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Maps - What they Really Are?

You would be surprised to know that the word "map", in its original sense, wasn't what we mean by it today. Originally from the Latin word "mappa", it actually meant a napkin or paper. Why so? Because these were the materials the earliest maps were apparently drawn on.

Maps are as old as our desire to explore. The world has become a tad more familiar ever since people started documenting or drawing their experience on pieces of cloth, rocks, sheepskin or wooden tablets. From the wall paintings in Egypt to the 21st century maps, a lot of learning and unlearning had happened in the process of perfecting the art of representing the world on a flat surface. The graphical representation of landscape features of an area of the Earth and their symbolic depiction are at the heart of any map. With its origin in Latin word 'Mappa', which meant napkin or cloth, the map has become the universal term for two-dimensional representation of the surface of the world.

Wisdom Bytes You Can Share: (quotes for FB and Twitter)

“A map tells you where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going — in a sense it’s three tenses in one.” ― Peter Greenaway

“If geography is prose, maps are iconography.” ― Lennart Meri

“Maps encourage boldness. They’re like cryptic love letters. They make anything seem possible.” ― Mark Jenkins

History of Maps
Maps were neither discovered, nor invented. They emerged out of a necessity and evolved as a mark of progress of a civilization. Cave painting and rock carvings, dating as early as 12,000 BC, were considered the first map-like representations that have helped in recognizing landscape features such as mountains, rivers, valleys and Neolithic towns. To find the earliest specimen of maps, one has to refer to the wooden tablets of Babylonia (present-day Iraq) and the land drawings found in Egypt. These two civilizations were among the first to demonstrate their mapping skills. What possibly prompted the birth of maps was the necessity to survey fertile areas of river valleys.

The Babylonians and Egyptians, much before the Greeks started creating maps, had made several attempts to depict the form and extent of the Earth. However, their objective of mapping was restricted to their local needs. The scope of maps soon expanded to include engineering plans as town-planners started using them for the construction of canals, roads, and civic infrastructure. The baton was passed on to the Greeks and Romans who refined the art of mapmaking. In fact, Ptolemy's 'Geographia,' which contained thousands of maps of various parts of the world along with longitude and latitude lines, was considered a notable work in 150 AD.

After a prolonged lull in the Middle Age, the world got back its focus on map-making during the Renaissance period. With the invention of the printing press and the growth of major publishing houses, maps became accessible to all. The establishment of institutions such as the French Academy of Science further gave a boost to map-making.

The earliest traces of thematic maps could be seen in the late 18th century when maps were produced to record the spread of a particular event, especially spread of disease or the extent of a flood.

Modern maps are drawn based on the borrowed concept that bird's eye view of a landscape is ideal for creating map since it provides a view of a greater area. It was the early map-makers who introduced this idea in map-making.

The relationship between features on the map and the reality on the Earth was often not accurate in the maps of the olden days. They lacked uniformity in detailing. While features in the center of the map used to be elaborately mentioned, the edges had very less details. With the exposure to scientific knowledge and understanding of geography, maps started becoming more complex and more accurate.

Types of Maps

Political Maps
These maps represent the political subdivisions of various regions of the world. Besides focusing on the state and national boundaries of geographical regions, it also shows locations of cities – both large and small. Political maps are broadly divided into general and specialized maps. The general political maps show the location of countries and regions of national and global importance. Significant water bodies are generally covered in this map. Specialized political maps, as the name suggest, are designed to present specific political events. A political map does not show any topographic features.

Physical Maps
These are more complex and meticulously designed maps as they represent different landscape features — mountains, rivers, lakes, forested areas, and other prominent physical features of a region. It is a standard practice to use colors and gradients to depict different types of landforms. Mountains and elevation changes are usually shown with different colors. For example, places with lower elevations are generally marked in various shades of green. Different gradients of brown are used to depict places with higher elevations. Waterbodies are always shown in blue.

Economic Maps
These are topical maps that depict different economic phenomena taking place in a particular region. These maps are widely referred for planning and forecasting the development and management of a region's economy. The economic maps illustrate economic regions, levels of development and specialization of production. They also feature labor resources and natural resources as components of economic activity. Besides general economic maps, there are industry-specific maps such as agricultural maps, transportation and communications maps, and maps on industrial centers.

