2 0 0 9 P a r i s / M e u d o n

IWCMO Conference

Maria LANE: Geographies of Mars

Talk presented at the IWCMO conference, Paris, 18th September 2009

K Maria D LANE痴 talk, given on the occasion of the IWCMO 2009, depended on the Second Chapter of her forthcoming book entitled Geographies of Mars: Seeing and Knowing the Red Planet whose Table of Contents is shown at the bottom of this page. Here are shown the Presentation Notes and Slide List of the talk. As to the Power Point file used by her on the day, see the following PDF:

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Scholarship to Date

       As we know from works by Bill and others, from about 1890 to 1910, the planet Mars was seriously thought in Europe and North America to be inhabited by intelligent beings.

       [2] A key element in this widespread belief was the fact that astronomers reported seeing geometrical lines in the Martian landscape.

       These lines were interpreted by many as evidence of a technological society on Mars.

       Now, looking back, we wonder how they ever came to this conclusion.

       Historians of science have analyzed the most influential astronomers involved.

       Have looked at how their personalities, philosophical beliefs, and social networks helped them convince large audiences that Mars was inhabited.

       These analyses look mainly at the influence of religion, the theory of evolution, and the culture of science popularization.


New Approach

       But I would like to look at this fascinating topic from a different angle to more fully explain how the idea of an inhabited Mars became so popular [3]

       I argue that much of the power of astronomers claims actually came from the format in which they were most often presented the map

       Talk Outline [4]

o         I will first briefly note some transitions in the way Mars maps were made;

o         Then will examine the 1877-1878 mapping controversy, including the debate over Martian place names;

o         Will offer an analysis of how the map authority contributed to beliefs that Mars was inhabited.

o         And will finally offer a cartographic explanation for the post-1909 reduction in belief in life on Mars



The first maps of Mars were really just abstract sketches

       Telescope had made it possible to observe Martian surface, [5]

       But no certainty as to whether features were permanent or just clouds

       Observers sketched what they saw, but used convention of showing only a single view from an exact time [6]

       This form of mapping or sketching acknowledged that different viewers might see different things, even at the same time

By 1840, certainty had improved [7]

       this allowed proper mapping to occur: individual views could be compiled and charted

       expectation was that everyone would see the same things time after time

       1840 base map established by Beer and M臈ler

       throughout 1860s/1870s, details were added in similar format

Popular interests developed around these maps, which used one of two forms [8]

       Mercator very well known as a navigation map, although significant polar distortion

       Stereoscopic map [9]

o      mimicked the shape of sketches and relied on their perceived accuracy and authenticity

o      also drew on excitement for new visual technologies

Placenames also drew interests: [10]

       went from having only letters (1840) to using surnames, which was typical naming convention during the age of exploration

The Maps of 1877

       After the 1877 perihelic opposition, 2 important maps were made [11]

       You are all undoubtedly familiar with these maps, but let痴 look at them in terms of how they were 廃roduced and 把onsumed, as we say in the history of cartography world

       Production Green [12]

o                     Nathaniel Green, English amateur astronomer, left his home in London and went on an expedition to the Portuguese island of Madeira to observe Mars

o                     For 2 months, he observed Mars under good conditions [13]

o                     Created 41 color sketches, each took about 2 hours to prepare

o                     Then came home and incorporated his own observations with many others that had been done previously

o                     Produced the most detailed map yet known for Mars

       Production Schiaparelli [14]

o      Giovanni Schiaparelli, professional Milanese astronomer, observed Mars extensively from his observatory in northern Italy

o      Watched Mars during the weeks around the opposition but then continued watching Mars for 7 months after opposition [15]

o      Made 31 complete drawings of Mars and 100+ detailed sketches of various region

o      Tidied pencil sketches into composites, sent them to colleagues for comment

o      But when he made his map, it was based only on his own observations

       How the maps compare

o      Similarities [16]

       Both very detailed

       used mercator projection, included azimuthal projection for polar regions

o      But despite similarities, they were irreconcilably different

       Style of illustration very different: Green used subtle naturalistic shading; Schiaparelli used definitive lines, hard-edged features, artificial colors

