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Mark Monmonier, Coast Lines: How mapmakers frame the world and chart environmental change.

Mark Monmonier, Coast Lines: How mapmakers frame the world and chart environmental change

University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2008. ISBN-13: 978-0-226-53403-9. Hardback; 228 pp. US$25.00

This charming and engagingly written book examines the way cartographers have portrayed arguably one of the most important features of maps, namely the coast line. As Monmonier points out, the split plural form of the book title reflects the complexity and nuance of representing the major attributes of the coastal zone on maps, which he describes in terms of the four cartographic coast lines (i.e. the high-water line, low-water line, and coast lines associated with storms and relative sea-level rise). And of course, geopolitics is firmly imbedded within these different conceptions of the coast line as attested by Ronald Reagan's Presidential Proclamation 5928 that added 100,000 square miles to the "American homeland without military force or clandestine diplomacy" (p. 102).

Increasing knowledge of the complexity of these contrasting forms of coast lines, as expressed on maps, parallels the development of cartography as a formal discipline since the earliest formulation of maps. Not surprisingly, this growing body of spatial awareness is firmly rooted in exploration and subsequent developments in technology. Although not representing a formal history of cartography, the book traces major developments in attempts to accurately portray coast lines on maps, as well as the difficulties that mapmakers face when trying to produce maps for contrasting user requirements. The book uses many case studies drawing heavily on North American examples and Five Islands, Maine, are used repeatedly to illustrate the classic problems of cartographic generalization and problems associated with scale as well as contrasting map user requirements.

The subtitle of the book, "How mapmakers frame the world and chart environmental change" accurately describes the essence of the book. Following discussions of the traditional problems experienced by cartographers in portraying the three-dimensional surface of the Earth in a simplified but representative form, on a two-dimensional surface, the work discusses developments in the application of aerial photographs, electronic charts and positioning as well as early geodetic triangulation surveys. Following on from a discussion of the complexity of accurately portraying coast lines on maps, is an interesting overview of the contentious issue of delineating maritime territories and exclusive economic zones and highlights the geopolitical significance of cartography. The maritime boundaries between Canada and the United States, and Cuba and the United States, represent triumphs in cartography.

The book paints a wide canvas in terms of the issues discussed about environmental change. The book mainly focuses on environmental change occurring over relatively short periods of time and not the 'deep time' of the geological realm. The impacts of storms and floods are discussed in terms of producing maps that account for the risks of these events, and the potential use of such maps in the insurance industry. The nuances and general problems of producing such maps are also discussed. The potential impact of future relative sea-level rise is also discussed and an amusing reconstruction of a 1980 inundation map of Washington D.C. is presented showing the potential impact of a 15 and 25 feet above sea-level inundation; Capitol Hill is depicted as a beachhead setting!

In summary, by using coast lines on maps as examples, the book provides an interesting overview of some of the most fundamental problems faced by all cartographers in map construction. In this sense the book is thought-provoking. The book is written in a very readable style and should be of wide appeal, irrespective of one's degree of technical expertise or familiarity of maps. I highly recommend the work.

Colin V. Murray-Wallace

University of Wollongong
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Title Annotation:Coast Lines: How Mapmakers Frame the World and Chart Environmental Change
Author:Murray-Wallace, Colin V.
Publication:The Globe
Article Type:Book review
Date:Feb 1, 2009
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