“The society which has abolished every kind of adventure makes its own abolition the only possible adventure.” Paris, May 1968

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.

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