Robinson, Arthur H. 1982. Early thematic mapping in the history of cartography. Chapter 6, Maps of the social environment. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


The main argument in Arthur H. Robinson’s chapter “Maps of the Social Environment” is that there was a rapid development in the thematic cartography from the late 1600s to 1800s, where “geographers were the explorers and the official mapmakers while others were making the thematic maps of various distributions with the hope of discovering meaningful correlations among the regional variations” (155). “The availability of numerous social statistics … the series of cholera epidemics in Europe … and the appalling living conditions of the poor” laid the initial basic ideas of the thematic mapping which Robinson argues, provided the foundation to the maps of the social environment of the time (156).

  Based on the social environment, in his article Robinson talks about three different thematic maps: Moral Statistics, Medical Maps, and Living Condition.

Under the section, The Moral Statistics Robinson elaborates “the intriguing study of correlations between variations in crime rates and education, the general subject of popular education and its relation to the prosperity, the proportion of births to a marriage versus the proportion of marriage to the population, health and occupations of people etc.” (156). They adopted “the choropleth map” and “the dot map” where they played with the statistics and portrayed them with color to produce neatly drawn and shaded thematic maps, and each accompanied by a table (167).

The epidemics of cholera in Europe in the 19th century gave an idea for The Medical Maps where “the maps of hospitals, routes of spread, quarantine cordons, and even the placing of an ambulance on a battlefield came into rubric” (170). “The medical maps were more like “spot maps” or “lined maps” showing the routes of spread, dates, and spots and region of occurrence of the epidemic diseases like yellow fever, cholera, tuberculosis, etc. and were sophisticatedly cartographed, where the gradations of the greater or lesser strength of the epidemic were given by the stronger or weaker shadings of colors”(170-171).

Under the section, Living Conditionsthey were more concerned about “various aspects of housing, land use and population characteristics where the thematic cartographers chose to rank and categorize the houses on the basis of the number of rooms, doors, and windows, and the quality of the construction materials” (182). He then classified “the streets into first-class and second-class private streets, and first, second and third-class shop streets and third-class mixed streets to prepare “sanitary map” where the streets were represented by different tints of blue, crimson, yellow, red, purple and brown color” (185).

Finally, Robinson concludes in his writing that “the maps of the social environment became a regular part of atlases and population studies and they reflect the wave of reform that swept over Western Europe during the nineteenth century” (186). They gave a try to study the new and every possible aspect of the social environment, as a result, the development of the thematic cartography was rapid (188).

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