Topographic Maps
Topographic maps have come a long way from being restricted to a tool that accurately determines the elevation of a geographical area. Modern maps are detailed graphical representations of both natural and man-made features such as buildings, railways, airports, rivers, mountains, valleys, etc. These maps use contour lines to show changes in the landscape. The contour lines are spaced at regular intervals to show elevation changes. Close spacing of the lines indicates steep terrain. Topographic maps are increasingly in demand as they not only help in planning infrastructure, but also prove handy for those involved in earth-based endeavors.

Climatic Maps
The territorial distribution of climatic conditions is reflected in climatic maps. These maps are prepared based on long-term observations of climatic pattern in a large region. Climatic maps not only highlight individual climatic features like temperature, precipitation, cloud cover, and atmospheric pressure over regions but also depict different climatic zones of the earth illustrated with colors to highlight their differences. Maps on climatic conditions of individual month, entire year and seasons are also widely sought.

Thematic Maps
These are specially designed maps that focus on a particular theme connected with a specific geographical region. Be it social, cultural or economic aspects of a city, state or country, these maps illustrate one theme at a time. The thematic maps can portray almost any kind of information from population density to infant mortality and soil types to presence of political parties. Attention is paid towards labeling, which is in consonance with the objective of drawing readers' attention to specific information about particular locations. Maps with effective presentation can be used to compare patterns on two or more maps.

Road Maps
A road map can be referred as an extension of political map with greater detailing. Besides displaying roads and transport links, road maps also include prominent landmarks, buildings, recreational facilities, hotels and restaurants, airports and train stations. Travelers, especially motorists, depend on a road map to get around a place. For their convenience, some road maps depict major and minor roads with different colors. Road maps are known for their levels of complexities. While simple schematic maps may give an overview of a region's major routes and features, the inset maps provide greater detail of a specific area.

Digital Maps
Digital maps are a much evolved cousin of traditional paper maps. Offsetting the limitations of paper maps when it comes to detailing and updating, the digitized maps emerged as a desirable alternative. The capability of early digital maps was confined to providing a virtual view of roads. The advancement of GPS technology has made digital maps more 'user conscious.' Live traffic updates and depiction of newly added places of interest are some of the features that have augmented the relevance of digital maps. They are increasingly used for location-enabled applications such as Google Earth and Google Maps. These maps have become an important component of automotive navigation systems.

Digital maps are tasked with the responsibility of providing the “most accurate reflection” of a location. The fact that digital maps are all-pervasive has been confirmed by the sudden growth in their application in sciences and applied sciences. From geology to engineering and mining to architecture, development of mobile computing has expanded the reach of digital maps. GPS technology is also considered a catalyst for growth of digital mapping. It has led to the meteoric rise of digital mapping navigation systems.

The new generation of digital maps are now expanding their range of functionalities. The historians, archaeologists and the practitioners of spatial humanities are now making use of an advanced technology to re-create the landscapes of yesteryears. In fact, they are re-examining places that existed sometime in the past.

Controversial Maps
Be it inconsistencies of smaller magnitude or blatant flouting of accepted norms, there had been occasions when maps have enraged the world and kicked up controversies. Here is a discussion of some of the maps that stayed in the public imagination for long and for wrong reasons.

Blank Maps
These maps contain only the boundary, and have no other places or features marked. They are great as learning tools, and are used extensively among students. If you keep forgetting the location of world countries or their borders, there is no better way than filling up and cross-checking a blank map. It is also possible for a blank map to have the boundaries marked, so that it can be used for more specific tasks.

Location Maps
The location map is used to mark the location of a particular place with respect to the continent, country or the world. This might seem like an exercise in futility, until you actually see a location map in action. Stripped of all the other details that might be termed irrelevant for the moment, the location map provides an unmistakably clear idea of where the particular place actually lies in relation to other well-known regions. Do this exercise even once and you can never miss the location of a place.

Projection Maps
These maps are used to represent the Earth's surface on plane paper. And herein lies the problem. The Earth is a sphere, while we want to represent this information on a two-dimensional paper. The result is a map that looks skewed and not quite easy on the eye at the first look. However, its usefulness soon overtakes its form, and the map becomes very useful. Globes were made possible in this way only: When that flat sheet is cut and pasted on the globe properly, we get a near-perfect model of the earth. Otherwise, we would have a hard time making sense out of the otherwise perfectly okay map now pasted on a sphere.

