Cartography or mapmaking is an ancient technique and dates back to 6th century BCE. Humans have always been curious to know how the world looked graphically & to navigate the way through it. From cave paintings to ancient maps of Babylon, Greece, and Asia, right into the 21st century, people have created and used maps. As the centuries passed, maps became larger, more detailed and more accurate.
The Greco-Egyptian writer and scholar, Claudius Ptolemy, is known as the “father of geography.” He drew from more than a thousand years of classical learning to develop one of the world’s first global maps, with Europe at the center. Ptolemy’s world had not recognized the Pacific and an American landmass in the map. The map used longitudinal and latitudinal lines.
In 1154, the Arab geographer, Muhammad al-Idrisi, incorporated the knowledge of Africa, the Indian Ocean and the Far East gathered by Arab merchants & explorers with the information inherited from the classical geographers to create the most accurate map of the world at that time. The map was called ‘the Tabula Rogeriana’& showed the Eurasian continent in its entirety, but only showed the northern part of the African continent. It remained the most accurate world map for the next three centuries. He fused Islamic and Western notions to create his circular world map.
The Waldseemüller map was the first map where the name America appears, holding the strong opinion that it was a new continent that Amerigo Vespucci had discovered on his voyage and not only a few smaller islands as Christopher Columbus did in the West Indies. Later, the map was lost and only rediscovered in 1901 by a Jesuit priest.
“Nova totius Terrarum Orbis geographica ac hydrographica tabula” created by Hendrik Hondius in 1630 was the first available map, to show any part of Australia. The Australian coastline shown is part of the west coast of Cape York Peninsula, discovered by Jan Carstensz in 1623.
During the 20th century, maps became more abundant due to improvements in printing and photography that made production cheaper and easier. With the field rugged computers, GPS and laser rangefinders, it is now possible to perform mapping directly in the terrain. Construction of a map is also possible in real time. Whether it’s the nearest Chinese restaurant near you or directions to a friend’s apartment, many of today’s online inquiries have a geographic component. Maps’ transition to the digital realm is just as revolutionary as its production on the printing press.