Above is a map of the world according to the Greek geographer Strabo (64/63 BC – ca. AD 24), it represents a projection of all places known to the Western world during his time. In context (distance and configuration aside) it was entirely correct as a map. It would be impossible to include what was not known at the time.

Conceptually the map is interesting as it makes manifest what is known by experience as opposed to rigorous measurement. Strabo relies on his memories of journeys throughout the Mediterranean and other accounts to write the Geographica. In a sense he is relaying a personal geography. I use that term to refer to an intimate understanding of places, the places that are known to a person through their own experience. Just as Strabo intended with his work, this geography is made up of a combination of material, cultural, and phenomenal features. A personal geography is made up of the places one has been to, the experiences of those places, the activities; geography becomes a metaphor for memory.

Pulling back from this more broad and general outlook, it would be an interesting exercise to draw the map of one's personal geography. It could be similar to Nolli's figure-ground mapping of Rome, where spaces one has personally occupied are contrasted to other closed-off and unknown spaces. This map would be unique when compared to others and could jump scales and continents in the case of international travel. It would possibly include semi-known places such as old residences that are now occupied and former places of work, or ghost places that no longer exist.

Another kind of intimate experience of place can be added to our personal geographies in the form of telepresence, made possible by communication technologies. One may become intimately familiar with a room serving as a backdrop for a videophone call, or see foreign capitals or interstate highways by webcam. There is no doubt a tension between knowing a place by being there physically and inhabiting a place only visually, but it is a tension that is not uncommon to many aspects of life in a condition of modernity. 

Consider the condition of 'space-time distanciation' (coined by Anthony Giddens) where as a result of space and time becoming uncoupled by new technology and practice, remote social interactions begin taking precedence over face-to-face social interactions. To illustrate: one may be in frequent contact with a 'close' friend who lives in Singapore but hardly speak with the next-door neighbor. Community is more strongly defined by social activity than by physical place and thus as Giddens puts it, place becomes phantasmagoric.

Perhaps the phantasmagoria of place is what makes personal geography (Strabo's included) so compelling. Conceptions of place may shift depending on the percipient and as one's perspective changes with time, different features of place may be exaggerated. This filtering of physical space through a social lens is so often the basis of narrative, whether to inform as in Strabo's case or to inspire.


  1. Very insightful post. But as a designer, I want to see it visualized:) And so this begs the question, what does your personal geography look like??

  2. I hear what you're saying. I realize if I include my own attempt it may circumscribe the idea's potential. Designers are visual people but do we risk losing something in an idea in our rush to see it?

    However, I do admit that I would like to know what my personal geography looks like...