The US Map with Only 38 States
In 1973, George Etzel Pearcy, a geography professor of California State University, suggested that the US needs to redraw its existing state boundaries and bring the number of states down to 38. Pearcy's map depicted proposed state lines, which were drawn in sparsely populated areas. Number of cities within each state was reduced. He drew the map based on the argument that if fewer cities vie for state's income, then more money would be available for projects that would benefit all citizens of the country.

The Map That Depicted Greenland and Africa as Same Surface Areas
In 1973, a German journalist publicly criticized the map of the world known as the "Mercator Map." According to him, the cylindrical projection of the map was inaccurate and “downright racist.” While pointing out the distortions in the map, he highlighted that Greenland and Africa are shown as regions having same surface area, whereas the latter is about 14 times larger.

The Map that Claimed America was Discovered by a Chinese Explorer Much before Columbus
A Chinese map that surfaced in Shanghai in 2001 claimed that it was a copy of the original map drawn by Zheng He, a 14th century Chinese explorer. This map from 1418 also claimed that America was discovered by Zheng He around 70 years before Christopher Columbus. Later, the historians and geographers found little truth in the claim as the facts stated in the map were replete with anachronisms.

Google Map that Showed Parts of Costa Rica in Nicaragua
Google Maps found itself at fault when the Nicaraguan troops crossed the border, entered Costa Rica and replaced that country's flag with their own. This incident in 2010 was triggered because of inaccurate presentation of the border between the two nations.

Google Map that Triggered European Border War
In yet another gaffe, Google Maps rekindled centuries-long border dispute between Netherlands and Germany by showing most of the harbor in Emden under Dutch sovereignty. According to the Dutch, the harbor is located between the northern Netherlands and Germany. However, the estuary is claimed by the Germans as their territory.

Canada Map without Newfoundland 2
In a recent revelation, a top functionary in Canadian Cartographic Association admitted that he “was not aware of Newfoundland 2”, an island province off the Atlantic Coast. Call it an oversight or ignorance, this province in Canada never found any mention in the country map. For the first time, a decision has been taken to include both Newfoundlands in relief and political maps of Canada.

Google Map that Showed Arunachal Pradesh as Part of China
In 2009, Google's satellite map of the border area between India and China came under heavy criticism as it showed several towns in Arunachal Pradesh as part of China. They were also depicted by their Chinese names. The map not only presented Arunachal's southern borders with Assam and northern boundary with China as disputed territory, but also questioned India's borders with Burma and Bhutan.

Xiaomi Showed Map of India That Angered China (Create Hyperlink with Sanjay's MyIndia blog on Xiaomi phones)
Chinese smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi, inadvertently, found itself tangled in a geopolitical dispute between India and China after it showed a map of India to Indian customers that depicted Aksai Chin in Kashmir as a part of India. In reality, it is administered by China. That particular map in question further incensed the Chinese as it claimed that Arunachal Pradesh is "completely administered by India."

Map Projections
Map projection refers to the process of translating the three-dimensional surface of the earth on a two-dimensional map. It is the process by which every point on a globe can be moved when it is flattened. Compromises are made in accuracy, and some information gets lost since one dimension is ignored. Several types of projections have evolved to represent at least one feature (actual distance between places) accurately, even though at the cost of distorting other features like area, shape and compass directions.

How to Choose a Projection ?
Choosing the right type of projection is a perennial challenge for a cartographer. However, it is an accepted norm to choose a projection that preserves a particular spatial property that a map must accurately depict. Each projection preserves or compromises or approximates basic metric properties in different ways. The purpose of the map determines which projection should form the base for the map. Since several purposes exist for maps, many projections have been created to suit each purpose. The distortion factor, which is inevitable in any projection, has to be borne in mind. It is a conscious call that the cartographers have to take based on the understanding of the objective – whether to create a great-looking map or depict distances, directions, and areas accurately.

There are three major types of projections: Cylindrical, Conic, and Planar (Azimuthal).

