Arthur H. Robinson

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Arthur H. Robinson at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Arthur H. Robinson (January 5, 1915 – October 10, 2004) was an American geographer and cartographer, who was professor in the Geography Department at the University of Wisconsin in Madison from 1947 until he retired in 1980. He was a prolific writer and influential philosopher on cartography, and one of his most notable accomplishments is the Robinson projection in 1961.


Arthur H. Robinson was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada to American parents. He lived in Great Britain while he was young, and received his post-secondary education in the United States. His undergraduate work was done at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, obtaining a B.A. degree in 1936. He demonstrated an aptitude for cartography and began drawing maps for faculty textbooks[1] while earning a master's degree in geography from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1938, and he earned his Ph.D. degree from the Ohio State University in 1947.[2] While at Ohio State University, Robinson worked to solve problems in the Map communication model.

During World War II, Robinson served as director of the map division of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). In 1941, when Robinson joined OSS, there were no cartographers as we know them today. Robinson engaged geographers with some interest in mapping and the group developed their techniques on the job.[3] Robinson oversaw the creation of 5,000 hand-drawn maps and attended the Allied conferences at Quebec and Cairo in 1943 and 1944 as chief U.S. map officer. For his efforts Robinson received the Legion of Merit from the United States Army in 1946.[4]

In 1947 Robinson subsequently joined the geography department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he spent his career in academia and research. Robinson sought to establish cartography as a recognized discipline and ultimately the university granted both undergraduate and masters degrees in cartography.[3] The Wisconsin cartography program has conferred more than 100 masters and 20 doctoral degrees, and many of the doctoral recipients created respected cartography programs at other universities.[5] Today the map library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is named in his honor.[6]

Robinson served as president of the International Cartographic Association, and as vice president and president of the Association of American Geographers.


Robinson was a prolific writer and influential philosopher on cartography[4]:

  • In The Look of Maps (1952) which was based on his Doctoral research, Robinson urged cartographers to consider the function of a map as an integral part of the design process.
  • In the text In The Nature of Maps (1976), Robinson and co-author Barbara Bartz Petchenik created the term map percipient,a map user who interacts with a map in a discerning way and not merely as a casual observer. The authors stressed that ...the nature of the map as an image and the manner in which it functions as a communication device between the cartographer and percipient need much deeper consideration and analysis than they have yet received.[7]
  • Robinson also co-authored a widely-used textbook, Elements of Cartography, the sixth and last edition of which was published in 1995.

Robinson projection

The Robinson projection, is an example of a pseudocylindrical, or orthophanic, projection.

One of Robinson's most notable accomplishments is the Robinson projection. In 1961, Rand McNally asked Robinson to choose a projection for use as a world map that, among other criteria, was uninterrupted, had limited distortion, and was pleasing to the eye of general viewers.[8] Robinson could not find a projection that satisfied the criteria, so Rand McNally commissioned him to design one.

Robinson proceeded through an iterative process to create the Robinson projection, a pseudo-cylindrical projection that intends to strike a compromise between distortions in areas and in distances, in order to attain a more natural visualization. The projection has been widely used since its introduction. In 1988, National Geographic adopted it for their world maps but replaced it in 1998 with the Winkel Tripel projection.

See also


Robinson produced over 60 articles for professional publications, as well as fifteen books and monographs.[4] Books:

  • 1952. The Look of Maps. Madison:University of Wisconsin Press.
  • 1976. The Nature of Maps. With B. Petchenik. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  • 1982. Early Thematic Mapping in the History of Cartography.
  • 1995. Elements of Cartography (6th Edition). With A. Robinson, J. Morrison, P. Muehrke, A. Kimmerling & S. Guptill. New York: Wiley.


  1. Robinson legacy Retrieved 2 Sept 2008.
  2. Gregory H. Chu (2004). "Great geographers: Arthur H. Robinson.(Obituary)". In: Focus on Geography. 22 dec 2004.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Robinson, A. (1979). Geography and Cartography then and now. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 69(1), 97-102.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Current Biography Yearbook. (1996). Arthur H. Robinson, 467-471.
  5. Slocum, T.; McMaster, R.; Kessler, F.; & Howard, H. (2005) Thematic Cartography and Geographic Visualization (2nd Edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall. p. 24.
  6. Map library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  7. Robinson, A. & Petchenik, B. (1976). The Nature of Maps. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press., p. 20.
  8. Robinson, A. (1974). "A New Map Projection: Its Development and Characteristics". In: International Yearbook of Cartography, pp. 145-155. pp. 147-148.