Cartography facts for kids

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Claudius Ptolemy- The World
A medieval depiction of the Ecumene (1482, Johannes Schnitzer, engraver), constructed after the coordinates in Ptolemy's Geography and using his second map projection. The translation into Latin and dissemination of Geography in Europe, in the beginning of the 15th century, marked the rebirth of scientific cartography, after more than a millennium of stagnation.

Cartography is making maps. It is part of geography. How people make maps is always changing. In the past, maps were drawn by hand, but today most printed maps are made using computers. Someone who makes maps is called a cartographer.

Making a map can be as simple as drawing a direction on a napkin, or as complicated as showing a census of a whole country. Anyone can make a map, but there are people who spend their lives learning how to make complicated maps.

For many centuries maps were usually carefully drawn onto paper or parchment. Nowadays they are made on a computer which makes them look neater with accurate images.

Maps are of two main types:

  • General maps with a variety of features.
  • Thematic maps with particular themes for specific audiences.

General maps are produced in a series. Governments produce them in larger-scale and smaller-scale maps of great detail.

Thematic maps are now very common. They are necessary to show spatial, cultural and social data.

History

Paspardo roccia Vite29 rilievo foto
Valcamonica rock art (I), Paspardo r. 29, topographic composition, 4th millennium BC
Bedolina roccia 1 foto rilievo
The Bedolina Map and its tracing, 6th–4th century BC
T and O map Guntherus Ziner 1472
Copy (1472) of St. Isidore's TO map of the world.

The earliest known map is a matter of some debate, both because the term "map" is always well-defined and because some artifacts that might be maps might actually be something else. A wall painting that might depict the ancient Anatolian city of Çatalhöyük (previously known as Catal Huyuk or Çatal Hüyük) has been dated to the late 7th millennium BCE. Among the prehistoric alpine rock carvings of Mount Bego (F) and Valcamonica (I), dated to the 4th millennium BCE, geometric patterns consisting of dotted rectangles and lines are widely interpreted in archaeological literature as a depiction of cultivated plots. Other known maps of the ancient world include the Minoan "House of the Admiral" wall painting from c. 1600 BCE, showing a seaside community in an oblique perspective and an engraved map of the holy Babylonian city of Nippur, from the Kassite period (14th – 12th centuries BCE). The oldest surviving world maps are from 9th century BCE Babylonia. One shows Babylon on the Euphrates, surrounded by a circular landmass showing Assyria, Urartu and several cities, in turn surrounded by a "bitter river" (Oceanus), with seven islands arranged around it. Another depicts Babylon as being further north from the center of the world.

The ancient Greeks and Romans created maps, beginning at latest with Anaximander in the 6th century BC. In the 2nd century AD, Ptolemy produced his treatise on cartography, Geographia. This contained Ptolemy's world map – the world then known to Western society (Ecumene). As early as the 8th century, Arab scholars were translating the works of the Greek geographers into Arabic.

In ancient China, geographical literature spans back to the 5th century BC. The oldest extant Chinese maps come from the State of Qin, dated back to the 4th century BC, during the Warring States period. In the book of the Xin Yi Xiang Fa Yao, published in 1092 by the Chinese scientist Su Song, a star map on the equidistant cylindrical projection. Although this method of charting seems to have existed in China even prior to this publication and scientist, the greatest significance of the star maps by Su Song is that they represent the oldest existent star maps in printed form.

Early forms of cartography of India included the locations of the Pole star and other constellations of use. These charts may have been in use by the beginning of the Common Era for purposes of navigation.

Mappa mundi are the Medieval European maps of the world. Approximately 1,100 mappae mundi are known to have survived from the Middle Ages. Of these, some 900 are found illustrating manuscripts and the remainder exist as stand-alone documents.

TabulaRogeriana upside-down
The Tabula Rogeriana, drawn by Muhammad al-Idrisi for Roger II of Sicily in 1154

The Arab geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi produced his medieval atlas Tabula Rogeriana in 1154. He incorporated the knowledge of Africa, the Indian Ocean and the Far East, gathered by Arab merchants and explorers with the information inherited from the classical geographers to create the most accurate map of the world up until his time. It remained the most accurate world map for the next three centuries.

Europe As A Queen Sebastian Munster 1570
Europa regina in Sebastian Münster's "Cosmographia", 1570

In the Age of Exploration, from the 15th century to the 17th century, European cartographers both copied earlier maps (some of which had been passed down for centuries) and drew their own based on explorers' observations and new surveying techniques. The invention of the magnetic compass, telescope and sextant enabled increasing accuracy. In 1492, Martin Behaim, a German cartographer, made the oldest extant globe of the Earth.

