Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Fast forward from clay tablets

Maps & Civilization: Cartography in Culture and Society. Third edition. / Norman J.W. Thrower. Published by the University of Chicago Press, 2008. Originally published 1972. 352 pages, illustrated.

Maps & Civilization, with sample illustrations of maps in each of nine chapters, begins with the first comprehensive diagrams we know of from pre-literate times. Depicting natural phenomena in an organized manner with bent reeds and shells actually spoke volumes to early explorers in canoes who used them: it was the technological communication of the day. The author progresses through history from classical antiquity when visual representation of a place might have been incised onto a rock or clay tablet. At present, information on all levels be it political, private, weather, lunar, event, pictorial, geological, demographic, and other thematic, is exploited to produce a vast array of maps on paper and in digital form.

This clay tablet was made in ancient times. The image is from a wikipedia article entitled, "Babylonian Map of the World".

Visual communication systems are possible from innovations in technology, but technology is only half the story. Maps representing evidence of a discovery must be shared at large. Perhaps two poignant recent historical examples would be those maps drawn of the South Pole by Ralph Falcon Scott in 1911 or of Mount Everest in 1953 by Edmund Hillary and Tensing Sherpa as they climbed the summit.

The book offers a resource of the many ideas that maps illustrate for the public. The original manuscript was published much before computers were common among map users (1972)--- a fact that doesn’t diminish, but enhances the message delivered by his survey of map-making. Maps, like news articles, proliferate because of existing knowledge in a particular culture. Lately we think first of gps and of the interactive maps online we can easily access. Do you agree that the ideas began on paper? Take a look at the isometric map of New York City crafted by Hermann Bollmann for the World’s Fair a couple of years later in 1964.

Friday, July 12, 2013

War and Food Supplies

Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food / Lizzie (Elizabeth M.) Collingham. Published by Penguin Press, 2012.

A rare glimpse into the real reasons why the allies were successful in World War II, The Taste of War by Lizzie Collingham is a 500 page testimonial to the hardships brought to countries that might otherwise be competitive with warring nations.

Lacking food and foodstuffs is not new to populations of people worldwide, no matter where they live and grow or barter for their sustenance. Yet, coupled with the technologies of war and the devastating effects of economic sanctions, the delicate balance maintained by poorer or struggling nations did not sustain them against weaponry and war, at least the first time around.

But the broad sweep of history on the eve of war also draws from the effects of earlier starvation and disease. Thus contributing to inevitable consequences of economic failure during wartime, the tole of famine has been until this book, much overlooked. Collingham examines each aspect of food production in the major powers and colonial countries, not only for the military but for citizens, for food science and food production. Not much later than WWII, Vietnam experienced famine which cost their population a greater number of casualties than in wars it fought later on. Even if Third World countries are not considered, examples of the type of devastation that signal defeat far in advance of embattlement: Japan, Greece, Germany, the Soviet Union all suffered severe shortages and deprivation for lack of food and harshly diminished supply lines. And drought, a phenomenon of nature occurring randomly, could and did claim the last vestige of plans for recovery in the Soviet Union and other countries on worldwide scale. In the last chapter the author indicates that because abundance through farming methods will not alleviate lack of food worldwide, global famine may result from overproduction of manufactured foods which are really not nutritive to human bodies.

The book speaks of modern food history within the war years of the twentieth century, and with clarity tells the story from a global perspective. If you look for reviews online, you’ll find this book very popular for the research and careful study made by the author, its readability and comprehensive review of not only large-scale incidents, but also personal accounts. One of the better reviews is on written by James McGlothlin who states, "Extraordinary. I can’t believe I voluntarily read a 500-page economic history, let alone that I remained absorbed from start to finish… it turns out that WW II wasn’t about bad ideas, or at least the bad ideas were secondary…"

See the on-site exhibit at the Los Angeles Museum, Mess Halls and Ward Rooms, 1880s to 1950s that reveals images from books on feeding sailors and crew members in the U.S. Navy during the time period.