Skip to main content

Drawing a new map

I sure love a side project. Something where I can learn something new but it's purely for my own enjoyment.[1] This week it was map building, but I took a roundabout path to get there.

It started on Sunday, when I took the bus up to Saanich for a postcard and stamp bourse. [2] There wasn't much happening. In fact, several dealers were packing up three hours early, but I poked around at a few of the tables, looking at old collections and boxes and binders full of worldwide stamps. Just long enough for a bit of stampiness to flair up in my heart.

Have I mentioned out loud that I'm a stamp collector? Well, I am. Not super-serious, but more serious than 99.9% of other folks. I've never exhibited competitively, or paid more than $75 for a single stamp, but I've been a member of my local club for more than 25 years, I have driven six hours plus to go to a stamp show (more than once), and I've given a few presentations at the club or on my favourite stamp forum. But the desire to work on my collection ebbs and flows, often for a year or more.

The biggest challenge for me is that rise of the postal system, and the hobby of philately, closely parallels the rise of colonialism. The first postage stamp was issued in 1840 and some of the most beautiful examples of the engravers art are from the late 19th century. Stamps can depict far off, exotic locales, with fascinating people and mysterious customs, but more often than not there is a British king in the corner. Or it's a French / German / Dutch / Belgian colony -- you get the picture.

So how can advocate for breaking down colonial systems in the world during the day while collecting "Britain and her colonies" in the evening? It doesn't feel right.

But I think I figured it out.

Last summer I picked up A People's History of Scotland while I was in Edinburgh. What if I organized my collection as "The People's History" of the late 19th / 20th century?

So instead of organizing by 'Reign' or even by 'Country', I organized by geographic territory and the people indigenous to that land? In the case of Africa especially, the country names and boundaries changed as the colonial administrations changed. What if I tried to tell the story of a certain area of land, regardless of what it was called in Europe?

In collecting terms, this is known as 'Thematic' collecting vs. 'Traditional' philately, but that's OK by me.

Making a New Map #

Which brings me back to map building. If I'm going to ignore political borders, I'm going to need a different map. I did a bunch of reading and discovered Natural Earth which has the data, and QGIS which will help me read and manipulate the data.

What I have in mind is a trip around the world, starting at my apartment in Victoria, heading roughly west. When I hit land, I'll try to tell the story of the people of that land, through my stamp collection (and some nifty narrative.)

And I'll use the images from the mapping data to show the route.

That's the plan anyway. I'll keep you posted (and oh yes, the pun is intended.)

  1. like figuring out footnotes on this site! 😁 ↩︎

  2. Bourse is a fancy name for a sale, where dealers rent tables and have their wares out on display hoping to catch your eye. In stamp lingo, that's different than a show, where there are also displays and exhibits. I don't know that other hobbies make the distinction. ↩︎