Has anyone here acquired a copy of the new book published by Classical Conversations titled Exploring the World through Cartography? It came out earlier this year, and I’ve been intrigued by it but haven’t yet been able to look through it. Given that I’m preparing for an international move and that I already possess what most would see as a surfeit of atlases, I doubt I’ll be purchasing it.
In one sense, it seems I should be wholly excited about this product. From my first experience with CC six years ago, I noted that the maps provided to the students were very substandard. When my son was going through the Memory Master proofing process his first year, I made a map of the U.S. for him to practice with, since the CC-provided one was so crummy, and I’ve subsequently made them for several other regions. I also noticed how some of the geography content was outdated, inaccurate, or just oddly organized. One week for Soren’s oral presentation, his topic was errors on the CC Africa map the class was using; I’m not sure how well that went over with some of the moms in the class, but there was plenty of content to fill up his three minutes. For several years I actually considered trying to hire myself to CC as their geography content curator. Several people from our campus encouraged me to pursue this, but I have nary an entrepreneurial bone in my body, and it never went anywhere.
So, when I learned of this new atlas, on one level I was hopeful that it represented a major step forward for CC in their geography content and presentation. But a more cynical side of me had another thought. Most world atlases have a section on the earth’s history, introducing basic geology, geodesy, and geomorphology. Of course these entail recognition of the earth’s 4.5 billions years of history. Is it possible that CC would produce this book at least partly so that students could have an atlas that ignores or obfuscates this history? A cynical question, yes, but given my recent frustrations with CC, perhaps understandable.
I’ve been able to glean a few things from the promotional video embedded on the product page.
- The book seems to focus on integrating history, art, etc. with geography, and I think this is very valuable.
- The presentation (quality and variety of graphics, page layout, etc.) looks impressive.
- A section of text on Eastern Africa begins, “Long ago in Africa, magma lifted a broad dome of ancient rock, forming the Ethiopian Highlands.” And in the next paragraph, “Tectonic forces have pulled apart Africa’s continental crust…” So there is at least some recognition of geomorphological processes, though this is a very small sample.
- It appears CC’s cartographers are persisting in using the Mercator projection for every map they produce. The projection’s use on world maps is a fascinating topic for geo-nerds; it’s use on regional maps is just befuddling.
- They also are continuing to label Burma as “Myanmar”. Okay, this is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, but I find this inexcusable.
If anyone wants to give me any first-hand observations on the book, feedback on any of my thoughts here, or other reflections on teaching geography, I welcome the discussion.