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A Wilderness of Rocks cover

1. eBook Edition

Relief maps, University of Wisconsin, historical GIS, data science, geovisualization, spatial humanities, cartography-social aspects

A Wilderness of Rocks
The Impact of Relief Models on Data Science
by Melanie Schleeter McCalmont

Discover the University of Wisconsin collection of historic relief models, or three-dimensional maps.

The University of Wisconsin relief models were crafted from 1875-1943 at the dawn of the analytics age. Relief models are an extremely effective visualization tool. They help us intuitively understand big data sets and to create spatial awareness--the knowledge of relationships between objects, places and ourselves. Each relief model is shown in beautiful color photography. Learn their fascinating stories of expeditions and earthquakes, mountains and museums, bankruptcy and battlefields, governments and glaciers.

McCalmont has given us all a great gift by methodically researching and sharing the stories of the relief map creators, as well as the rich political--and sometimes, radical--backgrounds of the maps themselves. This book takes us back in time, providing an appreciation for the painstaking process, craftsmanship, and perspective about the tools and technology that the creators had available.

The creators of the maps were early User Experience designers: they put the public viewer’s comprehension at the same level as the map experts. They experimented with new ways of communicating massive amounts of data to teach the audience and to illuminate the story of each place. The author offers a modern-day challenge to think of our work in similar ways. How can new ways of looking at the barrage of data help us to gain a deeper understanding of complex phenomena? How can we take information overload and turn it into something more digestible, just as those who created the new technology of the relief map did more than 100 years ago?

The creatively photographed pieces help the reader nearly feel the texture and undulation of the models. Combined with the rich stories of each map, I hope it will inspire readers to journey to Wisconsin and stand in the presence of these masterpieces.

- Tanya Buckingham, Executive Director, North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS)

A Wilderness of Rocks is a remarkable and in some ways unique achievement, combining several virtues. Foremost is that it fills a gap in the history of cartography. McCalmont shows how relief models, many of which were made in the late nineteenth century the age of exploration and mapping, remain today a useful and indeed essential tool in conveying maximum topographic and geologic information quickly and efficiently. Second is McCalmont's lucid accounts of how the relief models were constructed, the purpose they served, and the people who made them. Third is a necessary complement to the verbal accounts—Timothy Hughes's photographs of the relief models, many of which—outstandingly those of Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Henry Mountains, and the Baraboo District—show a vividness of detail and a subtlety of color that make them seem works of abstract art.

- Yi-Fu Tuan, author of Space and Place, Topophilia, Place, art, and self, and Romantic Geography: In Search of the Sublime Landscape.

Melanie Schleeter McCalmont photo

Melanie Schleeter McCalmont is a University of Wisconsin graduate with an M.Sci. in Geography (’06) and M.Sci. in Life Science Communication (’08). She currently works as a geographer, data scientist, and researcher in the history of technology. She is a national expert on historic relief models.


Melanie Schleeter McCalmont
Timothy Hughes

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