Edinburgh Earth Observatory Seminars


17:00 - 18:00

Event Type

Our next seminar will be a celebration of the career of Dr William Mackannes (Institute of Geography, University of Edinburgh) ahead of his upcoming retirement. in his talk titled “My life in the Bush of Cartographic Ghosts”, William will be reflecting on his 40 years of research into the field of geographical modelling as it relates to the design of maps. He will be talking about the design of maps and how we make sense of them, and how his research fits into this rapidly evolving space.

The talk will be at 5pm on Friday the 14th of June in Room 2.13, the Institute of Geography, and will also be streamed as usual (link to follow later). For drinks afterwards we hope the weather will allow us to visit the Pear Tree beer garden.

It looks to be a fantastic talk, and I hope you will join us to be informed, entertained, and raise a glass to William in celebration of his many years of hard work for Geography.

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My life in the Bush of Cartographic Ghosts

In this presentation I describe my 40 year research trajectory in the field of geographical modelling as it relates to the design of maps. No melancholy, no dire warnings to those who might follow in my footsteps but an attempt to join the dots, to make sense of where I ended up, to reflect on the magic of exploring ideas, of collaboration, of sharing and persuading, of reflecting and incorporating the ideas of others.

My specific field of research is in map generalization – a field of research originally centered around attempts to automate the design and production of paper maps. In the 1980s I caught the first wave of artificial intelligence and my PhD sought to embed human cartographic knowledge within rule based systems and heuristics. The research highlighted the palimpsest of decision making that goes on in the creation of any given map: the effortless dexterity of the human hand, as well as the complex multifarious nature of a socio-technical construct – the map.

In the 1990s I witnessed efforts to re-contextualise the discipline of cartography within the field of geovisualisation. The serendipity of technology offered new ways of capturing, storing and representing geographic information – the digital map now ran alongside a rich collection of interactive qualitative and quantitative techniques – providing a collective narrative rather than a mere geographical abstraction.

More recently we have witnessed a second wave in AI and an excitement around ideas of artificial general intelligence – AI research that attempts to create software with human-like intelligence and the ability to self-teach. The ambition is to give ‘design’ the black box treatment – submitting a large corpus of maps, and training the machine in order that the machine might understand what ‘a good map’ looks like. Fortified by such knowledge, the machine would be able in an instant to spirit up a map for any occasion, of any theme, and without any human intervention whatsoever. I’m still trying to work out whether this is the right goal since Krippendorf argues that the very process of designing a map is the very means by which we make sense of it. And as follow on question: Im trying to understand the relevance of my research among these changing methodologies and contexts. Maybe this seminar will help answer these questions – but on the other hand……