It seems that maps are in the air like spring weather.  Recently, I attended Christie’s auction viewing of rare world navigation maps, a curator’s talk on New Amsterdam maps, and a book talk on 100 maps highlighting America’s history as a country.  During my teenage years, I contemplated becoming a geographer or cartographer in order to explore the world.  Recently, my childhood interest became rekindled.  I guess you could call me a cartophile!  Are you?

Map connoisseurs are an interesting lot.  I began wondering what fascinates people about maps.  Is it the aesthetic found in parchment, color engraved paper, globes, and 3-dimensional interactive internet-based worlds?  Is it a prompt for imaginary journeys?  Does it provide a way to immerse yourself in augmented or virtual world?   An elite type of connoisseurship? An art dealer’s specialization? Or is it just fun?  Clearly, there is no one reason why maps stimulate exploratory humanness.

Maps codify the miracle of existence.

Nicholas Crane, author of Mercator: The Man Who Mapped the Planet

At the annual meeting of New York Map Society, I met PJ Mode who was sitting next to me.  It seems that what fascinates him about maps is their persuasive power.  Strikingly, that was something that didn’t occur to me. His impressive collection of propaganda maps is digitized for the world to see at Cornell University.  PJ noted that Picasso once said, “A map is a lie that helps you see the truth.”

The Psychology of Cartophiles

Psychologically-speaking, map appreciation requires a capacity to make something whole.  Maps and globes also stimulate the senses of sight and touch.  Furthermore, maps and globes stir not only imagination but emotion.  Maps speak to us of times past and social and political changes.

Personally, I prefer not to understand why maps fascinate so many people.   Let’s keep the mystery alive.


Our brain is mapping the world. Often that map is distorted, but it’s a map with constant immediate sensory input.

~ E. O. Wilson

Seriously, maps are to be taken seriously.  But they are also a way that you and cartophiles can express yourself!  Maps that matter should raise interest, be engaging, instantly understandable and relevant to society. It is one of the aims of the academic discipline of cartography to realize and facilitate this.” (Kraak & Fabrikant, 2017)

Cartophiles are curious to understand the art and science of this ancient act of depiction.  Are you?

Referenced Exhibits and Talks

Here I am at New York Christie’s March 2019 viewing of London’s June auction “Beyond the Horizon: The Mopelia Collection of Atlases and Travel Books” which is considered one of the world’s greatest libraries of seafaring books and atlases, including some of the rarest and most important maritime atlases ever published.

New Amsterdam History Center‘s “Cartographic Visions of New Netherland and New Amsterdam: Depictions of Resources and People” with Ian M. Fowler, Geospatial Librarian and Map Curator, Lionel Pincus & Princess Firyal Map Division of the New York Public Library.  Original maps can be viewed, appreciated, studied there.  Thanks to Ian’s extensive knowledge of New Netherland maps, I now appreciate the fine color engraving of early Dutch maps of the New World.

New York Map Society “How Maps Illuminate and Complicate the Past” by historian Susan Schulten and author of A History of America in 100 Maps.  Dr. Schulten shared her masterful process in selecting maps that best represent America over 400 years.  Her passion for her work is inspiring.


Expressive Links

Referenced Exhibits and Talks

NYPL Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division

New Amsterdam History Center

New York Map Society

Articles of Interest:

Mapping the Nation by Susan Schulten

A History of America in 100 Maps

These ‘Persuasive Maps’ Want You to Believe