Cylindrical Projections
Considered the most common of all map projections, maps we see in atlases are generally based on cylindrical projection. In such a projection, a cylinder is wrapped around a globe. The image of the globe is projected onto the cylinder, which is later unwrapped and spread out. The various longitudes are mapped as parallel vertical lines. The downside of this projection is the distortion of shape and scale that happens at the poles, although the inaccuracy is minimal in equatorial regions.

Maps following cylindrical projections can be equal-area, conformal, or equidistant. The ones that accurately reflect area are called equal-area maps. Similarly, equidistant maps are those that correctly show the distance between points. The maps that maintain the shape of objects are referred as conformal maps. Mercator projection is one of the earliest specimen of cylindrical projections, which proved highly useful for navigational purposes.

Mercator Projection
Geradus Mercator, in a bid to help the navigators, invented his famous projection in 1569. He deliberately made the lines of latitude and longitude intersect at right angles to keep the direction of travel consistent. However, distortion in the map used to be felt while moving north and south from the Equator. According to his projection, Antarctica appeared to be a huge continent and Greenland appeared as large as South America. In reality, Greenland is hardly one-eighth of that continent.

Robinson Projection
In the 20th century, there was a gradual shift towards the rounded Robinson Projection. Devised by Arthur H. Robinson in 1963, this projection deliberately distorted various aspects of the map. It was neither equal-area nor conformal. This distortion, according to the creator, was necessary to produce a better overall view of the world. While the distortion was maximum near the poles, its severity declined as one moved closer to the equator.

Conical Projections
In order to overcome the challenges posed by the cylindrical projections, conical projections are used. With the introduction of conical projections, a new era of map projection heralded and accurate representation of the countries closer to the poles was made possible. For such a projection, the globe is imagined to be inside a cone. The apex of the cone is often aligned with the polar axis of the sphere. The different points get projected inside the cone. Unlike the cylindrical projections, the lines of latitude are represented by circular arcs. Maps of temperate zones are generally created based on conical projections.

Lambert Conformal Conic Projection
Developed by Johann Lambert around 1772, such a conical projection conforms to the original shape of a region. Considered as one of the best projections for middle latitudes, it represents shape more accurately than area. To think of it conceptually, a cone is seated over the sphere of the Earth and the surface is conformally projected onto the cone. This conic map projection is primarily used for aeronautical charts.

Azimuthal Projection
Azimuthal projection or planar projection assumes that the features of the globe will be projected on a flat surface. To begin with, it is important to understand what does an azimuth mean? Considering that the earth is a sphere, choose any point on it (Point A). From this point, take two points in different directions, provided they are equidistant from Point A. As you join both these points to Point A, an angle is formed between these lines. This angle is known as azimuth of the surface.

In an Azimuthal map projection, this angle is preserved. It certainly means one thing – the azimuth measured on a map would be the same as that measured on the sphere. It also ensures that the directions are preserved on the final map. Hence, the maps created from these projections can be used for making globes to accurately represent the earth. However, in azimuthal projection, the shape of an area can be more than distorted.

Gnomonic Projection
This is a derivative of the Azimuthal Projection and also the only map projection that shows great circles (meridians and the equator) on the sphere as straight lines. That way, it becomes easier to find the shortest distance between two points. Said to be developed in the 6th century B.C, the gnomonic projection is used in seismic work as seismic waves travel along great circles. Navies also use this projection for radio direction finding, since radio signals travel along great circles.

Other Projections
Pseudo-cylindrical and Pseudo-conical projections: These are considered as minor variants of cylindrical and conical projections. For example, the pseudo-cylindrical and pseudo-conical projections have curved meridians, unlike the original projections.

Hybrid Projection: As the name suggest, a projection of this kind is generally a blend of several projections mentioned above. Hybrid projection is used to produce a map that will be used for a specific purpose.

Map Design
When the British Cartographic Society Design Group conducted a research on best practices for map design, it came up with five core principles:
  • Concept before compilation
  • Hierarchy with harmony
  • Simplicity from sacrifice
  • Maximum information at minimum cost
  • Engage the emotion to engage the understanding

Map designing is a layered process, which is more than just choosing eye-pleasing colors and textures. As an ultimate stage of map-making, it is not concerned with the detail in a map. In fact, using the detail to create appealing maps is what it is all about.

