The mystery of mapness
: the void between mind and map

  • Maureen O'Neill

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis explores how our notion of mapness is related to our knowledge, reading and understanding of the complex visual language of the map, through an investigation of how we relate to the way maps look and the structures that underpin them. The processes of creating map-like artifacts through the author's own practice are reported upon and inform a drawing forth of historical, theoretical and practical perspectives that act in conjunction to influence the artistic and design expression to communicate mapness.

At the outset a survey of how strong our capacity to project and seek mapness in our daily experience gives rise to the question - when does mapness breakdown? An attempt is made to answer this through a review of theoretical texts, they provide a framework, but no definition fully addresses the void between mind and map. The decision is taken to construct an initial taxonomy of map structural elements (attributes and conventions) and then explore the boundaries and validity of this taxonomy by analysing how far a map can be distorted abstracted and minimised through project and experiment.
A reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action based methodology informs the body of practice produced which is evidenced in a sequence of three categories. These being, (a) map types - a series of visual investigations to plot map types, (b) map construction processes - series of artifact productions on investigative themes and (c) map attributes - a series of artifact productions experimenting with map attributes. Two key projects from this series are reported in detail. The Map of Repetition which demonstrates how utilising mapness properties allows the creation of a navigable landscape for a thesaurus. The other an experiment - Mapping a Journey - evidences what repository of acquired characteristics for visual conveyance of illustration of a journey, design aware individuals call upon. Both these projects advance the taxonomy of mapness which captures in summary the knowledge gained from the body of practice.
The thesis concludes with a four stage taxonomy anchored to the questions - what? (the kind of things we map and are maps): why? (the motivation, purpose, the function of the map artifact): how? (the physical attributes, relationships, the structure - the physiology of the map artifact): who? (the audience of the completed map artifact).
The 'how' section is developed in particular with the realisation that a visually based interactive website can best serve accessibility and understanding of mapness ( and that mapness has its own language. Indeed the nature of the void between mind and map is resolved as a dialogue that enables an understanding of this language of mapness - the structures used in construction, orchestration and rationalisation of the individual components, visual verbs and nouns, used to create a persuasive argument, the single map artifact.
Date of Award1 Jun 2007
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorPaul Newland (Supervisor) & Chris Mullen (Supervisor)


  • maps, mapping, artists' books

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