Friday, 12 June 2009
The lie of the land.
Maps have always held a fascination for me. I can't visit a new bit of territory without poring over a map of the area and getting a feel for the lie of the land. If I wander into a part of London that I am not familiar with I can't wait to sit down with the AtoZ and look at the street layout and it's relationship to everything else. The whole business of maps as a social product is another area worth investigating. Why is North always "up"? Just one of a number of questions that spring to mind. Maps as a product of society are also products of power, and reflect that.
If you can learn a lot from maps it's equally true that sometimes they just confirm something that you knew all along. The other day I was looking at a 1896 map of a West London suburb. There was the old village with it's High Street and a few roads of workers cottages around it. The railway had arrived and already the place was taking shape as a suburb for the middle class with the old village now surrounded by a patchwork of substantial villas set in large grounds. And here's the point. The entire working-class housing stock of several dozen cottages would have been able to fit into one or two of the "gardens" of the affluent middle-class. Maps can show the lie of the land in more ways than one.