       Placenames very different:[17]

       Green followed surname convention, added many new names

       Schiaparelli rejected this in favor of geographical names drawn from classical mythology based on the Mediterranean world

       Different in depiction of linear features

       Schiaparelli had numerous features that were nowhere to be seen in Green痴 map the canals

       Straight lines dominated his map, had never appeared on previous maps

o      The two astronomers themselves were at pains NOT to disrespect one another, but it was obvious that the two maps could not BOTH be correct

o      Both claimed to have been perfectly objective and to have made accurate maps

o      Green said it was a matter of artistic representation

o      But Schiaparelli thought it was a matter of having seen more detail


o      So how did the viewers of these two maps react? [18]

o      Verdict: Schiaparelli痴 map definitely won over both scientific and popular audiences

o      How do we know this?

o      Although there was a lot of controversy and even skepticism about Schiaparelli痴 canals, everyone started looking for them!

o      For almost a decade, no one saw canals, but everyone kept looking

o      after confirmation in 1886, canal sightings became increasingly common

o      This tells us that there was something very convincing about Schiaparelli痴 map

o      For decades, most Mars maps used Schiaparelli nomenclature and artistic style

       Why did Schiaparelli痴 map have so much authority?

o      Partly because he was a professional (versus Green痴 status as an amateur), but this doesn稚 explain everything Green was well respected as an observer

o      More important: visual authority of his map

o      This map was so authoritatively drawn that its claims were almost indisputable

       Used dark lines

       With sharp edges

       Chose definitive colors,

       Applied specific geographic labels

       If we look at this in the context of cartography at the time,

o      it is clear that a less definitive map could simply never be more authoritative than a more detailed map

o      cartographers were in the business of adding detail to maps, of showing geography with certainty

o      in the exploration of Africa, for instance, the explorers who didn稚 add anything to the map quickly lost funding

o      you had to add information to protect your status as a respected explorer

       So if you look at these maps side by side [19]

o      it seems that one of them was simply more certain of what he saw

o      this is the effect of visual authority

       This does NOT mean that Schiaparelli痴 map was undisputed

o      He was criticized both for his artistic style and for his placenames

o      The arguments over placenames were especially heated and lasted a long time

o      British astronomers, especially, were unhappy with the way Schiaparelli had taken many British names off the map and replaced them with names prioritizing a different part of the world

o      This became a fairly nationalistic kind of competition [20]

o      But Schiaparelli maintained the upper hand in these controversies, mainly because he could claim to have discovered something that no one else had seen on Mars

o      No one could dispute that new features needed new placenames, even if they disagreed with the revision of existing names

o      So scientists competed over the territory of Mars, but Schiaparelli痴 map won

       Schiaparelli痴 influence on mapmaking very clear

o      For rest of 1880s and 1890s, astronomers competed to map/name canals [21].

o      British astronomers were not able to reclaim the map

o      Schiaparelli痴 1877 map became standard

       Maps very authoritative with scientific and general audiences

o      Many have attributed belief in Martian life to mistranslation of canale

o      I argue it was the IMAGE, not the WORD, that was so convincing

Maps and the Inhabited Mars Hypothesis

The new style of mapping set the stage for belief that Mars was inhabited: [22]

         There continued to be doubters, who thought the canals were optical illusions

         And there were others who accepted the canal observations as real but thought there were caused by some natural effect (probably geological)

         But the most common interpretation of the new maps was that they provided evidence of intelligent life

Lowells hypothesis

       As you certainly know, in the years after Schiaparelli, American astronomer Percival Lowell put forth a very influential hypothesis, as follows [23]:

o      Mars was a desert planet, with its polar caps the only source of water

o      The intelligent Martians had created canals thousands of miles long to capture and control seasonal snowmelt

o      These canals produced strips of vegetation on their banks and circular vegetative oases at their intersections, creating the patterns visible from Earth

