Thursday, December 03, 2015

Royal Cartographic Decree

When I stand with students --usually elementary or middle-school -- in front of the Africa side of EarthView, I usually ask them to repeat a simple phrase in unison: "Africa is not a country!"

I do this, of course, because I so often encounter people who speak or write as if it is a single country, rather than a continent of 55 countries (or more, depending on which neighboring islands are counted).

From Michael Blanding's fascinating book The Map Thief, I recently learned that my declaration about Africa echoes the words of King Ferdinand VI of Spain , who decreed in 1747 that "California is not an island!"

He was frustrated by the fact that a cartographic error made by British mathematician Henry Briggs in 1622 had been copied so often that it was thought to be true more than a century later. Eventually, the king's decree -- and better field work -- fixed the error, though the notion of California as an island in the figurative sense remains popular.

Click on map to enlarge.
For more, visit 18 California-iland maps at
I learned all of this on the same day that I learned that my colleague Dr. Joseph Kerski has made available the materials from a workshop and presentation entitled Why Maps Matter. It is part of the ongoing educational work of ESRI, a major GIS software provider.

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