Cartography was once a specialized skill reserved for explorers, mathematicians, philosophers and scientists. Today, it has become an accessible tool that can be beneficial if you want to develop maps and directions to communicate with your clients, friends or family. Modern mapping can connect people to your business locations, travel plans or hobbies in a fun and interesting way or be used to depict the inside of buildings and help people navigate offices and classrooms. Whether for professional projects or just for fun, modern cartography is a great way to personalize and customize information.
To understand how today’s digital maps are made start by understanding Geographic Information Systems, or GIS, and how these information systems can help you learn how to take data and turn it into useful navigation. Increasingly accurate modern technology like GPS – which can pinpoint to between 10 and 50 feet of an exact location – has replaced the maps etched into cave walls or painted on papyrus of thousands of years ago. These advances in cartography help us view and understand the world around us more accurately as well as communicate important information.
A Quick Overview of Cartography
Maps have helped people understand and navigate the world for thousands of years. Ancient maps depicting important constellations and bright stars whose movement marked seasons and determined the planting of crops have dated back to 16,500BC. These earliest known maps of stars were found etched into the Lascaux cave walls in southwest France. These carvings give us insight into how Paleolithic peoples viewed the world and studying them helps us understand what they saw as important and worth notating.
Cultures throughout history have contributed to the development and accuracy of mapping. The Babylonian World Map, which is a stone tablet from about 500BC, illustrates a mapping practice that is common today which is to place a particularly important culture or location at the center of the map. Historic maps continued to use this practice and often noted that the cartographer expected the people and landscape to get stranger and stranger as one traveled further away from the known area. Ancient Egypt’s accurate geometry and surveying techniques may have helped re-establish property lines after floods of the Nile. Anaximander of ancient Greece is believed to be the first official mapmaker and an improved version of his map still in existence used the units of measure “days of sailing” on sea and “days of marching” on land to determine the approximate sizes of the land masses and water ways depicted.
The development of mapping from Ancient Greece and into the modern age builds on the knowledge of each area and land mass as it was explored. These maps systematically include the locations of landmarks as they were discovered and major changes can be seen as theories about the shape and size of the Earth were developed, thus making maps more and more detailed and accurate through time.
Benefits of Cartography
Advancements in cartography and a focus on accurate distance measuring have brought a wealth of information and useful standards into our world. For example, mapmakers were charged with evaluating the distance of the earth as it corresponded to one degree of the celestial meridian. The results were a more accurate measure of a mile. That more accurate mile, in turn, enabled the accurate measuring of the circumference of the earth. As mapping techniques developed, production of atlases with world maps and regional maps were completed. Fascinating versions of what the world was believed to look like are still studied and enjoyed by historians, amateurs and enthusiasts.
From the techniques used to develop maps to the accessibility and interactivity of today’s more widely available modern maps, cartography has been an instrumental part in communicating locations, travel routes, distances, directions and journeys as well as beliefs and cultural worldviews. Today, many people in the developed world don’t go a full 24 hours without opening a mapping program on a smart phone or looking up a location on a computer. These programs are getting more adaptable and efficient through use and technological application and can now be used to develop fully customized personal maps.
Ways to Use Cartography for Your Project
- Show your store locations and event locations
- Help people navigate your building
- Create an itinerary for a great vacation or tour
- Share information about your favorite neighborhood or city
Many businesses and groups today handle multiple locations and events and need to communicate these meeting points and shops in a way that is effective and easy for people to understand. You may need to develop a map to add to your website for your clients to easily find your location(s) or special event. The inside of your building may need to be mapped out so people visiting can find the departments and offices they need more easily. Perhaps you want to put together an itinerary for a family vacation using key meeting points and GPS coordinates or even make a fun record of the places you visited on a recent road trip. An understanding of modern cartography technology can help you begin to communicate your locations and destinations.
How to Create Your Map
Ask yourself the following questions to determine what kind of map you want to make for your project:
- How many specific locations do I want to highlight in the map?
- Would it be beneficial or interesting to have photos associated with these locations?
- Do I want to eventually print or reproduce this map?
Lots of Locations
Make a professional map that highlights lots of locations by using a mash-up which you can make online. This will allow you to put unlimited points on your map and highlight the most important points as you communicate information about an area. Mash-ups give people a good idea of what is offered within a determined location and where important places or points of interest are. When looking at an area, a mash-up will pinpoint various locations and give a concise overview with details available with a simple click.
Adding Photos to Highlight Points of Interest
Highlighting points of interest can be done through the use of photos. A great way to do this is to set-up a GeoPhoto map that highlights images of particular locations along the route you are establishing or even in a specified location like a city or neighborhood. This is a great way to highlight the places you plan to go or the places you have been on a map in an interesting and interactive way. It is also an easy way to show store fronts, homes and other information based on location.
Designing Your Map for Print
Once you have your map you may want to consider using Adobe Illustrator to design a printable or reproducible version of your map. This design program can help you use design and color elements to personalize your map so others can have access to it and enjoy the information you provide.
Whether you are an amateur cartographer who is using maps for fun, a business owner who seeks to communicate with your clientele or part of a group that wants to highlight and remember certain areas of a trip or tour, making your own map is a great way to join in the fascinating development of modern cartography.