Johannes Werner refined and promoted the Werner projection. In 1507, Martin Waldseemüller produced a globular world map and a large 12-panel world wall map (Universalis Cosmographia) bearing the first use of the name "America". Portuguese cartographer Diego Ribero was the author of the first known planisphere with a graduated Equator (1527). Italian cartographer Battista Agnese produced at least 71 manuscript atlases of sea charts.

Due to the sheer physical difficulties inherent in cartography, map-makers frequently lifted material from earlier works without giving credit to the original cartographer. For example, one of the most famous early maps of North America is unofficially known as the "Beaver Map", published in 1715 by Herman Moll. This map is an exact reproduction of a 1698 work by Nicolas de Fer. De Fer in turn had copied images that were first printed in books by Louis Hennepin, published in 1697, and François Du Creux, in 1664. By the 18th century, map-makers started to give credit to the original engraver by printing the phrase "After [the original cartographer]" on the work.

Technological changes

Fernão Vaz Dourado 1571-1
A pre-Mercator nautical chart of 1571, from Portuguese cartographer Fernão Vaz Dourado (c. 1520–c. 1580). It belongs to the so-called plane chart model, where observed latitudes and magnetic directions are plotted directly into the plane, with a constant scale, as if the Earth were a plane (Portuguese National Archives of Torre do Tombo, Lisbon).
Structureforet
Mapping can be done with GPS and laser rangefinder directly in the field. Image shows mapping of forest structure (position of trees, dead wood and canopy).

In cartography, technology has continually changed in order to meet the demands of new generations of mapmakers and map users. The first maps were manually constructed with brushes and parchment; therefore, varied in quality and were limited in distribution. The advent of magnetic devices, such as the compass and much later, magnetic storage devices, allowed for the creation of far more accurate maps and the ability to store and manipulate them digitally.

Advances in mechanical devices such as the printing press, quadrant and vernier, allowed for the mass production of maps and the ability to make accurate reproductions from more accurate data. Optical technology, such as the telescope, sextant and other devices that use telescopes, allowed for accurate surveying of land and the ability of mapmakers and navigators to find their latitude by measuring angles to the North Star at night or the sun at noon.

Advances in photochemical technology, such as the lithographic and photochemical processes, have allowed for the creation of maps that have fine details, do not distort in shape and resist moisture and wear. This also eliminated the need for engraving, which further shortened the time it takes to make and reproduce maps.

In the 20th century, Aerial photography, satellite imagery, and remote sensing provided efficient, precise methods for mapping physical features, such as coastlines, roads, buildings, watersheds, and topography. Advancements in electronic technology ushered in another revolution in cartography. Ready availability of computers and peripherals such as monitors, plotters, printers, scanners (remote and document) and analytic stereo plotters, along with computer programs for visualization, image processing, spatial analysis, and database management, democratized and greatly expanded the making of maps. The ability to superimpose spatially located variables onto existing maps created new uses for maps and new industries to explore and exploit these potentials. See also digital raster graphic.

These days most commercial-quality maps are made using software that falls into one of three main types: CAD, GIS and specialized illustration software. Spatial information can be stored in a database, from which it can be extracted on demand. These tools lead to increasingly dynamic, interactive maps that can be manipulated digitally.

With the field rugged computers, GPS and laser rangefinders, it is possible to perform mapping directly in the terrain.

Map types

General vs. thematic cartography

Orienteringskort bygholm 2005 detail
Small section of an orienteering map.
Easter Island map-en
Topographic map of Easter Island.
Maps-for-free Sierra Nevada
Relief map Sierra Nevada

In understanding basic maps, the field of cartography can be divided into two general categories: general cartography and thematic cartography. General cartography involves those maps that are constructed for a general audience and thus contain a variety of features. General maps exhibit many reference and location systems and often are produced in a series. For example, the 1:24,000 scale topographic maps of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) are a standard as compared to the 1:50,000 scale Canadian maps. The government of the UK produces the classic 1:50,000 (replacing the older 1 inch to 1 mile) "Ordnance Survey" maps of the entire UK and with a range of correlated larger- and smaller-scale maps of great detail. Many private mapping companies have also produce thematic map series.

Thematic cartography involves maps of specific geographic themes, oriented toward specific audiences. A couple of examples might be a dot map showing corn production in Indiana or a shaded area map of Ohio counties, divided into numerical choropleth classes. As the volume of geographic data has exploded over the last century, thematic cartography has become increasingly useful and necessary to interpret spatial, cultural and social data.

