I’m not one to lament the passing of old technologies as new and better versions come to market. After all, progress is a good thing. However, I believe there is a need to appreciate the work that went into items of the past, and to acknowledge how these items gave us what we have today.
One of the things we’re beginning to see less of are physical maps. Today, most people can pull up their location on a smartphone or computer and easily find their way around. It’s a great convenience, and it opens up new places to everyone. Yet what we lose in the process is the map as a work of art. And when you consider the intricacy, the scientific accuracy, and all the stylistic details, mapmaking truly is an art.
Maps can show a large area to give us a general idea of the planet…
…or they can focus on a particular location.
They can show vast rural areas where the only features are naturally occurring…
…or cities and other man-made places.
City maps can get very specific, too.
People have been making maps for as long as they’ve wanted to know where they are and where they are going. You’ve probably made small maps yourself when giving directions to someone. The earliest world map comes from Babylon in 600 BCE, and features quasi-mythological islands existing beyond the bounds of what people knew of the world at the time.
Maps from the past can show us how people used to perceive the world centuries ago.
As people became more aware of the world, their maps changed. Their world became larger…and smaller.
Of course, the world looked pretty different based on where you were located.
Maps don’t have to be very old to show a time past, like this one from after World War II.
Maps can also use geography to make a political statement.
Maps don’t have to just show the geography of a place. They can also show the locations of all kinds of things.
Other maps allow us to see what we can’t see with the naked eye, giving us a better understanding of the unseen world.
They can also show us the world in a different way, depending on what their concentration is.
Maps can even show us places other than our planet.
Maps can depict space, like this constellation map.
Maps don’t have to be old to be beautiful.
The next time you pull out your phone for directions to the nearest restaurant, think about mapmaking. The tradition is thousands of years old, and has been the way we’ve sought to understand our world, and beyond, for generations.