The Meandering Mississippi River and How It Evolved Over Thousands of Years Visualized in Brilliant Maps from 1944

Given that Turkey's Büyük Menderes River was historically known as the Meander, you might well imagine how un-straightforward a path it takes through the country. But the English adjective descended from its name describes a fair few other twisting, turning rivers as well, and also a form of river mapping that suits them. "I have long admired the Mississippi River meander maps designed by Army Corps of Engineers cartographer Harold Fisk," writes Jason Kottke at Kottke.org by way of an introduction to his short essay on them at the site of printmaker 20x200.

"In their relentless flow to lower ground, rivers like to roam over the landscape, cutting through solid rock and loamy soil alike, gaining advantage here and there where they can," goes Kottke's explanation of how meandering rivers come to be. "The best and easiest course for a river to take downhill is its current course... right up until the moment when it's not." Each color in Fisk's meander maps of the longest river in North America "represents a new course, a marker of each time a bend had become too bendy and the river 'decided' to take a more direct path." Kottke summarizes these maps' appeal succinctly: "They are time machines."

"Standing before a painting by Hilma af Klint, a sculpture by Bernini, or a cave painting in Chauvet, France draws you back in time in a powerful way: you know you're standing precisely where those artists stood hundreds or even thousands of years ago, laying paint to surface or chisel to stone." Here, thanks to a "clever mapmaker with an artistic eye," we can imagine the Mississippi "as it was during the European exploration of the Americas in the 1500s, during the Cahokia civilization in the 1200s (when this city's population matched London's), when the first humans came upon the river more than 12,000 years ago, and even back to before humans, when mammoths, camels, dire wolves, and giant beavers roamed the land and gazed upon the river."

You can buy prints of three different Mississippi meander maps from 20x200, all of them originally part of Fisk's report "Geological Investigation of the Alluvial Valley of the Lower Mississippi River completed in 1944. The study was made to learn about the formation of the valley over time, and about the major factors that dictate its flow and flooding in the modern era." Fisk drew upon data collected through approximately 16,000 borings, and "also found the river's heart in this jumble of loops and purls," producing a reflection of the river's distinctive personality in "this explosive, autumn-colored palette." Regarding these maps, we can't help but wonder in what shape some future team of intrepid surveyors will find the Mississippi a few thousand years hence — and what new words, in what languages, that shape might inspire.

via Kottke

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

An Interactive Map of Odysseus’ 10-Year Journey in Homer’s Odyssey

The Odyssey, one of Homer's two great epics, narrates Odysseus' long, strange trip home after the Trojan war. During their ten-year journey, Odysseus and his men had to overcome divine and natural forces, from battering storms and winds to difficult encounters with the Cyclops Polyphemus, the cannibalistic Laestrygones, the witch-goddess Circe and the rest. And they took a most circuitous route, bouncing all over the Mediterranean, moving first down to Crete and Tunisia. Next over to Sicily, then off toward Spain, and back to Greece again.

If you're looking for an easy way to visualize all of the twists and turns in The Odyssey, then we'd recommend spending some time with the interactive map created by Gisèle Mounzer"Odysseus' Journey" breaks down Odysseus' voyage into 14 key scenes and locates them on a modern map designed by Esri, a company that creates GIS mapping software.




Meanwhile, if you're interested in the whole concept of ancient travel, we'd suggest revisiting one of our previous posts: Play Caesar: Travel Ancient Rome with Stanford’s Interactive Map. It tells you all about ORBIS, a geospatial network model, that lets you simulate journeys in Ancient Roman. You pick the points of origin and destination for a trip, and ORBIS will reconstruct the duration and financial cost of making the ancient journey.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in December, 2013.

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New Interactive “Murder Map” Reveals the Meanest Streets of Medieval London

How dangerous was medieval London? That’s a question that has recently been studied by the University of Cambridge’s Violence Research Center, and they have provided a handy interactive map for our perusal. Just in case we go back in time in a TARDIS or some such machine, we’ll know what parts of the city to avoid. And those parts are...well, most of it, actually.

The data containing info of 142 homicides comes from surviving coroner’s rolls from the first half of the 14th century. A coroner during this time was a bit closer to a police detective in ours, called to the scene of any sudden and unnatural death. And if it looked liked foul play a neighborhood jury of somewhere between 12 and 50 people were called to offer a verdict.




Hover over a marker on the map and you can discover what happened at that location. Here are a few examples:

On the evening of July 20, 1325, Peter Clark, a baker, was stabbed in the heart by a fellow baker called Walter after an argument. Walter took sanctuary in a church, confessed to the crime, and a month later made his way out of the country by boat.

On December 21, 1325, Roger Scott, a tailor, was quarreling with Robert de Oundle in the streets of Bishopgate, when Robert stabbed Roger with a hidden knife, killing him instantly. He also fled, to where nobody knew.