An orienteering map combines both general and thematic cartography, designed for a very specific user community. The most prominent thematic element is shading, that indicates degrees of difficulty of travel due to vegetation. The vegetation itself is not identified, merely classified by the difficulty ("fight") that it presents.

Topographic vs. topological

A topographic map is primarily concerned with the topographic description of a place, including (especially in the 20th and 21st centuries) the use of contour lines showing elevation. Terrain or relief can be shown in a variety of ways (see Cartographic relief depiction).

A topological map is a very general type of map, the kind one might sketch on a napkin. It often disregards scale and detail in the interest of clarity of communicating specific route or relational information. Beck's London Underground map is an iconic example. Though the most widely used map of "The Tube," it preserves little of reality: it varies scale constantly and abruptly, it straightens curved tracks, and it contorts directions. The only topography on it is the River Thames, letting the reader know whether a station is north or south of the river. That and the topology of station order and interchanges between train lines are all that is left of the geographic space. Yet those are all a typical passenger wishes to know, so the map fulfils its purpose.

Map design

Livingston-Greenwich-map
Illustrated map.

Map purpose and selection of information

Arthur H. Robinson, an American cartographer influential in thematic cartography, stated that a map not properly designed "will be a cartographic failure." He also claimed, when considering all aspects of cartography, that "map design is perhaps the most complex." Robinson codified the mapmaker's understanding that a map must be designed foremost with consideration to the audience and its needs.

From the very beginning of mapmaking, maps "have been made for some particular purpose or set of purposes". The intent of the map should be illustrated in a manner in which the percipient acknowledges its purpose in a timely fashion. The term percipient refers to the person receiving information and was coined by Robinson. The principle of figure-ground refers to this notion of engaging the user by presenting a clear presentation, leaving no confusion concerning the purpose of the map. This will enhance the user's experience and keep his attention. If the user is unable to identify what is being demonstrated in a reasonable fashion, the map may be regarded as useless.

Making a meaningful map is the ultimate goal. Alan MacEachren explains that a well designed map "is convincing because it implies authenticity" (1994, pp. 9). An interesting map will no doubt engage a reader. Information richness or a map that is multivariate shows relationships within the map. Showing several variables allows comparison, which adds to the meaningfulness of the map. This also generates hypothesis and stimulates ideas and perhaps further research. In order to convey the message of the map, the creator must design it in a manner which will aid the reader in the overall understanding of its purpose. The title of a map may provide the "needed link" necessary for communicating that message, but the overall design of the map fosters the manner in which the reader interprets it (Monmonier, 1993, pp. 93).

In the 21st century it is possible to find a map of virtually anything from the inner workings of the human body to the virtual worlds of cyberspace. Therefore, there are now a huge variety of different styles and types of map – for example, one area which has evolved a specific and recognisable variation are those used by public transport organisations to guide passengers, namely urban rail and metro maps, many of which are loosely based on 45 degree angles as originally perfected by Harry Beck and George Dow.

Map symbology

Cartographic symbology encodes information on the map in ways intended to convey information to the map reader efficiently, taking into consideration the limited space on the map, models of human understanding through visual means, and the likely cultural background and education of the map reader. Symbology may be implicit, using universal elements of design, or may be more specific to cartography or even to the map.

A map may have any of many kinds of symbolization. Some examples are:

  • A legend, or key, explains the map's pictorial language.
  • A title indicates the region and perhaps the theme that the map portrays.
  • A neatline frames the entire map image.
  • A compass rose or north arrow provides orientation.
  • An overview map gives global context for the primary map.
  • A bar scale translates between map measurements and real distances.
  • A map projection provides a way to represent the curved surface on the plane of the map.

The map may declare its sources, accuracy, publication date and authorship, and so forth. The map image itself portrays the region.

Map coloring is another form of symbology, one whose importance can reach beyond aesthetic. In complex thematic maps, for example, the color scheme's structure can critically affect the reader's ability to understand the map's information. Modern computer displays and print technologies can reproduce much of the gamut that humans can perceive, allowing for intricate exploitation of human visual discrimination in order to convey detailed information.

Quantitative symbols give a visual indication of the magnitude of the phenomenon that the symbol represents. Two major classes of symbols are used to portray quantity. Proportional symbols change size according to phenomenon’s magnitude, making them appropriate for representing statistics. Choropleth maps portray data collection areas, such as counties or census tracts, with color. Using color this way, the darkness and intensity (or value) of the color is evaluated by the eye as a measure of intensity or concentration.

Map key or legend

Legenda Michelin kaart 1940
Legend or key of a French road map (Michelin 1940)

The map key, or legend, describes how to interpret the map's symbols and may give details of publication and authorship.


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