Referendum maps

The EU Leave/Remain poll in Britian last Thursday resulted in a collection of interesting referendum maps – an excuse to revisit ideology and map-making

In last week’s entry I described the forthcoming British referendum on continued membership of the EU as a bit surreal. After the event, things have not become less surreal, and there’s little prospect they will do so in the near future. The traditional media as well as the more informal Internet-born media is awash with the aftermath. I have neither the knowledge and fighting spirit to want to take it up myself, nor have I the distance and emotional detachment to turn away and spend time with something completely different.

Maybe next week.

However, I need to find something to post here now.

This is a travel blog, so let’s revisit maps. As I wrote in my review of Judith Schalansky’s Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands, ‘all maps are ideological’. This came back to me again looking at the various referendum maps that the news media produced to chronicle voting on 23rd June. Compare these two, for example.

Referendum maps: Telegraph-Yougov maps for Referendum results

The Telegraph was, like most of the British print media, a supporter of the Leave side. This map underlines the strength of the vote for Leave, showing the final result in the 12 regions of the UK (and in Gibraltar). Also notice that, though Scotland is a large area for Remain, nine of the 10 areas of England and Wales are solid for Leave. The only exception is little London down in the south east corner.

[A couple of days after I published this I was re-reading and noticed that The Telegraph’s map colours Gibraltar red for Leave. This is false information. In fact Gibraltar voted overwhelmingly for Remain – 96% according to this article from elsewhere on The Telegraph’s website. I was travelling and unable to edit the page, but I’m putting it right now, on Monday 4th July.]

YouGov, an international internet-based market research firm is presumably attempting a degree of impartiality. Their map has greater nuances. The shading indicates the strength of the Leave and/or the Remain vote in each of the 382 voting districts of Britain. (I’m not sure why Northern Ireland is missing from this map. I fear it may be my fault in the editing.)

In the next referendum map, the BBC (which attempts to be impartial) chooses to show the 382 voting districts, but without the nuances of shading of the YouGov map. By choosing blue and yellow, they seem to have meant to reflect the colours of the EU flag. (I guess the choice of red and blue in The Telegraph’s map is supposed to remind people of the British flag.) The BBC’s yellow and blue caught the eye. The Twitter comment reproduced here (via The Sun) was not an isolated one.

Referendum maps: BBC-Twitter-Sun

I could go on, but there’s only one more of my collection of Referendum maps that I really want to share. Below is the map from the website of the pro-Remain newspaper The Guardian. The Guardian’s map was interactive – hover a cursor over a district and you could see the results after they had come in. However, as you can see, that was not the only special feature of the map.

The Guardian’s cartographers chose to distort the geographic representation of the UK to better represents the population of each of the 382 voting districts. You can easily identify the map as the UK, but compare it with the other more conventional referendum maps above. You’ll see at once how the weight of the population of Britain in London and the South East makes a huge difference. Especially compared with The Telegraph’s map, the phenomenal Remain vote in London is seen in its true proportions. Though also the swelling population of Leavers in the Midlands.

2016 EU Referendum - Guardian distorted Britain

Well, I could certainly write more, but I think that’s enough from me on this subject now. Back to more conventional Stops and Stories next week. I hope.


This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

Review of Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands

Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands:
Fifty islands I have not visited and never will

by Judith Schalansky
translated from the German by Christine Lo
published by Penguin Books

This is a most fascinating, delightful and beguiling book.

It is fascinating for the information it contains. In one sense, it is a gazetteer of fifty islands scattered about the globe with snippets of the stories – often just one story – and people associated with each. Fifty delicately drawn maps, all to the same scale. Brief notes on the islands, what they are called – or have been called – their allegiances (which states claim sovereignty), their physical sizes, populations or otherwise. And for each the distances from three other pieces of dry land at three different points of the compass, and the merest outline sketch of a timeline.

The book is delightful for its beauty and elegance. It is a pleasure to hold. The quality of the paper, the printing, the binding – the care that has gone into creating it. The typography and layout, the maps. The pocket version that I have is something you want to carry about with you and the full sized version would adorn any bookshelf.

Robinson Crusoe's IslandHowever the Atlas of Remote Islands is also beguiling because of the clash it illustrates. The crash when the desert island paradise romance runs full tilt into the sometimes sordid, sometimes horrific, sometimes cryptic, sometimes heart-wrenching reality. Here are stories of castaways and disappointed explorers, mutiny and rebellion, insanity and corruption, rape, incest, murder and cannibalism, lonely scientists and erotically disturbed merchants. The very title of the introductory essay is: “Paradise is an Island. So is Hell”. Don’t say you weren’t warned!

In the introduction Judith Schalansky – a designer and typographer (of course), an author and a teacher – describes how, as a child born in East Berlin, she became an armchair traveller at an early age. How she used an atlas to explore the world she could never visit, until the fall of the Berlin Wall suddenly opened that world to her. But the reunification of Germany also revealed the insidious political agenda of the atlas.

