Queensland Governor salutes mapmakers

By on 14 February, 2012
In an address to the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland on the occasion of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the Governor of Queensland, Penelope Wensley AC, chose to praise and honour mapmakers and maps.
“I come this evening to praise and honour mapmakers and maps. Like many of my generation,” she said, “I have always found maps almost irresistible.”
Her Excellency paid tribute to cartographers and navigators whose achievements in mathematics, exploration, and graphical invention made possible a representation of the world that was readily comprehensible. Even the earliest maps, such as a 2,300BC Babylonian clay tablet, use symbols that are still instantly recognizable.
“The Babylonian map,” she said, “uses symbols that clearly represent mountains, a river valley, and fields. The representation of real space and real features in this way was surely a radical step, as radical as the invention of writing, because expressing information in the form of a map made possible the transfer of knowledge from an individual no longer living to individuals yet to be born, without the intermediary of oral transmission through multiple generations.”
The Governor referred to her 40 year career as a diplomat, dealing with the management of relations between countries, in which she “became ever more intrigued by the paradox of maps; how it is that they can lead double lives, some acting as a disinterested representation of the surface features of our planet, and others as a cipher of change over the centuries, tracking geo-political upheavals through the expansion and contraction, appearance and disappearance of those imaginary lines that we call international borders.”
“Maps created a basic language of symbols from the landscape around us that we all instantly understand. No-one who has ever seen a river will fail to recognize its representation on a map … The range, sophistication and abstraction of that symbolic language grew as mapmaking developed, but that doesn’t disguise the fact that the Babylonian map, for all its simplicity, is a true predecessor of all maps, up to and including those generated by modern day GPS-driven technology.”
Her Excellency offered her celebratory Jubilee address as a grand tour in appreciation of maps and map-making. She spoke of the enormous debt owed to cartographers and mapmakers and to the giants of the mapmakers art and craft.
“[Maps] remind us of the enormous debt that our current understanding of our world, our capacity to make representations of it, and to find our way around it, is owed to geographers and mapmakers born thousands of generations ago. [The 1200BC Turin papyrus map] … would be easily decipherable by a primary school student, provided he or she had been taught the rudiments of geography in the first place.”
It was a notable speech to mark an historical occasion, enthusiastically received by the members of the Royal Geographical Society, Queensland.
The full speech may be heard at Spencer Howson’s ABC Queensland Breakfast Blog.

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