Frank Jacobs and his Strange Maps

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Aaron Schachter: We're going to talk about maps now and yes, you'll be able to see them all at Frank Jabobs has been obsessed with maps since he was a kid. He lives in London and his blog, Strange Maps, has a lot of well, really cool maps, like the one that caught our eye initially. It's a map of the US where each state name has been replaced with the name of the country whose gross domestic product matches that state's economic output. So, California is now France. Texas is Canada and Massachusetts, where I am now, that's Belgium. Frank, what was the thinking behind this particular map?

Frank Jacobs: The thinking behind the map was to demonstrate visually the size of the American economy. We often hear stories about the decline of the American economy, about China catching up, about America diminishing economically, but by showing how big the economy of each state is compared to the economy of independent countries, as you say, California is one of the biggest economies in the world per se, which is nice to know. But if you can actually replace the name of California by the name of France, it becomes a very, a very direct and visual illustration of that fact.

Schachter: Yeah, the map of course doesn't just include the big states, there are smaller ones too. Wyoming, for example, is Uzbekistan.

Jacobs: Right.

Schachter: We also have Vermont and South Dakota.

Jacobs: The economy of Vermont is about the size of the economy of the Dominican Republic. And South Dakota equals Croatia, which is something of a surprise I suppose, to most South Dakotans and most Croatians.

Schachter: Two groups of people that don't normally think about one another.

Jacobs: I suppose not, no.

Schachter: There's another map of the United States that is my personal favorite. It's called the McFarthest Place. Describe that for our listeners if you would.

Jacobs: Well, it's a map that pinpoints the location of every single McDonald's restaurant in the lower 58 states. In doing so, gives you kind of a density map of McDonald's restaurants and obviously, there is this one place in that whole territory, which is the McFarthest Place from any McDonald's restaurant. I think it's somewhere in South Dakota and I'm not quite sure about the distance, but it's about 90-100 miles to the nearest McDonald's restaurant.

Schachter: How do they survive?

Jacobs: I have no idea, maybe they grow their own food.

Schachter: Frank, you're not a cartographer yourself, you're just a map collector. Where do you get all these kooky, interesting, different maps?

Jacobs: Most of them are floating around on the internet and a lot of them get sent in by people who read my blog and when they come across a strange map they think of the blog called Strange Maps and are kind enough to send it in.

Schachter: And what's your fascination with maps?

Jacobs: Well, it's something that I've had for a long time. As a kid I used to read atlases for fun and I used to think this was a strange affliction because none of my friends shared that affliction, but in running the blog I've found out that I'm not alone. There's many of us.

Schachter: Do you find yourself increasingly strange in this era of GPS? I also happen to like maps and I find that most of my peers don't use them anymore.

Jacobs: No, I think we're at a point now that is comparable to the 19th century with the onset of photography where painting got a whole different meaning and a whole different sense of itself when photography came in and made it possible to reproduce images without painting them. That's when the actual paintings themselves became surrealists and impressionists, and expressionists. So I think the same thing is happening now with maps as well. We have the maps as a purely utilitarian instrument on our phones, but the map as a form of expression is now divorced from the actual meaning it has to have, so there's so many other things you can do with maps nowadays.

Schachter: Yeah, it bears pointing out your blog is called Strange Maps, but some of them are really quite beautiful.

Jacobs: Well that's one of my criteria for publishing a map on Strange Maps. It has to be strange, there has to be some weird angle to it, it has to have a story, but it also needs to be pretty, it needs to be beautiful.

Schachter: Frank Jacobs' blog is called Strange Maps. You can link to it and see all the maps we've talked about plus many more at Frank Jacobs, thank you so much.

Jacobs: Thank you.