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MapLab: The Cartography of Chaos

A biweekly tour of the ever-expanding cartographic landscape.
relates to MapLab: The Cartography of Chaos
Thomas Brothers/Rand McNally/Courtesy of David Rumsey and the David Rumsey Map Collection

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Once upon a time, in many a glove compartment around Los Angeles County, you’d find a Thomas Guide: 600-plus pages of street maps of the Southern California metropolis. Issued in annual editions from the late 1940s through the 2000s, the quintessential street atlases made L.A. sprawl navigable for fresh arrivals and lifers alike. Locals would memorize the Thomas Guide page numbers and coordinates of their homes and gave directions that way. Though he rarely needed to open it, my own dad kept a curled-edge copy tucked behind his passenger’s seat, like a talisman against wayward turns.