Erwin Josephus Raisz was born 1 Mar 1893 in Lőcse, Hungary and following his father's footsteps, received a degree in civil engineering from the Budapest régen Királyi József műegyetem in 1914.1 In 1923, after service in WWI, he emigrated to the US where he began graduate studies in geology at Columbia. During this time he began to experiment with depicting geological features symbolically - the physiographic (or landform) map. Here is an early classic:
After receiving his doctorate, Raisz joined the newly-formed Institute of Geographical Exploration at Harvard and would spend the next 20 years teaching cartography and curating Harvard’s map collection. In 1931 he published the seminal “Physiographic Method of Representing Scenery on Maps.”3 and in 1938 his first textbook, General Cartography.4 The book was called “the most ambitious and comprehensive book on cartography in the English language.”5 and would be the only collegiate textbook on the subject for the next 15 years.
On first glance Raisz’s terrain symbols look like nothing more than updated versions of the crude “bump“ maps of the 17th century. But with his complete mastery of drafting and geology they become something much more. His idiosyncratic hand-lettered pen and ink drawings become startlingly three-dimensional. They were cartography, information design and fine art all at once. As he stated in an article “...my whole aim in life has been to close the gap between map and land.” Here is a later version of his seminal Physiographic Map of the United States:
In 1951 the Geography Department at Harvard was inexplicably eliminated and Raisz, now out of a job, split his time between his studio in Cambridge and teaching assignments at Clark University, the University of Virginia and finally the University of Florida. Over his 40-year career he would publish more than 5000 maps covering every imaginable topic, hundreds of papers, three textbooks and several atlases.
In 1964, while teaching in Gainesville, he, along with fellow professor John Dunkle, published the Altas of Florida. It was the first statistical atlas of the state. Although intended for school-age children and now wistfully dated, the maps encapsulated nearly everything Raisz had learned about landforms, cartograms and projections in a long and distinguished career:
The Atlas would turn out to be Raisz’s swan song. He died suddenly on 1 Dec 1968, at age 75, while enroute to a conference in New Delhi.
1. For more biographical information see: Robinson, A.H. Erwin Josephus Raisz 1893–1968. Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 1970 Mar;60(1): 189–193, or Harrison, R.E. Obituary: Erwin Raisz (1893–1968). Geographical Review, 1969 Jul;59(3): 448–449.
2. From Wind, Herbert Warren (ed). The Complete Golfer. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1954. We’ve discussed Wind previously. The original map was prepared in B&W and was later colored for the book. Trust me, among golf course architecture fans, Raisz’s map is considered a masterpiece right up there with MacKenzies’s 1927 St. Andrews map (and that’s another, perhaps future post).
3. Raisz E. The Physiographic Method of Representing Scenery on Maps. The Geographical Review. 1931 Apr;21(2): 297-304.
4. Raisz, Erwin. General Cartography. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1938
5. General Cartography by Erwin Raisz. The Geographical Journal. 1940 Nov;96(5): 351–355
6. Raisz, Erwin, Dunkle, John. Altas of Florida. Gainesville, Florida: University of Florida Press, 1964. The 52 page, oversized (8¼ × 14¼") book was printed by Rose Printing, Tallahassee. The special plastic-inpregnated cover was printed by Paramount Press, Jacksonville and the book was bound by Dobbs Manufacturers, St. Augustine. The original edition included a copy of the official 1964 map of the state (which was sadly not by Raisz).
3 Jul 2011 ‧ Cartography