His Coordinates


‘The role of the map has changed’

Nov 2014 | No Comment

Georg Gartner

President, International Cartographic Association (ICA) in an interview with Coordinates

What is the biggest challenge faced by the International Cartographic Association (ICA) in achieving its mission, ‘to promote the disciplines and professions of cartography and GIScience in and international context’?

ICA is happy to see, that significant progress have been made in the attempt to be a global platform for modern cartography. It is a very good indicator, that ICA just recently have been accepted as a full union member of the International Council of Science (www.icsu.org), thus being seen on the same level of this exclusive circle then only 31 other international domains.

It is also a great honor and success, that ICA has been endorsed by the United Nations Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM) to run the International Map Year 2015/16 (http:// internationalmapyear.org), with the aim to highlight the role of maps and cartography in society, economy and policy making, thus offering an instrument for all geodomains to better explain the potential of geo-data, geo-information and cartography.

ICA is also happy to see, that research activities are increasing in respect to cartography, visualisation and related areas. This has lead to the foundation of a new flagship journal of ICA, the “International Journal of Cartography”, which is about to be launched. We expect ground breaking research results to be published in this journal from now on as well and invite submissions already.

Although numerous progress have been achieved, challenges remain. These are especially related to the question on “How to we name what we do?”. Several keywords exist and are used for describing eventually the same type of work, such as Geomatics, GIScience, Geoinformation, Geoinformation Management, Cartography etc. One of the goals of ICA is therefore, to provide platforms of discussion on this respect but also give guidance.

A further challenge has to do with the significant change of “players”. While cartography, land administration, geodesy, geoinformation was done and developed eventually from governmental agencies and some companies much more players are on the market now, including companies from “non-geo” domains as well as volunteers and others. This leads to a structural problem for international organisations, as the big “national membership” might not be the most appropriate only form of representation in the future as well as to internal problems, as demands and needs of those new players might need different instruments and forms to be offered from an international organisation. On both challenges ICA is working hard and tries to develop further and further into a truely modern, international and umbrella organisation for the sake of our domains.

What could be the explanation for this diminishing presence of Cartographers in an increasingly spatially aware society?

I agree, the challenge cartography is facing is, that maps are eventually more prominent than ever, but cartography is losing ground in institutions.

For all of us being around in our domain for a while we have witnessed quite some transitions not only in what we do and how we do it but especially also how we name it. We have seen the move from terms like “cartography” to terms like “GIS”, “geomatics”, “geoinformation science”, “geoinformation”, “geovisualisation”, “visual analytics”, “geospatial information management” just to name a few. All those terms have a short history that basically dates back to the inauguration of using computers to make maps. Maybe you experience as well that it is hard sometimes to describe this “geo-spatial-visual something” to non-industry insiders, but there are universal term that everyone recognizes, and that’s maps and cartography.

Maps are big news right now. Influenced by companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft and the status of maps as a must-have on smart phones and web applications they are very attractive to many. The term “map” seems to see its repeated revival as a contemporary, relevant and attractive term for something contemporary, relevant and attractive.

However, it seems as if the term “cartography” is seen differently. Interestingly enough, often especially by those, who are the experts, the specialists and closely related to the domain. Maybe it is because it feels like it needs a different name to describe that the job we are doing in dealing with maps has become different. Often different technologies and methods are used, something which demands new and often very complex competences. How can it then still be named the same? Is it not necessary that the name describing what an industry is doing, what an expert in a discipline is doing needs to somehow reflect these changed competences which change methods and technologies? Is it not very much needed that I can name what I am doing as something most modern, complex, contemporary, as this will lead to respect, appreciation and recognition? And if I am calling myself a “cartographer”, being involved in “cartography”, will this lead to the same respect, appreciation and recognition, or will I rather be associated with something old-fashioned, out-dated?

There are for sure a lot of rationales for terms being used in our domains, and they all have their relevance. However, it seems as if the term “cartography” seems to become avoided, especially by cartographers, while many of the things being done under the umbrella of other terms could easily simply be called “cartography”. In communication science we use the theory of semiotics to explain communication processes.

In this model, syntactical, semantic and pragmatic dimensions are used. Unlike semantics, which examines meaning that is conventional or “coded” in a given language, pragmatics studies how the transmission of meaning depends not only on structural and linguistic knowledge of the speaker and listener, but also on the context of the utterance. In this respect, pragmatics explains how language users are able to overcome apparent ambiguity, since meaning relies on the manner, place, time etc. of an utterance. If this is true, then it is an always ongoing process in how we use and understand terms. This use and understanding is influenceable. This applies to the term “map” and “cartography” as well. It is therefore in the interest of ICA to contribute to this process, which fits into the ongoing “renaissance” of maps and map making.