Let's look into the concepts that are essential to map designing:

Map Scale
Selecting a scale for the map is the most important factor and every map designer is confronted with the challenge of representing a large region on a limited area. By keeping the scale large, one can include more of a map but lose much detail. It is while conceptualizing that the designer must seek answers to some fundamental questions: Which parts of the map are the most useful and how large will be the finished map?

It is a map designer's responsibility to ensure that the scale of the map corresponds to that of the data available. Choosing a small scale would mean the map would show more territory, but in a less detailed manner. Similarly, a large scale will be useful only when the map calls for showing a relatively smaller area, but in great detail.

Map Generalization
After a map designer selects a map scale and relevant projection based on the final utility of the map, he sets himself upon the task of generalization. It is nothing but simplification of data and representation with an objective of creating a 'useful' map.

During the process of selection and simplification, a designer goes through the complicated data sets and retains only such data that can be plotted on a map to make it sleeker and meaningful. This process is in sync with the idea, “It's not what you put in that makes a great map, but what you take out.”

Given the magnitude of information provided to the designer, it is but natural to classify the data so that they are represented in a best possible way without compromising on the utility factor. This exercise is core to any thematic map. In the classification stage, the designer groups together data values that are close to each other. Once a minimum-maximum range (or class) is defined, the data are then categorized. Different color gradations in a map make it easy to understand for the user.

It's a no-brainer that certain information needs to be represented by symbols. Since it is not always possible to attribute easy-to-decipher symbols, a map designer ought to provide the meaning of the symbols in a small section known as the legend. However, there is a caveat for every map designer — choose symbols on the basis of the end-users targeted and the overall color-theme of the map.

Map Composition
When there is clarity on the above-mentioned processes, the map designer gets into the act of applying them. Map composition is a stage when the designer visualizes the final map and hence, focuses on visual design. It is also a decision-making process wherein a map designer needs to decide on color-themes, font sizes and other elements “to achieve the best contrast.” This is where one has to exercise caution and be meticulous about line-spacing, placement of titles, and other aspects.

Mapping Technologies
Remote Sensing Technology for Map-making
During the US Civil War, messenger pigeons and unmanned balloons with cameras attached to them used to be sent over to the enemy territory. That was one of the first documented uses of remote sensing. Even before the satellites were developed in the late 20th century as a part of remote sensing activity, the two World Wars had witnessed government-sponsored air photography missions for military surveillance.

Remote sensing is the art and science of measuring any region on earth using sensors that collect data in the form of images. These images are then used as the input data for map making.

Remote sensing technology – which uses devices (sensors or cameras) on the ground or on ships, aircraft, and satellites – has become a useful tool for geographers as it helps them study a region without being physically present there. Remote sensing technology not only helps geologists in mapping large and remote areas and identifying rock types, but also aids ecologists in studying vegetation types in certain areas.

Map-making with remote sensing data calls for using geometric and radiometric processing methods adapted to the nature of the data. This helps in acquiring the best cartographic and topographic information.

Mobile Mapping Technologies
The idea of collecting geospatial data from a mobile vehicle has not been hatched very recently. Mobile mapping, as an activity, has undergone layered developments ever since photo-logging system emerged in the 70s. This system was put into use by transportation departments to monitor pavement performance and encroachments. The monitoring was done with the help of film cameras that used to capture photos through the windshield of a vehicle. With the advent of the video imaging technologies, photo-logging was replaced by GPS-based video-logging. The task of georeferencing the collected video images in respect to a global coordinate system became easier.

With the evolution of mobile mapping systems in the last decade of 20th century, the 3D mapping capabilities came into the picture. This development is attributed to two research groups in North America. In mobile mapping systems, more than one camera is mounted on a mobile platform for stereo imaging and 3D measurements. Direct georeferencing of digital image sequences was made possible by the multi-sensor navigation and positioning techniques.

Multi-platform and multi-sensor integrated mapping technology has enabled swift collection of geospatial data. Hence, it is useful in emergency response planning by offering accurate assessment of conditions on the ground. In fact, the unbridled growth of telecommunication networks and portable sensors made mobile mapping more pervasive. Internet giants such as Google use aerial photographs and satellite images to develop online mapping systems. Moreover, internet users are increasingly utilizing geo-spatial information.

