When I tell people I’m a cartographer I typically get one of two responses:
Oh, I love taking photos!” or “Hasn’t everything been mapped already?

So it can be such a relief to be surrounded by like-minded people for a few days each year. The North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS) annual conference, held this year in Madison, Wisconsin, brings out the luminaries of this profession, one which is as vital today as it was hundreds of years ago.

Cartography is a specialized profession, and perhaps as a result, one of the neatest things is how intimate the gathering is – you have the opportunity to talk to just about anyone during the conference – and they’re friendly! And totally willing to give away their trade secrets. For example there’s a practical cartography day where tips and tricks are shared – so useful! Plus, this year we had Patrick Hofmann, head icon designer for Google, give the keynote on Icons.

There were some really interesting presentations, which is no surprise. The one I liked best, though, was probably the artist who tracked all his movements over time and then made installations from the data – a really creative use of information. And the most impactful one from my point of view? Margaret Pearce’s presentation on Indigenous place-name symbology. She has come up with a really creative way of marking the type of placename based on connotative not denotative categories. So, for example, you would mark a place with a symbol that evokes the type of story giving it its name, not about the fact that it’s a rock or type of tree. This is the type of work I have been waiting for since I presented on the maps I made for Living Proof at NACIS in 2009.

This year I presented on the Skeena mapping project Ecotrust Canada completed this year. I tried to compare our adventures with those depicted in the action-adventure-comedy film “Romancing the Stone” – probably not very successfully, but people seemed to find it both entertaining and informative.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference in Portland, Oregon, and if you have any interest in maps and map-making, I highly suggest you join us…

Written By Eliana Macdonald, Cartographer and GIS trainer
Ed-Eliana was elected to the board of NACIS at this year’s conference, held October 12-14, 2011.