The Ghost Map – The painting behind the story of a map

Posted: July 9, 2012

Ghost map acrylic painting

The Ghost Map – The painting behind the story of a map.

Last year I became obsessed with the book “The Ghost Map” by Steven Johnson. It is the story of 1854’s cholera epidemic in Soho, London. 
 At the time of the epidemic little was known about how diseases were spread.  A doctor named John Snow stood up against the popular and politically correct theory called “Miasma – (that claimed you got disease from stink or bad air). When the one of the many cholera epidemics hit in 1854, Dr. Snow was convinced that it was being spread by bad water, and went about a methodical and painstaking field study to prove his theory. He created a map by conducted countless interviews of the families and neighbors of the dead.  He concluded that the sick and dead all had used a water pump that he believed the source of the disease. The map visually showed this connection by small lines for the dead and the pedestrian paths around the Broad Street pump in dots.

This had never been done before. And these steps led to opening doors to changes in thought and the public health department. I was unaware before reading the book by Steven Johnson “The ghost map” how much politics and played into science of the Victorian age.

The book illustrates the similarities to the treatment of contemporary ideas – of how many great ideas die on the vine as a result of politics or the powers that be not being able to think simply or outside of the box.

This book also gave me in insight to the internet mapping. As a visual artist – I was able to put together in my head for the first time a picture of the internet as connected paths and road. This was quite helpful, as I was building my website while I was reading the book. I loved this book it is chocked full of non-fiction information about the time period. It maybe a little graphic for some.

ghost map painting cholera epidemic

In this detail – the dots show the regular pedestrian travel route around the Broad Street pump, the source of the epidemic.







If you would like to see the original map by John Snow click here