On February 13, 1324, William Warrock and William de Northamptone were arguing in the high street of Castle Baynard, when the former stabbed the latter in the heart. Warrock, who had no belongings, disappeared.

Sensing a theme here? We’ll never know the reason for these fatal altercations, but the knife industry was doing well out of it. The study crunched the numbers and found some statistics: the time of year did not seem to be a factor, but like today, the weekend was a deadlier time. And the hours between early evening and the first hour of London’s curfew, when the city insisted all fires be extinguished and people go to bed.

A whopping 52% of murders happened in the public square or the high street. No other location cracks 10%. And long knives were the weapon of choice at 35%, second only to short knives at 20%. And though it wasn’t reflected in the three random examples, most people got stabbed in the head. Unsurprisingly men committed the majority of the crimes, and all classes of society and profession murdered their way around London, including priests. (One example is given of a priest who stabs a gardener to death when the latter discovered him stealing apples.)

Professor and criminologist Manuel Eisner summed up the work of his group thus:

“The events described in the Coroners’ Rolls show weapons were never far away, male honour had to be protected, and conflicts easily got out of hand. They give us a detailed picture of how homicide was embedded in the rhythms of urban medieval life.”

And in fact, given the proportion of crime to the general population, London was pretty deadly, about 15-20 times higher than a modern British city.

But Eisner notes the comparisons can only go so far: “We have firearms, but we also have emergency services. It’s easier to kill but easier to save lives.”

Visit the interactive medieval murder map here.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

A Subway Map of Human Anatomy: All the Systems of Our Body Visualized in the Style of the London Underground

We all have bodies, but how many of us truly know our way around them? Plenty of books explain in detail the functions of and relationships between each and every part of our anatomy, but few of them do it in a way the layman — and especially the layman not yet accustomed to the sight of human viscera laid bare — can readily grasp. We need a visualization of the human body, but what kind of visualization can best represent it with a maximum of clarity and a minimum of misleading distortion?

"Most people might imagine an intricate network of blood vessels or the complex neural circuits of the brain," writes Visual Capitalist's Iman Ghosh. "Or we might picture diagrams from the iconic medical textbook, Gray’s Anatomy." But how about a visualization of the body in the style of a classic piece of information design we've all seen at least once, the London Underground map? "Created by Jonathan Simmonds M.D., a resident physician at Tufts Medical Center," Ghosh writes, "it’s a simple yet beautifully intuitive demonstration of how efficiently our bodies work."




Just as Harry Beck's original 1933 London Underground map straightened out and color-coded each of the lines then in operation, Simmonds' anatomical map traces thirteen different "lines" through the body, each of which represents a different system of the body: the nervous system in yellow, for example, the airway system in black, and the lymphatic system in green. "While dashed lines represent deeper structures, sections with ‘transfers’ show where different organ systems intersect," Ghosh writes. If you're wondering where to start, she adds, "there’s a helpful 'You Are Here' at the heart."

You can take a close look at Simmonds' work in a large, high-resolution version here. Not only does following the model of the London Underground map introduce a degree of immediate legibility seldom seen (at least by non-medical students) in anatomical diagrams, it also underscores an aspect of the very nature of our human bodies that we don't often consider. We might instinctively think of them as sets of discrete organs all encased together and functioning independently, but in fact they're more like cities: just as busy, just as interconnected, just as dependent on connections and routines, and just as improbably functional.

via Visual Capitalist

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Roads of Ancient Rome Visualized in the Style of Modern Subway Maps

Sasha Trubetskoy, an undergrad at U. Chicago, has created a "subway-style diagram of the major Roman roads, based on the Empire of ca. 125 AD." Drawing on Stanford’s ORBIS model, The Pelagios Project, and the Antonine Itinerary, Trubetskoy's map combines well-known historic roads, like the Via Appia, with lesser-known ones (in somes cases given imagined names). If you want to get a sense of scale, it would take, Trubetskoy tells us, "two months to walk on foot from Rome to Byzantium. If you had a horse, it would only take you a month."

You can view the map in a larger format here. And if you follow this link and send Trubetskoy a few bucks, he can email you a crisp PDF for printing. Find more focused, related maps by Trubetskoy right here:

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

Note: This map first appeared on our site back in 2017.

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136 Maps Reveal Where Tourists & Locals Take Photos in Major Cities Across the Globe

How to tell the tourists in a city from the locals? Potentially reliable indicators include the language they speak, the terms they use, the way they dress, the way they walk, and whether they're standing in the middle of the sidewalk squinting at a map. But few factors draw the line between tourist and local more starkly than where they go and don't go: no matter the city, one will sooner or later hear talk of places locals know that tourists don't, places locals don't go because tourists do know about them, places tourists go when they want to act like locals, places locals go when they want to act like tourists, and so on.

