- Rediscovering the World: Map Transformations of Human and Physical Space by Benjamin D. Hennig
Rediscovering the World is part of Springer’s Theses Series, an initiative to publish “outstanding” doctoral theses awarded and nominated by “internationally top-ranked research institutes” (Springer 2013). Benjamin Hennig’s PhD thesis was accepted by the University of Sheffield in 2011 and won the prestigious German Study Award (Deutscher Studienpreis), presented by the Körber Stiftung, the following year. Add to this Danny Dorling’s glowing endorsement in his Supervisor’s Foreword that Hennig’s work offers, since Waldo Tobler’s thesis of 1961, “the most significant advancement in the combined study of cartography and human geography since that time,” and one cannot help but approach this book with an unusually (and perhaps an unfairly) high level of expectation. But given that this is an especially “raw” example of a thesis-turned-book, with (as suggested by Springer) an expanded introduction for the benefit of non-experts and the Supervisor’s Foreword, it is difficult to regard the work as anything other than the fruit of an academic exercise.
Divided into eight chapters (plus appendix), the book is presented in a conventional thesis format, with an expanded introduction that specifies the aims and objectives; a literature review; a critical appraisal of other approaches; an introduction to and explanation of the new method; its application; discussion of the results; and a conclusion. Figures are reproduced in colour throughout, and a reference list is provided at the end of each chapter. Springer has produced the book to a high standard, although the figures are disappointing in that many images (particularly maps) are simply far too small to be appreciated or even read properly. Presumably these have been reduced from their original sizes as per an A4-sized PhD thesis, but given that the ebook version offers no further detail, one cannot help wondering how publication in this series could possibly do any thesis about maps real justice in terms of showcasing its visual examples. It might also be assumed (at least by prospective authors) that Springer offers scrupulous proof-reading that would iron out such minor errors as Dorling’s reference to “Arno Peter’s” projection (p. xi) and “Endey” for “Edney” in the first footnote (p. 1). Moreover, one might also wonder whether publishing PhD research in a single expensive volume delivers as much impact as publishing it as a series of papers.
Hennig’s central argument is that maps need to be redrawn on a base that preserves something more meaningful than scale. Building on the algorithm developed by Gastner and Newman (2004) and on the Worldmapper project (World-mapper n.d.), Hennig proposes a new basemap, a density-equalizing gridded cartogram, upon which quantitative data (e.g., population) can be mapped at global or local scales. Essentially, this is intended to generate maps that are geographically distorted according to variations in the data to produce a better visualization of their patterns across human, rather than geographical, space. It is easy to see the benefits of these cartograms relative to conventional choropleth maps based on irregularly sized administrative divisions at global or local scales. Hennig’s cartograms preserve the geographic reference of an underlying grid (of various resolutions), allowing a wide range of data to be plotted or incorporated. The creation of a gridded world population cartogram, mentioned as the primary outcome of Hennig’s research (p. 112), allocates the same amount of space to every person, using, for example, cells of one-quarter of a degree in resolution (size). This presents a significant improvement over other methods (such as Worldmapper) that might adopt a single population value per country: the use of the grid in Hennig’s method allows a much more accurate representation of variation [End Page 334] across a local or global surface. Like the Worldmapper cartograms...