Antique maps + SL = the fourth dimension?

Rumsey Maps is a brilliant demonstration of how virtual and real worlds can intersect (or, as in this case overlay each other) to create something educationally richer than either world could provide independently.


Looking out from ‘Clouds Rest’ above Yosemite Valley (topographical map created in 1883).

David Rumsey’s Maps Island opened at the beginning of this year and I encourage you to visit NOT POSSIBLE IRL by Bettina Tizzy for an in-depth explanation of David Rumsey’s work (plus links to a slew of blogs who talk about this sim).


Closeup view of World Globe (1790) and Celestial Globe (1792)

David Rumsey set out to share his antique map collection by using the latest technologies to present them to the widest possible audience. There is an excellent video (about 30 minutes long) shown at his virtual museum in Second Life and on his website David Rumsey Map Collection. You can marvel at the work of creative cartographers and compare antique maps with their modern day counterparts (be prepared to be amazed). This web site is rich and multi layered and also provides what may be the classiest sign up point available for registering to enter Second Life.


An avatar seated upon an orrery inside the world globe

What is so special about maps? For one thing they hold a lot of information yet they can also be framed and displayed like works of art on the wall. Old maps are like old photographs recording the past yet adding another dimension to the present with insights into lost places and ancient memories. They hint at possibilities, unsolved mysteries even hidden treasures; showing us landscapes that existed before motorways hacked through hills and valleys to link up our sprawling car parks.


Virtual map reading wearing an explorer’s hat

Walking across the map of Yosemite Valley converted into a contoured landscape reminded me of making my way through snow (as it was white and dirty gray like real snow) and I was sinking into it. The difference of course is that names are not written across hills and valleys in our physical world, though there are times when this would be useful!


Cyberloom making her way along a river in Yosemite Valley

Crossing a landscape created from a map within a virtual world is thought provoking to say the least. For a start where is this virtual world located? In servers in California? In the 0,1’s of computer coding? In our imagination? Yet, we use maps in Second Life all the time to see if anyone is around, to find SLurls, so get a feel for our ‘location’ in relation to the virtual environment. We can visit in-world planetariums and fly amongst the stars and planets of outer space. And now, we can hike across old maps and stick a push pin into a world chart indicating our real world location.


A truly immersive experience… Cyberloom sinks up to her virtual hat in a virtual river

We have an instinctive need to locate ourselves. We want to identify our personal longitude and latitude in relation to whatever reality we find ourselves in. We take emotional and physical bearings and orientate ourselves to the people and objects that surround us. Part of the success of virtual worlds is due to their ability to provide a ‘place’ for us to position self and thoughts within abstract dimensions. Part of the success of maps is their ability to provide a ‘place’ for us to locate our physical self in relation to time and the landscape around us. And part of the success of Rumsey Maps Island is that it places us inside a metaphor with an x, y, z axial relationship to real experience.


x,y,z + time = the fourth dimension on David Rumsey’s Maps Island

Tip for visiting Maps Island in Second Life: set draw distance to maximum in preferences

2 thoughts on “Antique maps + SL = the fourth dimension?

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