Mark Monmonier of Syracuse University is well known as a geographer with the ability to present difficult issues to a broad audience. No Dig, No Fly, No Go: How Maps Restrict and Control is an enlightening and entertaining study of the manner in which maps are used to demark restrictions and force limitations on human actions. Monmonier makes the case that while we routinely use maps to find our way to anyplace we want to go, there is a broad range of specialized maps that define boundaries, confine activities, and sustain authority in ways both obvious and sublime.
Monmonier’s central point is that bureaucracies, power hierarchies, and legal entities use many different types of maps to exercise power over citizenry and others. They may be wielded to promote or suppress racism, sexism, and imperialism either explicitly or not; and when used effectively they have the power to alter the landscape and the human condition for the better. Examples of all types of maps abound, and Monmonier is at his best in drawing useful examples from a wealth of experience. Many of these are quite personal; mostly they are from the United States and as often as not they are drawn from his experience in New York State.
Chapters deal with a range of maps. Zoning maps, voting districts, international borders, utility and property boundaries, waterways, city management, roads and right-of-ways, maps of locations of sex offenders, vice areas, and the like all find their point of discussion in No Dig, No Fly, No Go. This is a fine work, but after absorbing his central thesis–that maps are used to restrict and control activities by a populace and have both positive or negative ramifications–I was somewhat less enamored with it. When considering the subject of No Dig, No Fly, No Go I realized maps are a bit like Mel Kranzberg’s First Law of Technology–it “is neither good nor bad—nor is it neutral.” Monmonier says much the same thing about these types of maps and their establishment in authority.
A couple of specific criticisms also deserve comment. First, this is very much a work written for a general audience. There are no scholarly references, although it has a bibliography subdivided by chapter, and the writing is personal and anecdotal. While I applaud its accessibility, I am an inveterate fact checker and the more specificity I can find in any study the better. Second, and I recognize that while I approach everything from an historical perspective not everyone does, I was still a bit surprised to see that very few of Monmonier’s examples had any historical tint to them.
For instance, in his discussion of territorial rights and how far they extend out to sea I was astonished to see no mention whatsoever of the shooting down of the Korean Airliner KAL 007 by the Soviet Union in 1983 because it violated Soviet airspace. Such a well-known event would have been an outstanding example illustrating the points he was trying to make concerning territoriality. I could give many other examples, and I believe invoking at least some of them would have extended and amplified his argument.
Overall, however, No Dig, No Fly, No Go is a fine book worthy of serious consideration. I look forward to reading other books on the broad uses of maps–some might consider them a social commentary on the use of maps in society–that Monmonier has written.