National Geographic geographer to speak on campus

Student Writer Katie Lindsay

National Geographic geographer Juan José Valdés will be speaking at UNA Sept. 27 and 28.  The first presentation will be held in the GUC Performance Center at 7 p.m., and the second will be held in the Wesleyan Hall auditorium at 10 a.m.

His first presentation, entitled “From ‘The Corner of One Way and Yield’ to a Map 105 Years in the Making” deals with his experience in which he fell in love with maps. This presentation also focuses on how this childhood experience led him to become a cartographer and gave him the insight of the power of map—how pieces of paper can connect the entire world. 

“At the beginning of the 20th century, the National Geographic Society’s first managing editor coined this phrase: ‘A map is the greatest of all epic poems. Its lines and colors show the realization of great dreams,’” Valdés said.

The quote is the basis for Valdés’ second presentation, “Of Maps, Poems, and Dreams,” which gives listeners, the UNA GAA conference attendees a behind-the-scenes look at mapmaking at National Geographic today. 

As geographer for National Geographic, Valdes’ main job is to ensure the editorial accuracy of the maps at National Geographic Maps.  Along with his team of cartographers, Valdés puts all of the information they gather in an “elegant, authoritative way,” he said in a 2011 interview with The Washington Post.  This information includes cities, transportation networks, roads, rivers, etc.

“(Creating maps) has made me more sensitive to others’ outlook of the world,” he said.

He said that in order to create a map, one must understand the history and culture of a place. 


“The boundaries are a reflection of the culture and history,” he said.

In his interview with The Washington Post, Valdés told the story of his journey to the United States when he was seven years old. Aug. 10, 1961, he was put on a plane in Cuba bound for Miami.

“The plane was full of kids,” Valdés said. “It was just sad, very sad.”

Before the advent of fax machines and the Internet, cartographers had to travel in order to make their maps, Valdés said. Valdés said he and his staff often traveled in order to “ground-proof” the area they were mapping. This is a process in which cartographers verify the information they have collected, he said.