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  • Susan Elaine Jones

Mapping the skull

This month, I have spent a lot of time at The Book Warren in Willingham (where the lovely Lindsay not only offers a dizzying selection of delectable delights, but also kindly stocks local artists' work for sale... helping to pay for my consumption of her delectable delights thanks to other customers buying my things).

Well, I was relaxing with a latte and slice of banana loaf when an old Atlas caught my eye. By the look of it, is was from around 1920s, as it proudly proclaimed the shape of the new world (after the War, singular). Africa was covered in pink bits, and there were maps of ethnicity and empires, and horrifically racist representations of the world's populations (oh, the white guilt it evoked!) (and also, apparently there are NO WOMEN on the globe!)

Historically educational atlas showing horrifically racist infographics
Map projections in Bartholomew's Atlas

Since then I've worked my way through many of the Atlases, enjoying the fun games of "how much of the Antarctic coast is mapped?" "what empires are still claiming chunks of Africa?" Then head over to check Russia/CCCP for the quiz "is it Sankt-Peterburg, Petrograd, Leningrad or Saint Petersberg?"

But the really interesting thing is what information the atlas chooses to map in the "optional" pages. Is it World War I battlefields (1920s)? The ethnic groupings of the world? (1930s) The migration of birds (1950s)? The dark side of the moon? (1960s) Volcanoes with new tectonic plates mapped? (1970s). I can't speak highly enough of spending some time with old atlases, for the history!

My favourite was an old Bartholomew map book, which has a large and interesting section on map projections. Which has led me to read A LOT more about map projections, and even inspired some new artistic work ready for Cambridge Open Studios in July.

But for now, learn lots more about different map projections, pick your favourite, and see what it says about you, according to the brilliant xkcd.

Okay, if you made it all the way down here, you can have a sneak preview of the new skull pictures, projected as 2D maps of a globe. I'm still working out how best to print them, but aren't they fun?

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