Making National Geographic Maps

I was able to visit the National Geographic Society’s headquarters in Washington D.C. recently to work on a project to align the new Geography For Life Standards with the Common Core English Language Arts standards.  During this visit I was able to tour the facilities including the board room at the top of a majestic staircase with gorgeous historical wall maps.

While this tour was beautiful, intellectually the highlight of this was a tour of the cartography department where I met the meticulous Juan Valdés.  The National Geographic has not been able to produce a map of Cuba since 1906.  I was astonished as he showed us meticulously edited drafts and revisions (I counted somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 separate versions, but was told that there were 36 distinct drafts) to produce this singular map.  As a boy, Juan grew up in Cuba before Fidel Castro came to power so this map became of a labor of love, as he was able to document his patria in a very professional and personal way (for the back story of Juan’s life history, flight from Cuba and making a life life in Florida, see the first 12 minutes of the YouTube video embedded below, and the rest of the video centers on the creation of the map).

His desk (coupled with the view) was the quintessential cartographer’s desk in my mind and embodies spatial thinking, mathematical precision, visual artistry and a passion for understanding place.

This video is a fantastic presentation and here are the accompanying slides  (shared with permission, but compressed for easier downloading).  Making of the Cuba Map PPTx

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