Mapping the World

(Last Updated On: June 6, 2019)

A good map – be it written by man or spread across the heavens – has been essential to travelers throughout history. However, over time, the best of the maps created by humans have been both scientific artifacts and works of art.

Sixteenth-Century Constantinople

In the world of MapQwest and Google Earth and a plethora of GIS enabled devices, I sometimes wonder if the cartographer’s art still matters.Perhaps others are thinking the same, as there seems to be a renewed interest in historic maps lately. Among them, the BBC’s web exhibit “The Beauty of Maps: Seeing the Art in Cartography.” The site features detailed views of a number of significant maps, including the above map of Constantinople.

Through September the British Library is featuring a number of amazing maps in the exhibit “Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art.” The exhibit website features some wonderful examples, including the Fra Mauro World Map:

A few other maps from this exhibit are available on line at the Daily Mail’s web feature “Ten of the greatest: Maps that changed the world,” including a piece of 1921 Bolshevik propaganda and a 1889 map of poverty levels in London.

Maps, even the most basic of maps, tells us a lot about the politics that lay behind the organization of the world. Fascinating stuff. I really can’t see how a GPS device’s command “in 100 feet turn right onto the highway ramp” can ever replace a really good map.

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