Visualization vs Transparency

Spatial analysis and CAD-based-cartography sure have come a long way since 1897. Just like with any new technology, the seasoned professionals in a field aren’t going to embrace the new way of doing things. Cartographers are no exception here. Many cartographers will publicize their disdain for computer-based-map making, just like many fans of static maps are disapproving of interactive maps, and just like every industry before, the power of the future has pushed many of the Nay-Sayers out of industry. Luckily there are groups (Spatial {Query} Lab, for instance) that recognize the importance of historical documents. My time in industry has exposed me to such a wide array of cartographic products, techniques, and technologies that I have developed a keen love for all things maps, but it wasn’t until my studies with Professor Seneca Holland that I learned to assess these divided methods of producing maps and performing spatial analysis. Prof. Holland taught me to question methods and never settle for mediocre visualizations, even if they get the point across. After all, cartography is the art, science, and technology of map making.

This self inflicted conversation came about when Alysa Arjona, a worker here at S{Q}L, was georectifying a Texas State Water Plan map from 1897 (shown below). The map itself is almost an advertisement of what the Nueces River Valley provides for the state. Seeing it made me curious on how this product looked today. After checking out the 2017 Texas State Water Plan I came to the assumption that today the public is more concerned with data being represented with charts and graphs opposed to maps. The plan did included an interactive map, but it was small and difficult to use, but the site did a much better job at providing information and statistics compared to the 1897 map.

This is where the conversation went full circle. By comparing the two cartographic products I found myself debating between visualization and transparency of data. The historical map is beautiful and pleasing to read with very limited information. The current interactive map is lacking aesthetics and functionality, but supported by huge amounts of easy to read data in charts and graphs. Which is better? Well this is where is recall Prof. Holland’s lecture of the importance of projections; if they aren’t the same, it’s apples-to-oranges, and that just isn’t an accurate comparison. So, I dropped the question of which is better because they are not the same product. Now it is vital to understand the importance of the conglomerate of art, science, and technology when producing maps of any form. Both of these maps have their shortcomings, so it’s important to recognize them so that we can learn from them, and as a professional community do better work in the future.