Looking at the Big Picture: Adapting Film Theory to Examine Map Form, Meaning, and Aesthetic

Ian Muehlenhaus



Film and maps have much more in common than is often believed. In this paper, it is argued that film offers cartographers many concepts that can be used to better understand map form, aesthetics, and meaning. After reviewing these concepts as taught in film studies and originally formulated by Kenneth Burke, this article explores how these concepts can be applied by cartographers in their map design and by map critics. Several examples of adapting these theories to understand maps are provided. The paper concludes by arguing that cartographers can only benefit by more whole-heartedly embracing and adapting film theory concepts and methods. Doing so will likely result in clearer communication, storytelling, and argumentation, as well as offer a more nuanced method for determining what makes certain maps memorable.



map form; map meaning; map aesthetics; film theory

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