Designs on Signs / Myth and Meaning in Maps (1986)

“Never mind drought, Autumn, and acid rain, and never mind the cubic miles of eroded silt that choke our rivers. In the map, our forests glow with the robust verdure of a perpetual Spring afternoon and even the Mississippi shines with a pristine Caribbean blue.”

A great quote I had to share from Denis Wood and John Fels’ ‘Designs on Signs / Myths and Meaning in Maps’ in Cartographica from way back in 1986. You haven’t read about maps if you haven’t read Denis’ work. This is a typically engrossing article that begins with a look at the ‘North Carolina Official Highway Map / 1978-79’ and ends with a discussion of the ‘intrasignificant’ codes of maps (iconic, linguistic, tectonic, temporal, presentational) as well as ‘sign functions’ (the relationships maps’ create). You might have guessed from the terminology (icons, codes, signs etc.) as well as the title (‘myth and meaning’), that it is heavily indebted to Roland Barthes.  You can download the paper from Wood’s website here.

A recent reflective piece by Wood and Fels on that paper was printed in the Martin Dodge edited book Classics in Cartography (2011). Again, you can download it from Wood’s homepage here.