Book Review: No Dig, No Fly, No Go (Mark Monmonier)

Feeling under the weather (aren’t we always?) so I offer you a book review written in 2012 for an assigned reading:


Monmonier, Mark. No Dig, No Fly, No Go: How maps restrict and control. 2010. Chicago, U.S.: University of Chicago Press.

In No Dig, No Fly, No Go, Mark Monmonier builds on his earlier 1996 work, How to Lie with Maps, by providing an in-depth look at one aspect of cartography the realm of so-called “prohibitive cartography.” In the book, Monmonier critically examines maps from the perspective of how they restrict and control, but provides his analysis in a language that is accessible to the layperson (in this case the non-academic Geographer). While I find Monmonier’s book refreshing and occasionally insightful, I remain wanting.

At the most basic level, Mark Monmonier explores how maps influence human behavior. More specifically, he seeks to answer how maps restrict access, mobility, and the use of spaces and places. From this standpoint alone, Monmonier’s work should be required reading for cartographers and political geographers from the undergraduate level. If we (partially) define Geography as the study of human interaction with the environment than Monmonier’s book becomes immediately important, for its subject is how maps, or rather authorities, attempt to regulate humans’ interactions with their environment. Primarily, Monmonier’s sources include news articles, legal cases, and maps (naturally). The first two provide historical and contemporary context for the various aspects of prohibitive cartography. For the most part, these sources work well for his overall purpose, which is to weave a narrative of how maps influence, and influenced, our lives at various times and at a variety of scales.

Monmonier loosely organizes the book around the concepts of theme, scale, and time. Each chapter examines a different theme of “prohibitive cartography.” Monmonier, after an introduction as to why boundaries “matter,” begins with a historical look at how maps played a role in delineating plots of land in the United States. He then takes a smaller scale look at this same theme with a look at how international states maintain their territorial integrity through maps and how maps affect governments’ view of their integrity. The following chapter takes this point to the colonial period, examining how maps justified the creation of colonies or partitions during peace. Likewise, Monmonier than examines the affects maps had on delineating maritime boundaries and exclusive economic zones. Moving back to the intra-state scale, Monmonier first examines how boundaries are set at the local and provincial (state) levels in the United States. In “Divide and Govern,” Monmonier also introduces political gerrymandering, which then forms the basis of the next chapter. An interesting discussion in this chapter is Monmonier’s suggestion of improvements to U.S. congressional districting. Following this deeper look at how politicians can utilizes maps to influence voting outcomes, Monmonier then examines how map-makers can utilize maps to influence where we do business, through the processes of redlining and greenlining. The next two chapters follow the theme of economics at the local level through discussions of zoning and rezoning plans and how maps influence changes (or not) in the built landscape, whether by rezoning industrial areas as commercial or by banishing red light districts to the far corners of a county. The first of the last two chapters focuses on the title and offers observations on how maps impact these aspects, digging, flying, going, of human activity. The last chapter examines relatively new developments in technology and how it integrates with “prohibitive cartography.” As we can see from this cursory summary of Monmonier’s book, the impact that maps have had on spatial restrictions span time from colonialism to the 2000s, scale form the parcel to international level, and in a variety of subtle and overt ways. In essence, Monmonier seems to suggest that states and governments crush us on all sides with maps attempting to regulate our existence. Offered not as a value judgment but as an objective observation, Monmonier’s book provides a valuable discussion on the impacts that maps have had but there are limitations.

The first, and most significant limitation, is the book’s scope. The limitation is immediately apparent to a critical eye examining the book’s sub-title; Monmonier purports to show us “how maps restrict and control.” However, this isn’t the case. Maps do not restrict or control access, they influence human actions. In this context, maps attempt to restrict and control. This nuance is more than a semantic argument or request for clarification; it strikes at the heart of the book. I contend that maps do not restrict at all, how could they? Maps are on paper, on a screen, or on a disk, it is impossible for it to prohibit anything. Maps are only prohibitive if individuals and communities accept them as such. Monmonier takes this basic assumption as an underlying fact throughout his book. For the most part, his examples support his thesis that maps restrict and control; however, he may be guilty of either cherry-picking his data, at worst, or unknowingly misleading his readers. Perhaps a more apt sub-title would be “how Western maps restrict and control.” For it is in the “West,” a gross and undefined generalization admittedly, that communities almost ubiquitously accept the power of the map. Monmonier provides ample evidence of this, particularly for the United States, throughout his book. Most of the evidence relates to court cases settled, in part, through the use of the map. Notable examples include a boundary dispute stemming from hydrological changes in Kansas’s Peuker v. Canter (27-29) or Florida’s right-of-way case in Enos v. Casey Mountain, Inc. (24-25). At the international level, comprised of states following the nation-state concept derived in Westphalia, Monmonier again shows how maps (or geographic phenomena) played an integral role throughout history from the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas that split the world between Spain and Portugal to the competing claims on Antarctica in the second half of the 20th century. At the local level in the U.S. context and the international context, Monmonier’s assumptions seems to hold, but does it at the local level elsewhere?