Applications of Mobile Mapping Systems
Mapping of roads and railways is perhaps the prime operating area of mobile mapping systems. The core focus is on providing near-accurate maps of road features, which could be used by transportation departments for road assessment management, transportation planning and engineering. Mobile mapping helps its beneficiaries through its end products like digital images of roads, information on road related feature, and positions of bridges, buildings, manholes and traffic signs.

This mapping system is put into use for utility mapping. The maps, which are derived from leveraging mobile mapping technologies, are referred by telecommunication companies to plan and maintain inventory of transformers, power lines, telephone lines, street light poles, etc. Moreover, mobile mapping system proves handy in establishing emergency response databases.

Transforming Role of Drones in Creating Maps
Back in 2013, when the U.S. military felt the need to identify mines in terror-prone zones of Afghanistan, an aerial-imagery specialist built a plane-based system to map the region. It was an expensive project. However, that experience is widely believed to have sparked the idea of mapping by drone. Conventional aircraft made way for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to carry out mapping tasks.

Maps produced from UAV images are now transforming the way the map making activity is looked at. From cemetery management to mining and anti-poaching efforts to assessment of disaster-prone zones, drone technology is making it easier for cartographers, surveyors and government agencies across the world.

While almost anyone can buy a drone and get into aerial photography, the real challenge is to put the images together and create a map. This is where the importance of an image-processing tool is felt. Similarly, Patrick Meier, Director of Social Innovation at Qatar Computing Research Institute, has realized the importance of effective drone-mapping software. His team is now also exploring the possibility of using artificial-intelligence algorithms to automate the process and enhance the efficiency component in processing a large number of image samples.

From conservation experts to geologists, every stakeholder is now preferring drone mapping to the ones dependent on satellite images for terrain mapping and surveying. The reason is a no-brainer. Drones can get them higher resolution images at a faster pace and moreover, they are far more economical.

Advantages of GIS vs CAD for Making Maps
Cartographers often find themselves in a fix when it comes to choosing between GIS and CAD-based digital mapping systems. It is important to understand that GIS models the world as it is, while CAD models artifacts that are yet to be produced. As a technology that automates, organizes, and drafts map data, CAD allows a user to create a very accurate drawing, be it a map or a site plan. For map making, a cartographer would prefer to create the line work in CAD. It enables drawing by the use of coordinates or distances or angles.

However, it is to be borne in mind that CAD originated with a purpose of designing buildings and machines. While CAD can be used to make maps, it was never designed for this. Those who draw maps with CAD don't go beyond line drawing. The GIS technology fills gap left by CAD systems. It brings in value by attaching data to the points, lines, and polygons used in the map. This makes GIS the ideal tool for analyzing and visualizing data through a map.

GIS is known for offering flexibility as it can be used as an automated drafting tool. Rather than just storing and regenerating graphics, GIS also involves plotting of all displays according to information maintained in a database format. This technology is capable of managing large collections of spatial information. It is also focused on the manipulation, analysis, and display of spatial data. While GIS makes use of topology (calculate and analyze spatial functions) to identify relationships among various spatial objects, CAD does not inherently include topology.

Mapping Projects
The History of Cartography Project at the University of Wisconsin
David Woodward, an American historian and a cartographic specialist, envisioned an authoritative work that would examine the production and consumption of maps across cultures. His idea of doing a research on social aspects of maps for a time period spanning prehistoric days to the 20th century was further given a shape by John Brian Harley, an eminent map historian.

History of Cartography Project, as the work is titled, is aimed at disseminating well-researched facts on the history of maps and mapping. Since its inception in 1981, the scope of the project has grown and it has become a transnational venture that brings scholars in the arts, sciences, and humanities together. With specific focus on regions and time periods, The History of Cartography project considers the aspects of cartographic history that were previously ignored.

From the initial plan of creating a four-volume series, the Project went on to compile a series of six volumes. The entire project integrates existing work with new research on cartography in the traditional South Asian, African, and American societies along with the evolution of map making during the European Renaissance, and in the 20th century. Considered as 'interpretive encyclopedias,' these volumes, examine an unprecedented range of artifacts and offer extensive illustrations and detailed footnotes.