In your opinion has technology enhanced or diluted the purity of the discipline of Cartography?

Modern cartography is everything we do in our daily life as a cartographer or GI Scientist in order to produce maps, or to be more precise to design cartographic communication processes. The role of the map has changed. Maps used to be artifacts, they had to look beautiful, welldesigned, they had to store information for a long time because it needed to be used over a long period of time. In modern cartography there is an increasing number of functions to a map. Besides its old function of an artifact, a modern map is also an interface that gives human users access to information stored in the map and beyond the map in databases. The map has therefore the function of a table, structuring information through spatial attributes. And if a modern map is such an interface, giving access to structured information, then the concept of modern cartography in one sentence would be ‘efficient communication of geospatial information’.

That’s why a modern cartographer needs to be an interdisciplinary professional. For cartographers it is most important to know about computer sciences, but also about GIS, photogrammetry, remote sensing and geodesy. He has to know about design, art, modeling and analysis techniques as well as to be able to adopt new technologies. All these fields are influencing the product that the cartographer delivers in the end. You could best see this in a triangle: art, research and technology that will make up for the best cartographic products. The modern cartographer is in the middle, better in the heart, of that triangle. He is skilled, trained and able to deal with Geo-data, newest technologies and design principles. Unfortunately there are less and less cartographers with those skills available, but rather experts of geo-data handling, lacking design skills eventually, or programmers, lacking a profound understanding of “geo” or a mixture of all those. This is due to the lack of dedicated education as well as due to the focusing on particular aspects of skills.

But what we can witness is, that those competences and skills, to handle geo-date, apply newest technologies of data management, data modelling and data dissemination and the “language skills” of designing and communication geoinformation in a most efficient and pleasing way a taken off by many from other domains, this is why many computer scientist start to get interested in cartography.

The ICA has twenty eight Commissions. Would you please elaborate on them and their purpose?

ICA is very much a bottom-up organization, thus instead of trying to define in a top-down approach which topics and themes should be worked on our structure and policy allows for new and innovative topics to be picked up by a new group and commission eventually quicker while other topics might not be sustained and confirmed from the decision making body of ICA, the General Assembly.

The 28 current Commissions cover an enormous range of topics, from History of Cartography, Maps and Society towards Technology-oriented topics like GeoVisualization, Maps and the Internet, Ubiquitous Cartography, towards Human-centered topics like Cognitive Issues in Cartography, Use and User Issues, towards Methodologyoriented topics like Map Generalisation, Map Projections, Toponomy Questions, towards questions of SDI like Map Production, Standards, OpenSource Geospatial Technologies to name a few.

The Commissions are truly the powerhouse of ICA. They are inclusive in nature, thus everybody is welcome to join and to check out in which way a contribution and participation is possible. They are heterogeneous in nature, as how they work depend always on the Commission Community, following our bottom-up policy. And they are very active, you might find books, journal, publications, workshops or conference results being available on the topic of the Commissions.

At every General Assembly of ICA (every fourth year) the Commissions are set in place. We are right in the phase of preparing the next GA 2015 in Rio de Janeiro. Thus, this is the moment to come forward with eventual ideas for new or changed commission topics through the national members of ICA, if there are ideas on that.

Could you please tell us about the Research Agenda of the ICA and why it needs to be a ‘living document’?

The field of Cartography already has a wide range of conceptual and theoretical knowledge in a broad set of areas. Some areas, such as map projections, map design and history of cartography have existed for centuries. Others, in a representative list, such as symbol design, data scaling, map perception, map generalization, cartographic communication, analytical cartography, geovisualization/visual analytics, Geographic Information, metadata and Spatial Data Infrastructures have arisen largely in the 20th century. Some in the latter part of this list are fairly recent conceptual areas. Hence, Cartography already has an implicit, although dispersed, Body of Knowledge in existence. What needs to be done now is to create an explicit and organized Body of Knowledge which can encompass all of the theory and concepts in the full field of Cartography. The Research Agenda of ICA is a first step towards this. It has to be a living document as we want everybody to be able to contribute as well as having the Research Agenda to be able to reflect new insights and perspectives.

Which do you think presents a greater challenge for the ICA in the coming years – assimilating the growing number of ‘rudimentary’ cartographers into the fold or establishing the authority of trained cartographers?

There are many challenges for an international voluntarily organization like ICA. But at the end of the day it is dependent on our activities, profile, commitment, instruments and offers how attractive we are for amateur cartographers, experts, governmental institutions, companies, other domain experts etc. In that respect there are two strategies needed always, we need to listen to the needs, demands, questions of those which are related to maps and cartography, and secondly we need to offer something.