I contend that it does not. To take an extreme example, I would cite the Durrand Line that splits the Pashtun linguistic nation between Afghanistan and Pakistan. While the British certainly attempted to police this border during the height of European imperialism, at best their activities were a nuisance. In the 2000s, we find that the line is all but nonexistent as various groups, including violent ones, routinely violate it. Monmonier acknowledges that newly independent states from European imperialists “could not unify dissimilar peoples lumped together by artificial boundaries” (58). However, I find that he does not go far enough. Not only do these states not unify dissimilar communities, they could not enforce the state’s view of its territoriality, i.e. that Pakistan ends at the Durrand line. For their part, the Pashtuns, who the British had split across the border, probably perceived the world in much the same way as they had prior to the split; the Durrand Line was merely a line on a piece of paper. Referring back to the title of the introductory chapter, the boundary doesn’t matter. In addition to this significant lapse in analysis, Monmonier would also benefit from additional technical information to contextualize his comments.

Monmonier’s view on GPS devices should include additional nuance from a technical aspect. As Monmonier is attempting to steer a middle course between providing a jargon-free work accessible to cartographic newcomers and professionals, he may have inadvertently cut some useful detail. For instance, the lay person (particularly homeowner) would want to know that the “highly precise handheld GPS” that Monmonier is referring to still has quite a bit of room for error (something between 10 and 15 feet). While that circle of error may be small enough for most applications, I would hesitate on relying on a GPS to “quickly determine whether a fencepost or rosebush is on [my] property or a neighbor’s” (22). Monmonier should also have considered additional details on non-technical items in order to balance the message of the book. One possibility is how cartography played a role in the decision taken by the military commander responsible for Hawaii to not to implement the order for the relocation of Japanese Americans located in the state to the mainland (as discussed in 174-175).

A final discussion point that I believe Monmonier missed was with the issue of “greenlining” found in chapter 8. While Monmonier provides an in-depth discussion at the beginning of the chapter on “redlining,” or the process of cartographically demarcating “dangerous” areas to preclude them from various services, he provides only one half of the available discussion on “greenlining.” While Monmonier acknowledges that this process involves “mapping out areas within which firms that create jobs receive tax breaks or outright grants” in areas that he describes as “a city’s green, A-list neighborhoods,” he doesn’t discuss some of the other implications of this practice (124-125). One worth discussing at length, is the implication that this practice concentrates additional financial resources in sections of a place that already enjoy substantial financial clout. It seems puzzling, and Monmonier doesn’t discuss this apparent contradiction, that governments are utilizing public resources to combat “unemployment, underemployment, or out-migration” in areas that don’t traditionally experience these phenomena (124). This contradiction might be the source of the lukewarm outcome where these programs result in neither success nor failure.

As I noted at the beginning of this review, we should consider Monmonier’s book an important part of the political geographic and cartographic literature. However, as this review has pointed out, there is at least one glaring omission, which is a discussion of how people decide, or choose to, follow a map’s suggestions. This omission notwithstanding, Monmonier’s examination of the role maps play in delineating ownership at a variety or scales and the overt and subtle messages transmitted by maps to suggest where to go and what to do are important discussion and research points. Any work that causes us to pause and reexamine what we take for granted at a most basic level, in Mark Monmonier’s case the veracity and objectivity of a map, will always have a timeless quality to them.

In conclusion, Mark Monmonier’s exploration of how maps influence human behavior fills a gap in cartographic and political geographic literature. Drawing on historical and contemporary events and court cases, Monmonier discusses the various ways in which maps can restrict our movement, our ownership, and how they impact our worldview at a variety of scales. Despite the wide scope of the book it is incomplete. In the future, I hope to read Monmonier’s thoughts on how people prescribe importance and validity to maps and how maps can be simultaneously important or not in delineating the same area.

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