Mapping History Project at the University of Oregon
The Mapping History Project, commissioned by the University of Oregon, has been conceived as an endeavor to depict historical events and developments through illustrations. The module dedicated to Latin American history focuses on political events in South America during the 20th Century. Caribbean and Central American politics were also a part of this module. The African module of this mapping project dealt extensively on the history of Africa between the 19th and 20th centuries along with the development of European colonial holdings and their gradual transformation as independent states.

Top Cartographers
Cartography is a difficult discipline. It requires the acumen of an artist, the skill of an engraver, and the sagacity of a writer. There were only a few cartographers who not only slipped into these three roles, but also excelled.

Much ahead of his time, Ptolemy referred to a system of latitude and longitude in his book 'Geographia' around 150 AD. It was a compendium of knowledge about the world’s geography. He was also the one who introduced the concept of describing locations on earth based on astronomical observations from those areas. Although Ptolemy’s original maps were never found, his work was explicit enough for the next generation of cartographers to recreate his observations. In fact, his idea of using a latitude and longitude system left a significant clue for the later cartographers. Ptolemy’s map projections are still considered as the initial stimulus to the development of cartography.

Al Idrisi
This famous cartographer of the 12th century devoted 15 years of his life to globetrotting and creating a detailed map of Eurasia and part of northern Africa. The striking feature of this Arab geographer's work is the exhaustive information of the geographical features, ethnic groups, and other features of every region he mapped. He deduced these facts from his interviews with natives and extensive traveling. His book 'The Tabula Rogeriana' is an important work of geography and cartography.

Fra Mauro
The name of 15th-century monk Fra Mauro is associated with one of the finest specimen of medieval cartography. Fra Mauro’s mappamundi, which was a large round map, depicted Europe, Asia, and Africa. The world map was created based on his interactions with traveling merchants. Unlike Ptolemy, Fra Mauro’s map was oriented with south at the top of the map.

Gerardus Mercator
The 16th century cartographer introduced the first map projection to simplify navigation. It was in 1569 that the map projection was created as a navigational tool. Gerardus Mercator’s map is considered as the first attempt by any cartographer to make a round earth look “right” on a flat surface. In order to offset the fact that representing a spherical shape on a flat plane resulted in distortions, Mercator rendered longitudes and latitudes as straight lines.

Nicolas de Fer
Credited for having drawn over 600 maps, this French cartographer of the 17th century was one of those early cartographers who added an artistic element to the art of cartography. Though his maps were not the known for geographical accuracy, their sheer beauty and aesthetic qualities made them a rarity.

Henry Pelham
This 18th century Boston-born cartographer holds an important place in Irish history. His county and baronial maps of Ireland are notable for their historical importance. One of the prized remnants of the American Revolution is the map of Boston created by Pelham for the British intelligence.

Aaron Arrowsmith
Known for his precision, Aaron Arrowsmith is one of the celebrated cartographers of the 18th century. He gained international repute by drawing a large chart of the world on Mercator projection. Arrowsmith’s map-making skills were more prominently manifested in his maps of Southern India, North America (1796) and Scotland (1807).

John Brian Harley
This cartographer of the 20th century was a leading expert on the history of maps. The geographers and social theorists acknowledge his contribution to critical cartography, which is an emerging discipline. The map historian at the universities of Birmingham, Liverpool, and other universities, is also the founder of the History of Cartography Project. His scholarly books on history of maps and map making are considered as a standard reference for subsequent research.

David Woodward
David Woodward is a much revered mapping expert who doesn't not look at maps as an aid for geographers. He had always focused on how maps were used as cultural tools and why they were produced. From European Renaissance to traditional Islamic and South Asian societies, his work spanned across a wide range of topics that were not attempted before.

Cartographic Associations
International Cartographic Association
The International Cartographic Association (ICA) is a global authoritative body on issues and techniques pertaining to cartography and GIScience. Located in Switzerland, ICA promotes cartography and GIScience as a discipline and profession. Apart from promoting collaborative research on these fields of study, the organization contributes towards offering solution of global problems through the use of Cartography and GIScience. It also aims at introducing a focused geospatial basis for both local and global statistical information.

Canadian Cartographic Association
With an objective of promoting interest in maps, the Canadian Cartographic Association (CCA) was established in 1975. The organization has been steadfast in its idea of advancing education in cartography. On that note, it encourages research in both historical and contemporary cartography.