In this respect I am most pleased that for example the research community related to maps and cartography has been addressed by ICA instruments more prominently. The full ICSU membership gives our domain a higher profile, a high-quality journal gives our domain an additional voice, the research agenda directs our scientific questions, the ICA research scholarships allow young scientists to present their work and get into contact.

Similar actions and instruments are in place or planned for the amateur mappers and cartographers. The most successful Geo4All initiative out of the ICA-OSGeo Labs, fostering OpenSource Geospatial Technologies, is such an example as well as the activities of the Commission on NeoCartography.

We also have our ear on the demand, needs and questions of developing countries. A soon to be launched instrument of “ICA Capacity Building Grant” will allow for supporting activities in this respect.

Would it be correct to refer to the maps which are being generated by all and sundry as falling under the realm of cartography?

Of course. This is great news for Cartography, that more maps than ever are produced. Producing and using maps as a tool for information presentation, as a tool to express yourself, as a tool to map themes etc are important functions. When amateurs or non-cartographers use this instrument that is definitively under the realm of cartography, as the tools, methods, techniques are eventually provided and will be developed by modern cartographers, thus those which build on systems that allow those application.

What do you think is needed to be done at the academic level to address the needs of the new breed of Cartographers?

It is very important that more programmes and courses for Modern Cartography exists. What we need are experts, which are equally competent with data (thus dealing with geodata in the sense that they know about data acquisition technologies and methods, that they know how to model and structure data and that they know how to manage data), with technologies and processes (thus dealing with methods and technologies to analyze, extract, aggregate, mine data for getting information or knowledge about spatial phenomena) and with communication and design skills (thus dealing with methods and technologies to disseminate, visualize and communicate spatial information in an efficient (context-dependent, location-based, media-adequate, usercentered) way. This is what is needed in the modern “geo domains”, and this is what I call a “modern cartographer”.

A most successful example exists. The International master programme on “Cartography” is a joined effort of the Technical Universities Munich, Vienna and Dresden. The aim of this programme is to reach those mentioned competences, thus producing “modern cartographers”. The success is overwhelming. Although it is a competitive programme many applications are received every year to gain one of the restricted places. The alumnis being produced so far have been absorbed by the market quickly in all those areas being described above. Because of this success the European Commission has decided to prominently support the Master programme financially in the upcoming years, allowing scholarships and grants for International Students as well as the University of Twente to join in. Check out http://cartographymaster.eu/.

2015-2016 has been endorsed as the International Map Year by the ICA. Please tell us about this initiative.

The International Cartographic Association has been endorsed by United Nations Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM) to celebrate an International Map Year during the years of 2015 and 2016. The ICA expects that all ICA member countries will participate in order to give their citizens a broader knowledge of maps – how they are produced and used for many purposes in society. Another goal is to give school children and university students an opportunity to learn more about cartography and about its neighbouring geospatial sciences geodesy, photogrammetry, remote sciences and surveying. ICA has about 80 national members, and the UN will be helpful in establishing contact with all other countries in the world, so that International Map Year will be celebrated worldwide.

The purpose of International Map Year is to:

• Make maps more visible to citizens and school children in a global context;

• Show how maps and atlases can be used in society;

• Show how information technology can be used in getting geographic information and how to produce one’s own maps;

• Display and show different types of maps and map production;

• Show the technical development of mapping and atlas production;

• Show the necessity of a sustainable development of geographic information infrastructures;

• Increase the recruitment of students to cartography and cartography-related disciplines.

• International Map Year shall become a trademark for mapping and boost the identity of the ICA and highlight its mission in the international arena

Target groups for International Map Year are:

• General public;

• School children;

• Professionals;

• Government employees;

International Map Year will be officially opened at the ICA conference in Rio de Janeiro in August, 2015 and then continue until December 2016. But, preparation has to start earlier, especially activities to get national contributions for the Barbara Petchenik Competition in Rio.

Please describe your journey as a Cartographer over these past years and share with our viewers your vision for Cartography as a discipline.

My vision

Think of having 2030. Information is available anytime and anywhere. In its provision and delivery it is tailored to the user’s context and needs. In this the location is a key selector for which and how information is provided. Cartographic Services are thus wide spread and of dailyuse in a truly ubiquitous manner. Persons would feel spatially blind without using their map, which enables them to see who or what is near them, get supported and do searches based on the current location, collect data on site accurately and timely. Mobile technologies have demonstrated their huge potential and changed how we work, how we live and how we interact.

My journey

Starting as geographer and cartographer dealing with details on how to deal with signs, graphic variables and basically modelling the syntax of cartographic language I have evolved into becoming interested in the meaning of this from a more semantical perspective and finally end up in being interested in the enormous power and potential of the pragmatic dimension of cartography, thus understanding maps not only as a collection of signs and graphics, but that those signs carry a specific meaning for a particular human in a particular situation, thus is an immersive way of human communication.

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