For the Love of Maps

I might be a cartophiliac. Mine seems to be a quiet, lingering affliction. I don’t adorn my walls with maps. I don’t own an atlas of any kind. Topographical maps make me queasy. Political maps bore me. Yet, when I encounter a physical map, a road map, or a subway map, I get a little thrill.

Perhaps my love of travel stems from a deep-rooted love of maps. Indeed, I’ve exhibited some suspicious signs of cartophilia over the years. Here are just a few examples of my symptomatic behavior.

  • I once studied a map of New England for a half hour simply to get weekend getaway ideas.
  • When I’m on the subway, I find myself looking at the route map over and over again, wondering about each stop. What is that neighborhood like? What interesting people or hidden gem might I find there?
  • While planning a trip to South Dakota, I sent for a vacation guide just for the free map.

Being a cartophiliac is not without its benefits. When I needed to find a location to break up a road trip from Baltimore to Boston, I didn’t search tourism websites or Tripadvisor. No, I brought up an online physical map. My eyes wandered up and down the coastline and across highways. I scanned lakes and rivers and zoomed into towns that looked geographically interesting. My search settled on Asbury Park, NJ, a gem of a city I wrote about it in Asbury Park Rising.

Apparently I’m not alone in my affliction. Here are a few symptoms of the worldwide cartophilia epidemic.

  • The 2016 Atlas of Design is sold out.
  • Twitter has a thriving #loveofmaps hashtag.
  • A search for antique map stores on Yelp turned up ten in the Boston area alone.

There is hope for those hopelessly in love with maps. Cartographic societies, like the North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS), bring together map specialists and map enthusiasts. Theirs is a community that embraces cartophilia, complete with yearly meetings and prestigious awards. Just now, as I was perusing the website, I learned that writer Rebecca Solnit is the 2015-2016 NCAIS Corlis Benefideo award winner for imaginative cartography. Yes, THE Rebecca Solnit of Harper’s Magazine and Men Explain Things to Me fame. Who’d a thunk it?

I sort of lied earlier when I said I don’t adorn my walls with maps. While I don’t presently have any maps hanging on my walls, Mighty Zac reminded me that in our first apartment, we had a large map of Boston and its suburbs on the wall. He remembers studying it for many minutes at a time, perhaps for hours over the years. He has a touch of cartophilia, too. It must be contagious.

2 comments for “For the Love of Maps

  1. March 8, 2017 at 9:10 am

    I take solace in the fact that Cartophilia won’t make me fat or rot my teeth!

    • Melissa Paquette
      March 8, 2017 at 6:17 pm

      Good point. Cartophilia is certainly not the worst affliction!

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