Mapping the World

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.

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.