Remember Bill Bunge‘s Fitzgerald: geography of a revolution (1971)? Trevor Barnes and Nick Heynen celebrated its republication in 2011 by the University of Georgia Press:
‘Forty years after its publication, Fitzgerald remains fresh, energetic, compelling, and relevant. One of Bunge’s purposes in Fitzgerald was to do human geography differently. He pushed the discipline in a new direction, helping to transform it into something else. If we see Fitzgerald differently now compared to when it was written it is because the discipline in which we gave become socialised has significantly altered. Fitzgerald helped to change it. We all contain, perhaps more than we would like to think, perhaps more than we would like to know, a little bit of Bunge, a little bit of Fitzgerald.’
You can find the full set of commentaries in Progress in human geography 35 (5) (2011). What distinguished Fitzgerald, apart from its driving, passionate narrative, was a series of remarkable, original and imaginative maps of the Detroit neighbourhood where Bunge made his home. These were not decorations – many of them were deeply troubling – but an indispensable means of driving the argument home.
Now Denis Wood has followed in Bunge’s footsteps – readers will surely know The power of maps (which he wrote and later re-thought with John Fels) – using maps to tell a series of exquisitely layered stories about Boylan Heights in Raleigh, North Carolina in Everything sings: maps for a narrative atlas (2013). His publisher Siglio explains:
Iconoclastic geographer Denis Wood has created an atlas unlike any other. He surveys his small, century-old neighborhood in Raleigh, North Carolina by first paring away the inessential “map crap” (scale, orientation, street grids), then by locating the revelatory in the unmapped and unmappable: radio waves permeating the air, the paperboy’s route in space and time, the light cast by street lamps, Halloween pumpkins on porches. His joyful subversion of the traditional notions of mapmaking forge new ways of seeing not only this particular place, but also the very nature of place itself.
In a long and lively interview about the book, re-published today on Guernica, Denis argues:
Maps are just nude pictures of reality, so they don’t look like arguments. They look like “Oh my god, that’s the real world.” That’s one of the places where they get their kick-ass authority.
If you’re having trouble explaining the politics of ‘deconstructing the map’, then this may be a good place to start. And do click on the thumbnails above the interview for a selection of 20 images from the expanded edition of Everything sings. More on Denis’s work and access to his writing (and much more besides) at his website here.
Of course other, markedly ugly narratives can be inscribed on the world through maps. Fitzgerald was a collaborative project, and it drew on the work of the Detroit Geographical Expedition. But there have been other, decidedly invasive ‘geographical expeditions’ – like the American Geographical Society’s Bowman Expedition (Zoltan Grossman provides a rich series of sources here, and Joel Wainwright‘s Geopiracy: Oaxaca, militant empiricism and geographical thought (2012) is indispensable). So it’s good to know that Denis is currently completing another book (with Joe Bryan), Weaponizing Maps: bringing the conquest home, which is an incisive analysis of military mapping of indigenous populations in Canada, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua and the imbrications of cartographic Reason with contemporary counterinsurgency.
I expect both Bill Bunge and Tracy Chapman would agree there’s a revolution needed there too.