Maps are a good way to visualize complex ideas over space, and they are an everyday part of how we quickly analyze a complex set of data – everything from the weather to our daily commute (for those who don’t live where they go to work, e.g. college students). They are ‘objects to think with, and visualizing leads to conceptualizing. Scientific cartography, the systematic use of mapping for data analysis, has been used for a long time, but has been given renewed attention since at least the 1990s because of the development of tools like GIS (geographical information systems). GIS is used in everything from national security, urban development, policing, environmental engineering, education (public school administration). Data gathering and mapping came to mind in a recent example from policing because of news reports on the the NYC Police Commissioner’s retirement.
Scientific cartography is also a key part of meteorology and climatology. Edwards discusses this issue through a focus on ‘isolines’ to demonstrate how infrastructure develops.
“The isoline-the general term for this technique of mapping relationships among data points-was a crucial innovation in weather and climate data analysis. Its importance can hardly be exaggerated. Isolines were the first practical technique for visualizing weather patterns from data over large areas: pictures worth a thousand numbers. Little changed since the days of Humboldt, Brandes, and Dove, isolines remain a basic convention of weather and climate maps today” (Edwards 2010:31).
Maps made global connections real, reinforcing the understanding of the interdependence of different locations in shaping weather. As sharing data became a necessity for meteorologists, social structures and cultural practices needed to be developed which created the spaces through which data could be shared. It first had to develop as a norm among meteorologists, one which would encourage the sharing of data beyond regional and national boundaries. Edwards argues that the development of this norm, referred to as the communality of data, “helped make meteorology among the most open and cosmopolitan of sciences” (Edwards 2010:32-34). Such connections resulted in the creation of networks of people, instruments, and knowledge over wide areas of the world.
But this data also needed to be processed before it was actually usable for meteorologists. Edwards highlights the development of a particular category of meteorologists he calls “Data guys”: they collected, “cleaned,” and archived large data sets for analysis, and served as a key resource for climatologists
“In subsequent decades the project of collecting, filtering, and mapping global climate data would be repeated over and over. Each new collector would invert the infrastructure anew, adding some data and rejecting others. Often collectors would frame some new way to refine the data, correct for systematic errors, or create a set more evenly distributed in global space” (Edwards 2010:36-37).
One thing that we take for granted is having a shared marking of time throughout the world. Prior to the 19th century, there wasn’t really a global standard for a shared sense of time. One of the biggest steps to developing a standard for universal time was the development of time zones. This helped to standardize time, especially as communication technologies like the telegraph connected long distances instantaneously. Standardizing time throughout the world was one of the social impacts of such technology. “Global standard time bound continuous space to simultaneous time. It positioned people and communities relative to huge regions defined purely by their longitude” (2010:46). But it took time for people to accept standardized time; Edwards refers to this as the “inertia of the installed base” (Edwards 2010:46)
Before the telegraph, meteorology was for amateurs (there were no full-time meterologists). Forecasting the weather, however, was a priority for government, businesses, farmers and wider society. The telegraph made it possible for weather forecasting to be more accurate, as data could be aggregated in a timely manner. As Edwards points out in greater detail, the professionalization of meteorology led to the beginning of the creation of the infrastructure for meteorology and the study of climate change.
Edwards concludes that standardization should be seen as a major characteristic of globalization in the latter half of the nineteenth century
“By the 1880s, many countries sought to formalize and control this process, creating national bureaus of standards. Yet burgeoning global trade and communication had already short-circuited strictly national efforts, and many de facto international standards entrenched themselves long before 1900” (Edwards 2010:49).
But such efforts to create international bodies that formalized standards (or more specifically, standard-setting processes) were impeded by another emerging political process: nationalism. Political scientists have dated the emergence of the modern nation-state to the 1644 Peace of Westphalia. This created an ideological basis for self-determination and sovereignty. However, international bodies that managed their interests by establishing standards and rules interfered with sovereignty. Edwards describes this problem as tension between “scientific internationalism” and “scientific nationalism.” Scientific internationalism is “propositions and rhetoric asserting the reality and necessity of supranational agreement on scientific doctrine, of transnational social intercourse among scientists, and of international collaboration in scientific work” (Edwards 2010:55). Scientific nationalism, on the other hand, does not need any direct relationship between scientists and governments.