The evolution of maps
Since the dawn of time we have used them to chart both our cultural and geographic advancements. At one time or another they have depicted the successes of the Greek, Egyptian, Roman and European colonies. They’ve also been seen to romanticize the world we have lived in, and continue to live in. And, in all likelihood, you have either an actual or replica of one in your home. Maps: why are we so fascinated by them – and how have they evolved over time?
The dawn of cartography
Cartography is the official scientific name give to map-making. At the moment, the oldest known maps that we have date back to the Babylonian-era, which are carved on clay tablets and are dated circa. 2300 BC (era Before Christ). However, although our first maps date back to 2300 BC, it is fairly well accepted that the first time map-making was considered to be in an “advance” stage was during the period of the ancient Greeks. And, by the time the Roman Claudius Ptolemaeus launched his world map (which actually isn’t a world map at all, but only covers the known world at that time – 60 degrees north, 30 degrees south), all had accepted the importance of this fascinating art.
Anyone who has undertaken any study of our medieval period cannot help themselves but be amazed by the level of work that went into their map making. That all of the maps of the time seem to appear to be Euro-centric is actually a misconception as other peoples of the world, noticeable the Chinese and Vikings were also making good use of maps around this time.
The invention of the printing press – Renaissance maps
Probably one of the biggest factors in the increased popularity of maps was the invention of the printing press. Until this time, all maps had to be made by hand. Thus, distribution of replica maps was an extremely onerous task. However, with the invention of the printing press came major advances in map-making skills and distribution. At this time, as well as becoming universally accepted as a means of communications between people who didn’t speak the same language, maps (and, thus, map-making) now came to be seen as an art-form.
The New World
Christopher Columbus discoveries of the New World (15th Century) brought about the next big change in who the world was seen; thus, map-making. It was during this period that maps of the world as a round or oval object started to appear. The pioneer of this change in map design was a cartographer by the name of Gerardus Mercator (from Flanders, Belgium), who used a cylindrical projection to design his world map. So successful was Mercator’s cylindrical projection methodology of designing a world map, it is still in use today!
Modern-era of map making
The art, development and skills in map making continued unabated during their zenith period of the Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Centuries, as both their civil and military usage became more and more apparent. Consequently, a large number of map-charting projects were commissioned during this period. However, it was not until the Second World War, and shortly thereafter, when aerial photography started, that some of the last vestiges of uncharted map territory came in to the fold of modern maps.
The future of maps
Today it is possible to have Global Positioning System (GPS) in your phone, PDA, and car and computerized cartography is here to stay. However, the old romanticism of New World maps will still cling to us – as evidence by the large number of replica maps still sold today. Which goes to show, the history of cartography is a good way of charting our successes and failures over time to where we are today!