlases than independent maps. All in all an important consideration of how Americans were led to believe how the world looks. The Geographical Imagination in America 1880-1950 gives a critical view of public perceptions of place.

CARTOGRAPHIES OF DANGER: Mapping Hazzards in America by Mark Monmonier ($25.00, hardcover, 363 pages, notes, index, maps, University of Chicago Press, ISBN: 0-22653418-9) PAPERBACK A place is perfectly safe, but some places are more dangerous than others. Whether we live on a floodplain or in "Tornado Alley," near a nuclear facility or in a neighborhood poorly lit at night, we all coexist uneasily with natural and man-made hazards. As Mark Monmonier shows in this entertaining and immensely informative book, maps can tell us a lot about where we can anticipate certain hazards, but they can also be dangerously misleading.

California, for example, takes earthquakes seriously, with a comprehensive program of seismic mapping, whereas Washington has been comparatively lax about earthquakes in Puget Sound. But as the Northridge earthquake in January 1994 demonstrated all too clearly to Californians, even reliable seismic hazard maps can deceive anyone who misinterprets "known faultlines" as the only places vulnerable to earthquakes. Important as it is to predict and prepare for catastrophic natural hazards, more subtle and persistent phenomena such as pollution and crime also pose serious dangers that we have to cope with on a daily basis. Hazard-zone maps highlight these more insidious hazards and raise awareness about them among planners, local officials, and the public. With the help of many maps illustrating examples from all corners of the United States, Monmonier demonstrates how hazard mapping reflects not just scientific understanding of hazards but also perceptions of risk and how risk can be reduced. Whether you live on a fault line or a coastline, near a toxic waste dump or a nuclear generating plant, you ignore at your own peril this book’s plain-language advice on geographic hazards and how to avoid them.

MARK MONMONIER is professor of geography at Syracuse University. His latest books are Drawing the Line: Tales of Maps and Cartocontroversy and How to Lie with Maps, the latter recently published in an expanded second edition by the University of Chicago Press.

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