All semester we have played with the idea of what a map is. Over time we have expanded the concept to include battleships, baseball stadiums, and closets. But if pushed, how would we define these documents we have been studying and producing these past months?
Oxford American offers the following definitions of the term, which might serve as a baseline for us.
1 a diagrammatic representation of an area of land or sea showing physical features, cities, roads, etc. : a street map | figurative expansion of the service sector is reshaping the map of employment.
• a two-dimensional representation of the positions of stars or other astronomical objects.
• a diagram or collection of data showing the spatial arrangement or distribution of something over an area : an electron density map.
• Biology a representation of the sequence of genes on a chromosome or of bases in a DNA or RNA molecule.
• Mathematics another term for MAPPING.
2 informal dated a person’s face.
While my personal favorite would be “a person’s face” (and I hope to bring this back in vogue), 1(c) “a diagram or collection of data showing the spatial arrangement or distribution of something over an area” seems to best capture the spirit we have been affording the idea of a map.
However, after reading You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination this week I was thinking that even though this description is nicely ambiguous and allows us great play in deciding how to categorize maps, it lacked what I have come to think of as an essential quality of a map-its referential information system. All maps are inherently self-referential in that its symbolic entities are symbiotic with each other. But they can also be referential to other maps and contexts of knowledge. For example, I started making a list of the themes of some of the maps in You Are Here. Within the first couple of chapters it contained visualizations of such disparate subjects as bodies, virtues, dreams, politics, values, economics, ambition, class, and tradition, among many others.
Essentially, the Oxford American dictionary doesn’t seem to hold a place for some of the maps in You Are Here, such as the morality maps or dream maps. Nor does it capture the crux of what maps are capable, how they can represent information that is wholly unreliant on place. So I’m working on a brief, descriptive definition of a map given all we have experienced. So far what i have come up with is “a document used to symbolically present the referential placement of entities,” but I’m not sure I’m happy with that. For starters I’d like it to be in English.
What do you all think?