       He built this hypothesis through cartography

       It was the very 殿rtificialness of the map痴 appearance that proved the existence of intelligent life, he argued

       There was simply no way for natural forces to produce such a geometric appearance on a planet痴 surface, he argued

Lowells authority

       I said Lowell built his hypothesis through cartography; he also built his authority through cartography

       Remember, he opened the Lowell Observatory in 1894 specifically to observe Mars, and in his first season of observations, he added 116 new canals to the map [24]

       Because he established a reputation as an excellent cartographer of Mars, he also generated some legitimacy that extended to his interpretations of Mars

       Even his opponents had to admit that he had the best maps

Canals and Cartographic Icon

       By early 1900s, Lowellian images of Mars had become powerful icons

       Popular Sunday papers frequently published geometric images of Mars [25]

       Lecturers prepared lantern slides showing canal maps

       Books about Mars used the canal-map to augment their arguments that Mars was inhabited

       The map made it easy to compare natural and artificial landforms [26]

       The map was key to understanding the canal network, and the canal network was key to understanding Martian civilization

Creative Power of the Map

             It is very important to note that the appearance of the network as a whole was much more important than any of the individual details in this regard.

             It wouldn稚 have been remarkable if Mars happened to have a linear marking or two; but the fact that it was covered in canals is what made it startling.

             As we consider this fact, it is somewhat ironic to note that the Martian landscape inscribed in the map was quite different from that which astronomers reported seeing through their telescopes

             In fact, no astronomer ever actually saw or claimed to see an interlinked canal network while sitting at the telescope.

             Mars was notoriously difficult to see, even with a good telescope.

             As a result, very few of the sketches that astronomers drew in their observation logbooks or on standardized sketchpads depicted more than a few Martian surface details at any given time [27].

             It was only through the process of gathering, compiling, and cartographically projecting dozens or even hundreds of sketches onto a comprehensive map that the canal network came into being.

             Lowells influential maps of the 1890s, for instance, [28a] were made by plotting the details from hundreds of his own and his colleagues sketches directly onto a wooden globe [28b], which was then tilted to the proper angle and photographed before tracing the negative into a Mercator projection. [28c]

             Thus, very simple sketches blossomed cartographically into complex and interlinked networks that had never been seen by any single individual or on any single night.

             So, the networked appearance of the canals owed its existence more to the cartographic process than to any reality on the Martian surface.

Maps and the Decline of the Martian Canals

So far I have argued [29]

             that Mars maps established the initial authority of the inhabited-Mars hypothesis,

             that map-related controversies spurred increasing interest in the red planet, and

             that the iconic image that was ever-present during the popular mania over Mars was purely an artifact of cartographic projection

             Now, to fully appreciate the power of the map, we also need to examine the role cartography played in the decline of belief in life on Mars

Remember, the concept of the canals had always been challenged

       Schiaparelli artistic skills were criticized at the outset

       Many astronomers were never able to view the canals, even with large telescopes

       Even those who admitted seeing the lines often rejected Lowells interpretation that they necessarily indicated the existence of intelligent beings

       Not until 1909 did such challenges begin to have an impact

Photography Supplants Photography

       To briefly explain what happened, Lowell pioneered a new method for photographing Mars and its canals in 1905, mainly to answer his critics (who had become quite vocal after 1900 as Lowell became more and more successful)

       Lowell took photographs from his Flagstaff observatory in 1905 that indeed showed some dark markings in areas where he had drawn canals [30]

       He quickly circulated these, dismissing claims of optical illusion by noting that photography was perfectly objective, that 鍍he photographic plate cannot lie

       But his critics persisted, and he sent a very high-profile expedition to South America in 1907 to get additional photographs of Mars [31]

       This expedition was hyped in the popular press, and the photographs were anxiously awaited

       Unfortunately for Lowell, however, they were a disappointment to general audiences

       they were grainy, tiny, dark, and difficult to reproduce [32]

       and importantly, they showed only about as much detail as could be found in the average sketch nowhere near the amount of detail shown on one of Lowell maps