The first atlas in my life… was committed to an ideology. Its ideology was clear from its map of the world, carefully positioned on a double-page spread so that the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic fell on two separate pages. On this map there was no wall dividing the two German countries, no Iron Curtain; instead, there was the blinding white, impassable edge of the page. That, in turn, the provisional nature of the GDR was depicted by the mysterious letters SBZ (Sowjetische Besatzungszone, ‘Soviet Occupied Territory’) in the atlases used in West German schools was something that I only found out later… Ever since then I have not trusted political world maps…

Of course, all maps are ideological. Flat representations of the world in atlases, projections of a three dimensional globe onto a two dimensional surface, skew the image of the world into something we are all familiar with and take for granted with barely a thought. Europe, that hard-to-delimit peninsular sticking out from the Asian landmass, is at the top and in the centre of the world map (unless you are in the USA in which case North America is top centre). The rest of the world is beneath, below, peripheral – with all that implies. And Africa, the world’s second largest continent, appears the same size as Greenland, which is in fact 14 times smaller. (I note that, for the endpaper maps of the world in this book, Schalansky has chosen what I take to be an equirectangular projection which avoids the Greenland/Africa distortion to some extent.)

Is a globe better?

The globe is certainly a better representation of the Earth than the collection of maps in an atlas, and it can rouse wanderlust in the young. But the shape of the globe is problematic. Constantly in motion, this Earth has no borders, no up or down, no beginning and no end, and one side is always hidden from view.

This is an approximate book. It contains the truth – “I have invented nothing,” says the author – but like an atlas, for all its apparent objectivity it is a subjective and partial report of these remote islands. An approximation. An interpretation.

Easter IslandAnd there’s a warning even in the title of the book. That little subjective word “remote”. What is remote, after all, depends very much on your point of view. Easter Island nearly 3700km from South America in one direction and a little over 4000km from Tahiti in the other is, from a European perspective, one of the most remote places in the world. The locals, though, call their island Te Pit Te Hunua – Navel of the World.

In an interview, Judith Schalansky describes herself amused when she comes across her Atlas shelved by bookshops in their Travel section. I understand her. The book is more akin to poetry and/or philosophy – even geography – than it is to guide books. But at the same time, I understand the bookshops too. It is about travel; about travelling in the mind and the imagination.

So, the Atlas of Remote Islands – hard to categorise, but well worth searching out.


This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

This review also published at Goodreads.com here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1464082556

Strange maps

All armchair travellers love maps. Even many of us who once in a while also get out and about love them. Maps are where you start when you’re planning your next trip, or where you can go to revisit one of those journeys you made ten or twenty years ago.

With the coming of Google Maps and Street View the armchair traveller has been given an enormous boon. When Mrs SC and I were looking for a place to live in Brussels, we used a property website in conjunction with Google Maps to get a grip on where in Brussels the places we were interested in were to be found, and then used Street View to look around the neighbourhood. Of course it doesn’t fully take the place of seeing the street, the architecture or the population density in real life. Or hearing the noises or smelling the air for that matter, but it does give a much better idea than a paper map.

At the same time, while I can appreciate the advantages of an electronic map, I still feel there’s nothing quite like a real map, printed on paper, that you can carry with you, as we did when we travelled to Brussels. You can mark a paper map in a way you can’t mark an electronic map. You can stick post-its on it, you can use it as a signalling device to attract your partner or the help of random passers-by. You can use it as protection from an unexpected shower, and (if it hasn’t dissolved) you can keep as a souvenir of your adventures.

Travel books and adventure stories – not to mention accounts of fantasy worlds – are complemented and completed by maps. Following the journey of Marco Polo to China and back is made easier with a map. Tracing the voyages of the Vikings and the route of Fletcher Christian and the Bounty mutineers across the seas of the world likewise. And what would Bilbo’s journey to the Misty Mountains – or Frodo’s quest to Mount Doom – be without Tolkien’s spidery maps and dodgy calligraphy? What would Narnia or Earthsea or Westeros be without their maps?

And maps are also handy ways to convey information graphically, whether it’s true information or invented – or an amalgamation of the two.

I love maps, and I love the inventiveness of cartographers and that makes the blog Strange Maps: An Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities, created, composed and curated by Frank Jacobs, a pleasure to visit. I don’t know how long he’s been publishing the blog, but the most recent article (Watercolours of the War between East and West) is number 746 so it’s certainly been going a while. I don’t go to there weekly, but every so often I take myself there and I binge. I usually read the current post and then follow the links to other related – or often unrelated – posts. Sometimes I’m intrigued enough to go and visit the sources, which Frank Jacobs is always careful to include.

For example, this time around I followed “related links” to read about the Circular Towns of Georgia (in the USA), Planet Voronoi (where the countries of our world have mysteriously changed shape “patterned after some abstruse logic”), Nazi Treasure Maps and Phallic Cartography. Many of the more recent articles have internal links to earlier articles which can also be great fun to follow. The Nazi Treasure Map article links to blog entry 63 – The Lost Dutchman Goldmine – and to entry 88 – Neuschwabenland. (Sadly though some of the internal links seem to be broken or blocked. Number 234 Slumless, smokeless cities, for example, which has a link from the Circular Towns article, comes back empty for me. A pity.)

But generally this is a very good website and well worth a visit. Or three.

I am myself out travelling at present, which explains why this week’s effort is so short and without a recorded version. I’m hoping to return to my regular service next Wednesday.

Toodle-pip!