Speaker - Juan Jose Valdes

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Juan is the official geographer of the National Geographic Society. He guides and assists the Map Policy Committee in setting border representations, disputed territories, and naming conventions.

Juan also serves as the director of Editorial and Research for National Geographic Maps, where his prime responsibility is to ensure accuracy and consistency for all maps and map products.

Juan was born in Havana, Cuba, and spent time in Miami, Florida, as a boy. He remembers coming to Washington, D.C., in winter 1963: "The first thing that struck me was that all the trees had lost their leaves, and it got dark very early. I thought that Washington was the ends of the Earth."

Juan stayed in the Washington area, where he studied geography and cartography at the University of Maryland in College Park. After college, he worked as a cartographer at the World Bank.

Before long, Juan found his way to the halls of National Geographic, starting off as a typographer in the cartographic department in 1975. "In order to master the craft of cartography, it was almost like a trade apprenticeship; when you walked in the door, you were immediately put into the typographic section, familiarizing yourself with the Society's typefaces and sticking type on . . . overlays. Once you mastered that art—and it was an art, because it was done manually—after you mastered that, you could go into map production, research, or editorial," says Juan.

Juan found his cartographic niche in researching and editing maps, eventually working his way to a lead position as director for Editorial and Research.

In his time at National Geographic, Juan has seen a lot of changes in the way maps are produced and information is gathered. It's been the rapidity of accessing information that's been the most amazing thing to occur over the past 20 years," he says. "What took years, if not months, to generate, you can now do it in days, if not hours.

"Back then, no one blinked an eye if you had to get on a plane to go to the source to get the information. Consequently, the time to produce a map was a lot longer; a typical supplement map [usually published in National Geographic magazine] could take as long as a year. Now it can take five weeks or less."

1 Program

Juan José Valdés: Mapping Cuba

04.13.12 | 00:18:35 min | 0 comments