MWW Mapping 101

You may have noticed that we’ve

been talking up maps quite a bit these last couple weeks, as “card
carrying geography advocates”
like us are wont to do. On Monday, July 7,
guest blogger Silvia Tolisano showed how students at San José Episcopal Day
School in Jacksonville, FL, use traditional wall maps and new
technologies like Google Earth to chart the journey of José the Bear and learn
about places around the world (look for Silvia’s second guest blog piece later
this week). Friday of that same week, Jeremy included an interactive map of the
Tour de France in his “Five
for Friday”
list of links. Last Tuesday, Sara R. described an exciting 4-H
community mapping exhibit
at the Richland County Fair in Illinois. Thursday, she served up the
mapping goodness yet again with the debut of MWW’s “handy-dandy”
blog map
, powered by MetaCarta. It seems to me all this babbling about maps
begs the question:


How are maps made?


Which reminds me of another, related query
posed a couple months ago by one of our blog readers:

“Today we have satellites in space as well as airplanes to make map
making easy and accurate. How were maps made before we had space views?”


So here it is, the answer to all (well,
some of) your cartographic curiosities:

MWW Mapping 101: “Cartography Past and Present”

Sextant_illustration Sextant_600

Sextant images courtesy Arizona State University and NOAA.

It no doubt would have been
much more difficult to make maps prior to the advent of modern technologies
like remote sensing. In the “old days,” cartographers used tools such
as compasses, sextants, and mounting telescopes, along with techniques like
triangulation, geometry, trigonometry, physics, and other engineering/surveying
tools and techniques to chart angles and distances over land and water. These
calculations were then combined with information from visual sketches and
photos to create maps. Maps were typically drawn by hand with pen and ink, without
sophisticated data analysis tools like GIS (Geographic Information Systems) or
computer-aided design programs (CAD) like Adobe Illustrator.

It’s astonishingly impressive,
I think, that early cartographers were able to produce such accurately rendered
representations, given the limitations in technology. Perhaps equally
impressive is the fact that many traditional techniques have withstood the tests
of time. Even in this age of aerial photography and space imagery, ground
observations remain vital, which is why laser
surveying equipment and GPS receivers have become so popular!

Learn more about the history of
cartography and surveying:

Cartographic history

1. National Geographic book
Mapping the
World: An Illustrated History of Cartography:

2. Newberry Map Library (Univ.of Chicago) “History of Cartography”
(Includes virtual exhibitions and teaching resources)
3. Univeristy of
“History of Cartography

Brief History
of Maps and Cartography

Library of Congress
exhibit on the Waldseemüller maps
6. Waldseemüller 1507: “The
first map of America”
(previous MWW blog post)

7. Wikipedia article on mapping (note the section
on “technological changes”):


1. 1879 USGS Land Surveys of the
(perhaps the most famous, ambitious
American land surveys utilizing the “old technologies”)

2. Wikipedia article on surveying

**Special thanks to Steph G. and
David M. in National Geographic Cartography for their assistance with this

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