My career as a cartographer, and now as The Geographer, at the National Geographic Society, spans more than 30 years. In that time I have worked, in one manner or another, on most if not all of the atlases, globes, reference maps, and hundreds of other cartographic products we have produced. Although the advent of computer-assisted cartography has forever changed the way mapmakers produce maps, here the human element is still essential. Without having a good idea as to the “lay of the land,” it is difficult for any cartographer to produce a map that possesses a soul: a map that not only shows but guides the reader to all of those places unique to every piece of geography.
Every morning when I enter the offices of National Geographic Maps, there is plaque in our lobby that states the following, “A map is the greatest of all epic poems. Its lines and colors show the realization of great dreams.” The Society’s founding editor, Gilbert H. Grosvenor, penned these words some 100 years ago. They have served me well all of these of years but only recently have these words gained greater significance.
To me, like many Cuban émigrés, there is nothing more iconic than a map of our homeland. So it was with great pride and excitement when I learned that I was assigned to oversee the production of our new map of Cuba—the first large format map of the island that the Society has produced since October 1906! From September 2010 through May 2011, the project staff and I toiled daily to produce the most accurate and up-to-date map yet available of Cuba. On a weekly, if not daily basis, I reviewed all layers of information being added to or edited on the map–all the while having the map bring back recollections of my past. At times, it even transported me to some of the places on the island that I am most fond of.
Early on the morning of the day the map files were to be shipped to the printer, I took a final look at our map. I checked for and found all of those special places near to
my Cuban heart. When the map files finally left my hands, I was content knowing that the project staff and I had not only given this map a soul but that we had also penned a very special “poem.”
Juan José Valdés
Director of Editorial and Research
National Geographic Maps
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