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Thursday, January 26, 2012

‘The Greatest Paper Map Of The United States You’ll Ever See’


Here & Now producers Hitesh Hathi (left) and Jill Ryan hold Dave Imus' massive map of the United States. (Jesse Costa/Here & Now)

Have you ever been completely enthralled by a map?

Many of us at Here & Now were mesmerized recently when we unraveled a new map of the U.S by Dave Imus. We ogled at the details! Pointed out familiar landmarks. Marveled at our utter lack of geographic awareness. OK, we’re public radio nerds, but we aren’t alone in our appreciation of a good map.

Slate magazine calls Imus’ cartographic work of art, “The Greatest Paper Map Of The United States You’ll Ever See.”

What’s all the fuss about?

A map of Missouri. (Courtesy Dave Imus, Imus Geographics)

A map of Missouri. (Courtesy Dave Imus, Imus Geographics)

“What I did different than anybody else who ever made a map of the United States was that I brought into focus… the basic geography,” Imus told Here & Now‘s Robin Young. “People that read this map or look at it on the wall can understand and appreciate more deeply the character of the United States… the lay of the land.”

“We can distinguish one state from another by its unique geographic character instead of by these arbitrary colors that one might assign to them.”
– Cartographer Dave Imus

Colors And Shading

Imus spent hours picking the levels of colors and shading. For instance, the large population centers pop with a bright yellow, but on the outskirts of big cities, the yellow becomes more diluted until it fades out completely.

Instead of just coloring mountain ranges the standard brown, Imus used more subtle shading to mark higher versus lower elevations.

A map of St. Louis. (Courtesy of Dave Imus, Imus Geographics)

And, bucking tradition,  he did not make each state a different color.

“We can distinguish one state from another by its unique geographic character instead of by these arbitrary colors that one might assign to them,” he said.

Editorial Judgements

Imus also made a lot of editorial choices. He omitted some Chicago suburbs, so he could include the Chicago Cub’s Wrigley Field.

Imus explained, “If you are looking at a map of Egypt and it had a bunch of towns on it, but didn’t include the pyramids, wouldn’t you say, ‘Hey, wouldn’t the pyramids have told us something about Egypt?”

It was no small feat for Imus to make this map.

“I worked on it seven days a week, 10 or 12 hours pretty much every day for two years,” he said.

Imus’ map won top honors at last year’s Cartography and Geographic Information Society Competition.


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  • Maggie

    Maps a thing of the past! Absurd!  Maps are one of most important streams that feeds the delta of day dreaming.  Maps a thing of the past? Oh no! Now I have added another concern to the list of reasons to resist the invasion of technology. We must not let it happend!  So; where is this map being exhibited?  Are there affordable prints for sale?  Loved the article H&N, thanks.

    • hitesh

      Hello Maggie, hitesh here, one of the producers.  You can see more about the map, including information on buying it, by clicking on the link to Imus Geographics above. 

      • Maggie

        Thanks hitesh,
        I checked it out and just looking at in on the screen is exciting.  Although there are no USA territories included!  Bummer!

  • V Hart

    Wonderful story.  Maps, like all other graphical representations of data, provide insights that mere text or other forms of communication (like trend lines, etc.) would entirely miss. Maps enable us to take in the whole of something in rather than being restricted to just what will show in a computer screen (using zoom in/out).  And finally Imus’s fundamental concept here – to show the geographic detail – makes the place names much more meaningful.  Thank you!

  • Kristinarey

    This piece made an other wise heinous migrane day so much brighter!

  • AD

    Really enjoyed the interview. Glad that there are people out there still making beautiful maps. Congratulations!

  • viking

    As a child I would lay on the floor and read our one ‘atlas” for hours.  The maps were pure magic to me. I spent over 20 years working for an airline- I was on the ground- but traveled as much as I could- and maps and what was visible out the window from 35,000 feet- and at my destination was again– magic! 
    Combine MAPS like this one with books like Wm Least Heat Moon’s “Blue Highways”, or “The Nine Nations of North America”  and more recently “Dakota: A Spritual Geography” by Kathleen Norris- and of course the many writings of John McPhee and one gets a visceral, kinetic and deeply human sense of our country.
    thanks for this story!

  • http://profiles.google.com/thomasphifer Thomas Phifer

    LOVE this article! More like this please!

  • Tburrows

    Thank you for sharing  something so uniquely beautiful!…it frees the mind.

  • Gabor

    As a GIS slave I have ambiguous feelings about the map. Actually not the map but the name and the purpose of the map. Is it a generic all encompassing visitors map? Road map? Map of what? When a cartographer makes these decisions (omit suburbs for a landmark) it’s a map for the cartographer. It’s hard to make these decisions in a generic map. 

  • Phyllis Belk

    Good news and bad news.  I have a wonderful adult son who is the hardest person to buy gifts for.   The good news is that he loves maps as do I.  He did not know about the Imus map, and I was able to buy him a birthday gift that so delighted him it transferred stars to my crown.  I heard about the Imus map on your show.

  • Mbzbly2

    I commend the young woman who is taking the cost of raising a child into consideration.  Brilliant, AND there is nothing wrong with her doing so.  Most people never think of the child’s point of view.   Atleast 50% (I’d say) of children are not the precious gift of sentient beings.  They are treated like trash and brought up in negative emotional deserts dispite their “parents” best intentions.  There would be fewer druggies,prostitutes and twisted people if both parents were sober and thoughtful in regards to the actual quality of life of their future children.
    Are you kidding me that a good reason to have a child is so they will take care of you in old age?  Please, better chances winning the lottery!!  Wake up.

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