Melanie is an author, geographer, and data scientist in Wisconsin.

Trophies and relief models

How many trophies can you name that have a relief model globe in them? I was passing through a hotel lobby last week and caught a glimpse of the Golf Channel, which I never watch. The sound was off. On screen with the commentators was a very large trophy of a golden lion with one paw…

Caroline Rose and Magnetic Mendota

At the “Science Hall After Dark” event Nov 11, I was fortunate to meet an interesting young geographer, Caroline Rose. She’s made a 3D map of Lake Mendota at Madison, Wisconsin for the Wisconsin Hoofers. It’s available for viewing at their space at Memorial Union on campus. Her portfolio of the project is here: . The project was featured on…

blog: Rochester, NY and the promise of 3D models

Geography lovers: prepare to be delighted. If much of the futuristic mapping technology in the news puts you off as too impractical, this TED talk by Alex Kipman seems downright practical. Kipman is an alumnus of the Rochester (NY) Institute of Technology–the same high-tech city that gave the subject of my book, Edwin Howell, his start in…

Storefront art

This artwork was part of the storefront for a clothing store in Maryland. We all had to take the bus since the metro was out in one large section. When we stopped to get back on the metro, the storefront had this brilliant artwork made of painted wood. Photo taken in summer 2005 during thesis…

About Melanie McCalmont


Melanie McCalmont

Melanie McCalmont

Melanie McCalmont is the author of “A Wilderness of Rocks.” She is a national expert on historic geographic relief models.

Her first book “A Wilderness of Rocks: The Impact of Relief Models on Data Science” (2015) explores the role of relief models in the early formation of modern data science. Her second book (in progress) is a biography of relief modeler Edwin E. Howell (1845-1911). Other current projects include research with articles for the Library of Congress Map Division, the National Park Service, museum collections, and individual map collectors.

UX Certification Badge from Nielsen Norman GroupSee past talks and upcoming appearances

Melanie is a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate with a M.Sci. in Geography and a M.Sci. in Life Science Communication. She is internationally certified in UX, or user experience research and analysis. Additionally, Melanie has over 25 years of practical work experience as a data analyst, web designer, and science writer in fields of aerospace, utilities, education, and geographic information systems.

Melanie currently lives and works in Wisconsin.


  • 7701 Carrington Dr, Madison, WI 53719


Blog: Film studio logos and relief models

This blog post will blow your mind. Did you know that relief modeling was the inspiration for major film studio logos from the 1920s to today?  Title sequences in older films often have delightfully analog elements of design. The photo included at right is the production title for RKO Pictures’ The Hunchback of Notre Dame…

Blog: Creativity, fashion, and globes

High fashion and old maps were the last thing I expected to see together. This morning I was half-watching a reality show, “House of DVF” while I hit my first 2 cups of tea and checked some historic article downloads for missing OCR layers. [My primary motivational habit is to work on computer housekeeping chores at…

Blog: Pouncing and relief models

Pouncing is an artist’s technique that was also used to create relief models. I was watching “The Agony and the Ecstasy” (1965, book by Irving Stone) and suddenly realized that they were showing “pouncing” that I described in my recent book. In the movie (stills captured from TV below) you see Michelangelo and his crew tracing…

photo from Sarah Fitzsimmons website

Blog: Pacific quilt relief art

Once you look for relief modeling, you see it everywhere. About two years ago I went to a faculty art show at the Chazen Museum, and saw this great quilt on display. It’s by Sarah Fitzsimmons.  I’ve sent her an email about how close her quilt art is to the plaster type (email me…

leaving your mark

New word: Petrosomatoglyph. It’s the body prints or markings in a rock-like substance. Think of a handprint in your neighborhood cement sidewalk. Petrosomatoglyph. Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame. Dinosaur footprints in fossilized mud. The ancient Indian markings in the southwestern desert. (I’ve heard that cement layers, who were Mets fans, when refurbishing the old Yankee Stadium wrote…

blog: researching old maps

How does a line of research get started? From January 21, 1877, the Memphis “Daily Appeal” newspaper published a summary of this article in the “Review of Geographic Progress” for 1876. At the annual meeting of the New York Geographic society, held in Chickering Hall, New York, on Tuesday last, Judge Daly, the president, read a carefully…

blog: sandboxes and analog modeling

Adults immersed in tech fields are wisely choosing to remove tech from their kids’ school environments, specifically enrolling their kids in schools that do not have tech at every turn. There is a neurological reason for this that we feel in our own lives: the subtle pressure to stay connected, the nagging tiny fear of missing…

Relief model video: University Place

This presentation was recorded at the Wisconsin Historical Society “History Sandwiched In” series in July 2013. Since that recording, my continuing research has changed some of the facts stated in the video. Those changes are noted underneath the video.

About the book

Read an excerpt. “A Wilderness of Rocks: the Impact of Relief Models on Data Science” is a large-format book for every history, emerging technology, and map lover. The Introduction tells the history of these 3D models, and each model has its own unique background story with gorgeous photographs by Timothy Hughes. Read an excerpt “Yosemite…