Its focus has now transcended beyond cartography, and gradually it is playing an important role in furthering the cause of GIScience.

British Cartographic Society
The British Cartographic Society (BCS) is regarded as one of the leading cartographic associations in the world. All aspects of cartography are promoted by BCS, especially through its globally recognized publication, 'The Cartographic Journal.' From researchers to map curators and designers to cartographers, the members of BCS contribute towards developing the world of maps.

Ordnance Survey
Ordnance Survey (OS), one of the largest producers of maps in the world, was originally established to map Scotland following the Jacobite Rebellion in 1745. From being a producer of paper maps, UK's national mapping agency has become an authority on producing digital map data, online route planning and mobile apps. It has transformed into a big data powerhouse. Its team of surveyors continues to enrich the already humongous geographic data, which is granular and accurate

Royal Geographical Society
One of the earliest institutes dedicated for cartography, Royal Geographical Society was founded in 1830, for developing and promoting geographical knowledge and applying it to solve societal and environmental challenges. The Map Room of the institute has probably the world's largest private collections of maps and related material.

International Coronelli Society
From investigating into old terrestrial and celestial globes to publishing the results, the International Coronelli Society is holding the fort when it comes to highlighting scientific aspects of cartography. Founded in 1952, this cartographic association also deals with the history of this discipline and it does extensive research on the producers and purpose of globes.

National Mine Map Repository
An integral part of the United States Department of the Interior (DOI), the National Mine Map Repository (NMMR) collects and preserves mine map information and images for the entire US. It maintains an archive of both closed and abandoned mine maps from across the country. The knowledge repository of NMMR includes data and maps of coal mines in the anthracite coal region in Pennsylvania. Its analyses of mine maps and related information help both private and public sectors in making economic evaluation, risk assessment, infrastructural development, and preserving public health. The NMMR has a collection of more than 181,000 maps (digital and microfilm) of abandoned mines, with some dating back to as early as 1790s. It is the most important point of reference for maps on both surface and underground mines across the US.

Map Database Management
Map database management, as a discipline, has come to use owing to the growth of automotive navigation system. To start with the obvious, it performs navigation functions such as finding a route to a destination, determining the vehicle’s location and providing information about nearby landmarks. From location-based services to advanced Driver Assistance Systems, the role of map database management is increasingly expanding.

The importance of map database management system stems from the need for an on-board map database that provides information describing the road network. A map database represents a road network along with associated features. Map providers choose features (basic elements like nodes, links and area) and attributes (location coordinates, addresses, speed range, etc.) as a basis to formulate a database. One of the major challenges the system faces is in terms of updating the database.

When it comes to navigational functions, a vehicle needs to have an up-to-date map database, which calls for incremental update. Since it is impractical to replace an existing database with a new version, it is desirable to update only specific information in the existing database. A European consortium, ActMAP, is in process of developing “standardised mechanisms” to update existing map database content. It is also exploring how to “enable dynamic attachment of information” to the in-vehicle map.

Map Terminologies
For those who find it difficult to make sense out of various jargons that frequent the study of cartography and maps, here is a brief rundown on some of the common terminologies:
  1. Topography: Various types of natural features found in an area are collectively termed as topography. These would include the natural features, as well as the man-made ones.

  2. Contour lines: These are lines that connect places of same elevation on a map. Contour lines are used to illustrate topography on a map.

  3. Elevation: This is the vertical distance of a point when measured from the sea-level.

  4. Scale: It refers to the relationship between distance on a map and the corresponding distance on the ground. This is the factor by which an area is reduced in order to be represented on the map. For example, a map that uses scale of 1:100000, 1cm on the map is equal to 1km on the ground.

  5. Relief: It is a physical representation of the terrain (elevation and geography) of an area on a map.

  6. Projection: It is the process of representing the earth on a flat surface.

  7. Coordinates: These are the sets of numbers on a map used to find the distance from a specific place or origin.

  8. Grid Reference: It defines a location on maps with the help of X and Y coordinates on a particular grid.

  9. Central Meridian: It is a line that runs north and south at the center of a map. All the points along the Central Meridian have the same longitude.

Last Updated : April 30, 2015

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