History of Maps

One of the greatest inventions that crosses all ‘boundaries’ are maps. They help us get from one destination to another. It is easy to travel long distances without the fear of getting lost, thanks to maps. Today, everyone appreciates the utility of maps which have made their way into mobile phones as well. Older maps provide valuable information about the past, including the cultural and belief systems of ancient generations.

Cartography is the art and science of making maps. This ancient art dates back to the Babylonian era in 200 B.C., where maps were preserved on clay tablets. The ancient Greeks developed the art further, which is similar to present day maps. Mathematician and astronomer, Ptolemy, was the first to depict the earth as being round in his map. His work, Guide to Geography, was used as a reference guide until the birth of the Renaissance.

Many medieval maps were influenced by religious views. The Vikings incorporated their explorations to the North Atlantic in their maps during the 12th century. During these times, maps were drawn by hand with a limited distribution. Mediterranean maps included accurate drawings of Arabic lands during these eras. With the evolution of printing, maps became more popular in the 15th century. The first prints were etched on wooden blocks and was later replaced by engravings on copper plates during the 16th century. This was the time when detailed maps which included islands, rivers, and coastlines were featured on maps in order to garner interest among sailors.

Columbus and his fellow explorers made good use of maps, with the first world maps appearing in the 16th century. Gerardus Mercator, a Belgian cartographer developed the cylindrical projection during these times, which are still used for navigational chart and global mapping today. Through the 17th to the 19th centuries, detailed and accurate maps were developed. The concept of aerial photography during World War II saw a rapid development in mapping abilities, which soon made much of the earth’s locations easy to reference.

During the 1970s and 1980s, digital maps known as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) were introduced. These maps were easy to store on computers. Data about geographical information of the earth on these maps can be analyzed, visualized, interpreted, and even printed. GIS integrates data, hardware, and software in order to analyze  all forms of geographically referenced information. All this data can be quickly understood and share.