Monday, February 25, 2013

Breaking Culture Shock 3: Windsor Great Park

I own three different maps with a variety of approaches to showing Windsor Great Park.

The A-Z series seems to avoid the park altogether, but you can at least see the edges on the Staines/Egham/Windsor area atlases.

Ordnance survey maps include the whole park but it comes across as a bit indistinct.

Then I discovered the Windsor Great Park map in the pub at the London Road entrance in Virginia Water.  You can buy a copy for £2.  

It shows the park as a discrete thing with which the map reader can interact.  This interactivity makes the park seem much more accessible, a bit less vast.

It is also at a large scale so you get a lot of details of the inside of the park, including 2m contours.  

I've been using the park to 'break culture shock.'  I usually ride, but yesterday Diane and I walked from the train station in Egham all the way to the totem pole.

We had lunch at the previously mentioned pub and then made the return journey through the park to the entrance to Wick Road and back home through the Royal Holloway campus.

There's a nice forest called the Virginia Water plantations with a great variety of trees some quite large.  It reminded us both of British Columbia.  Especially after the totem pole it felt a bit more like home.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Critical GIS and the Geoweb 3: Names on the Land

I had my first opportunity to leave London where, other than Egham and Windsor, I have been ensconced during my first few months in England.  Last Friday I felt it was time to finally get out of town, so I went up to Oxford to visit a friend who works at the university.  This blog post is in part promotion of the atlas Tom told me took twenty years to see publication.  So it is in part a celebration as well.

He talks about how indigenous toponymy is a form of GPS for situating ourselves in relation to the landscape.  Through the process of situating we come to form a relationship with the land.  It is this relationship that, with the loss of knowledge of the old names, is eroded.  Tom told me, however, that in many places in southwestern Alaska there is actually an increase in traditional knowledge as certain elders begin to feel it is time to share what they know.

In GG3090, Critical GIS and the Geoweb, I have mentioned indigenous toponymy sporadically but I feel it should have a much more central role in discussions about mental maps, cognitive spaces, wayfinding, even the idea of surveillance.  In the north when you are near a town or sometimes even outside of town, it seems there's always someone watching in the sense of keeping an eye on things.  Showing a film about Puvirnituq yesterday in the Master's PSD course I was reminded how important radio is for letting the community know when someone is missing and where they might be found.

I have no doubt that radio plays a similar role in some towns in Alaska.  Place names will continue to be mentioned in connection with safety issues because those are the names by which we reference the nearest place that x (person or object) was last seen.  This atlas is a celebration of the value of all these things and more.  This rambling review is meant to convey my enthusiasm for the appearance of this book edited by my friend Tom.  It is also reason to remind us that his single author monograph Being and Place Among the Tlingit (U of Washington Press) is a foundational text, or at least it has been for me for most of the work I have done from my PhD onwards.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Mapping and the Art of Doing GIS

I read the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance quite some time ago, but I think that book has influenced my thinking more than I often admit to myself.  Why else would I attend a talk on Plato's Gorgias and Education (Windsor Building at Royal Holloway a couple of weeks ago), and cultivate an ongoing fascination with thinkers like Strabo, Cicero and Homer?  Why is the GIS guy reading all this stuff?

The reason I'm reading all this stuff (I had to defend my reading habits after I'd defended my master's degree at Carleton University and my supervisor said, "you sure read a lot for a GIS guy") is, first, out of general scholarly interest and a belief that it behooves teachers in sciences and humanities to be well read in a range of subject areas.  This is the same reason why I read The Times and The Guardian on a daily basis, to the point of being a bit of a news junky.

The second is that I'm fascinated by the idea of quality in general, by all things qualitative and how they overlap and inform quantitative considerations and stereotypes.  I believe there is an art to doing science and that aesthetics is as fundamental to doing science as are repeatability and falsifiability.  The idea that scientists are just hit on the head by great ideas is a myth.  Instead the best scientists must cultivate and channel creative powers in order to focus them in the most productive directions.

Creativity has been studied by some of the best scientists of all time, from Albert Einstein to David Bohm to Stephen Jay Gould. The diagrams and illustrations scientists use to convey their ideas benefit deeply from artistic endeavour, with atlases being at the forefront of such artistically informed scientific devices for communication (see Objectivity by Daston and Galison, published by Zone Books; or The Atlas of Science published by MIT Press).

Quality, art and creativity may not be strictly identical areas of inquiry, but they have a great deal of overlap between them.  Furthermore, they have a great deal of overlap with the business of doing science, and this includes the business of studying geographic information science and the geoweb.  Spatial information arts; visual arts of science; scientific illumination and drawing; randomness and chance in probability and statistics; visualisation of paradigm shifts and the charting of scientific progress: these are heady topics.  But they are all to some extent mappings, and as such they are worth paying attention to.

I am planning a manic project for very soon, one in which I will avoid ruffling the feathers of private citizens and/or authorities.  I want to explore public footpaths in Egham using my by now well developed method of systematic wandering.  I will document how public footpaths edge up against issues of privacy, surveillance and security.  Hedges, fences, windows, railway tracks, walls and all sorts of other boundary are encountered in my Egham rambles, and on Saturday as I was tromping through the mud to widen my horizons, I came to feel it high time someone made this map.