In his project "Tourists and Locals," Eric Fischer has found one way of quantifying this great divide: where do the members of each group take the photos they upload to the internet? You can view the results in 136 different city maps or explore a whole world map, both of which use the same color coding: "The red bits indicate photos taken by tourists," says Brilliant Maps, "while the blue bits indicate photos taken by locals and the yellow bits might be either."




Using "MapBox and Twitter data from Gnip to create the maps," Fischer defined locals as "those who tweeted from the same location for at least a month" and tourists as "those who were considered local in another city but were tweeting in a different location."

Here, from the top of the post down, we have Fischer's maps of Paris, Tokyo, Dublin, and San Francisco, all cities with varying degrees of overlap between the realm of the local and that of the tourist. Parisian attractions like the Parc de Belleville and the Bassin de la Villette show a relatively healthy tourist-local balance, whereas outsiders dominate in places like La Défense with its highly photographable skyscrapers, and of course the Louvre (to say nothing of the red-saturated Versailles, not pictured in this segment of the map). Compare that with Tokyo, which of course has world-famous spots — the quaintly historic Asakusa, the sublimely urban Shibuya Crossing — but whose form doesn't encourage quite as strict a physical separation of tourist and local.

The path a tourist takes through Dublin might overlap a great deal with the one Leopold Bloom took on June 16, 1904, but less so with the paths an average Dubliner takes in the 2010s. The Irish capital also offers a host of must-sees apart from the Ulysses tour — the Guinness Storehouse, Trinity College's Old Library, home of The Book of Kells— but visitors would do well to follow the example of Dublin's locals and get a bit more distance from the city center. They could do the same in San Francisco, a city of iconic tourist attractions on which, before the tech boom, its very survival seemed to depend. But do true travelers, as opposed to tourists, need this kind of data processing and information design to know their time would be better spent somewhere other than Fisherman's Wharf?

See 136 different city maps here.

via Brilliant Maps

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Download 91,000 Historic Maps from the Massive David Rumsey Map Collection

Three years ago, we highlighted one of the most comprehensive map collections in existence, the David Rumsey Map Collection, then newly moved to Stanford University. The Rumsey Collection, we wrote then, “contains a seemingly inexhaustible supply of cartographic images”—justifiable hyperbole, considering the amount of time it would take any one person to absorb the over 150,000 physical artifacts Rumsey has amassed in one place.

By 2016, Rumsey had made almost half the collection—over 67,000 images—freely available in a digital archive that has been growing since 1996. Each entry features high-resolution scans for specialists (you can download them for free) and more manageable image sizes for enthusiasts; a wealth of data about provenance and historical context; and digital, user-friendly tools that use crowd-sourcing to measure the accuracy of antiquated maps against GPS renderings.

A completist’s dream, the archive “includes rare 16th through 21st century maps of AmericaNorth AmericaSouth AmericaEurope, Asia, AfricaPacificArcticAntarctic, and the World.” Among the seemingly innumerable examples of cartographic ingenuity we find early data visualizations, utilitarian primers, photographic surveys, intricate topographies, abstract objets d’art, and historical cornerstones of European map-making like Abraham Ortellus’s 1570 map of “Flandria” at the top.

The Ortellus “Theatrum” holds “a unique position in the history of cartography,” notes the Rumsey Collection, as “’the world’s first regularly produced atlas.’” It was also the first example of a “Theatre of the World,” a style that would become ubiquitous in the following century, and it was “the first undertaking of its kind to reduce the best available maps to a uniform format."

To make this document even more compelling, it contains its own bibliography. Ortellus "mentioned the names of the authors of the original maps" he drew from “and added a great many names of other cartographers and geographers.” Not all of the 91,000 and counting maps in the Rumsey digital collection combine this degree of stylistic mastery, historical import, and scholarly rigor. But a survey of the Collection’s categories will produce few that disappoint in any one of these areas.

The “important and rare” 1806 map of the U.S. and West Indies by Charles Piquet; the Tolkien-like Vergleichendes Tableau der bedeutendsten Hoehen der Erde, from 1855, a “decorative chart… showing comparative tables of the greatest mountains and volcanoes of the world”; the almost-expressionist map of Cheltenham from 1899 by the Geological Survey of Great Britain and Ireland; the fancifully-illustrated star-shaped star chart made by Ignace Gaston Pardies in 1693; Mike Cressy’s 1988 “Literary Map of Latin America”…..

This briefest overview of the Collection’s highlights already feels exhaustive. No matter your level of interest in maps, from the casual to the lifelong obsessive, The David Rumsey collection will deliver multiple points of entry to maps you never knew existed, and with them, new ways of seeing cities, regions, nations, territories, continents, planets, and beyond. Enter the collection here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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