The Decline of Paper Maps?

Cartography – the art of making maps – is an ancient skill. While we have no exact dates for when man first started mapping the world, it seems as though as soon as people had parchment and means of putting pen to paper they wanted to render their surroundings.

Some of these early maps are beautiful and intriguing insights into how our ancestors viewed the world, how much they knew and what they deemed important. For example, nation sizes could be distorted to make some countries seem more powerful and others less significant.

The most famous early cartographer is probably Ptolemy, who produced a book, Geographica, c150, from which maps have been recreated which help us to understand early impressions of the world. Greeks and Romans made rudimentary maps as a result of their travels and conquests, but the real cartographic revolution happened during the Renaissance during the age of exploration.

Technological advances such as the telescope allowed people to navigate using latitude by observing the stars and exploring more of the globe. Mapping was then transformed in the mid-1800s by aerial photography and during the 20th century with the motoring boom and most Western households being transformed into car owners paper maps became a necessity.

Owning Ordnance Survey maps and planning your route before leaving, keeping a paper map in the car and buying the latest copy to take into account new roads was standard practice for many decades. However the digital revolution, which is transforming our relationship with data in many ways, has inevitably changed our relationship with maps. GPS and Sat Navs mean that traditional cartography is becoming a dying art, and many people no longer read maps fully the way they used to, as directions are given to them by Google maps or their sat navs.

Some are committed to preserving traditional maps, though. Thanks to techniques like data scanning and digital data capture paper maps can be turned into electronic files and preserved forever digitally. Societies such as the British Cartographers Society and International Map Collectors bring enthusiasts together to preserve the physical paper maps and the skills involved in creating them, and maps are now turning into collectors’ items.

Article Courtesy of TerraQuest