       Lowell touted them as important confirmations of his theory, but not convincingly

In the process, he actually undermined the power of his maps

         by emphasizing that the photographs were perfectly objective and free from imagination, he implied that the maps were subjective

       After 1909, as a result, photography essentially replaced cartography as the scientific imagery of Mars astronomy

       Book editors and encyclopedia compilers began to prefer the objective photographs in place of the disputed maps, and the maps quickly disappeared from popular publications

       Result: Lowells elaborate maps became nearly obsolete as scientific images

       Since his authority was built through cartography, this weakened his hypothesis significantly

       And because the photos did not show the full canal network, audiences confidence in the supposed Martian inhabitants began to die away

Antoniadi put the nail in the coffin

       When Antoniadi observed Mars in 1909 here at Meudon, he did not see canals [33]

       He claimed to see in their place an intricate mess of detail that was almost impossible to sketch or represent accurately

       With canal-maps on the wane, however, Antoniadi was in luck

       His drawings looked like the latest photographs!

       I argue that if Antoniadi had submitted a map like this in 1903, he would not have trumped Lowell, because the visual authority of Lowells maps was still dominant

       After those maps had been weakened, however, the detailed artistic representation available through sketching became legitimate once again

       Confirmed by photography, Antoniadi sketches were very powerful


       In conclusion, cartography played a fundamental role in setting research priorities, spurring popular interest, and influencing the rise and fall of the inhabited-Mars hypothesis. [34]

       The same is arguably still true today, with the well-known Mars Pathfinder, Mars Express, and Mars Rover missions developed primarily around strategies of cartographic imaging

       Scholarship that ignores the role of the map in astronomical research thus misses a big part of the story.

       Draft copies of this chapter available by emailing mdlane@unm.edu [35]

We hear Maria LANEs forthcoming book has the following Table of Contents:

List of Figures v


Acknowledgements ix


Chapter 1.         Understanding Mars:

Sensation, Science and Geography 1


Analogy and the Seeds of Sensation 5

The Popularization of Martian Geography 10

Understanding Martian Geography 17

Mars and the Geography of Science 19

Mars and the Science of Geography 24

The Rest of the Volume 27


Chapter 2.         Representing Scientific Data:

Cartographic Inscription and Visual Authority 31


Putting Mars on the Map 32

The Maps of 1877-1878 37

Battling for Martian Territory 46

Projecting Authority 52

Photography and the Decline of the Martian Map 60

A Scientific End for the Canals 67

Conclusions 73


Chapter 3.         Representing Scientific Sites:

Vision and Fieldwork at the Mountain Observatories 75


The New Geography of Astronomy 77

Astronomy and the American West 82

A Pure View of Mars from the Mountains 91

The Wilderness Challenge 99

Science, Legitimacy and Landscape 107

Conclusions 112


Chapter 4.         Representing Scientists:

Heroism, Adventure and the Geographical Outlook 114


Gazing on the Martian Landscape 118

Method, Movement, and Identity 123

The New Heroes: William Pickering in Peru 127

The New Travelers: David Todd in Chile 138

The New Explorers: Wallace Campbell on Mt. Whitney 155

Conclusions 162


Chapter 5.         Placing the Red Planet:

Meanings in the Martian Landscape 167


Wallace and Lowell: Two Public Intellectuals 170

Physical Geography: A 天ast Sahara 174

Landscape Change: The March of Martian Desertism 183

Cultural Geography: Social Darwinism 192

and Martian Determinism

Human-Environment Interaction: Irrigated Mars 208

Conclusions 220


Chapter 6.         Toward a Cultural Geography of Mars:

Imaginative Geography and the Superior Martian 222


Imaginative Geography 223

Superior Martians and the Reverse Gaze 232

Signaling and Subjectivity 235

Perspectives from Imperial Britain 240

Perspectives from Exceptional America 245

Conclusions 253


Bibliography 258


Primary Sources: Archival Collections 258

Primary Sources: Published Works 259

Secondary Sources 287

K Maria D LANE,

Department of Geography,

University of New Mexico

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