GAW Day 4: Cartography

So far this week we have talked about the main areas of consideration in Geography (physical and human) and the modern technologies that underpin them (GIS Day). Today we look at perhaps the oldest portion of geography, cartography. While not all cartographers are geographers, nor are all geographers cartographers, there is a deep symbiotic relationship that exists. Cartography has existed in some form since the beginning of what we know as human civilization, from the earliest abstract interpretations of space to modern near-real maps and data.

DC MetroOne of the keys of cartography is that maps are an abstraction of the real world that depict features selected by each cartographer based on their purpose in creating the map. This intent might be to show you something that is truly representative, but it is just as likely to be more artistic, with issues of accuracy secondary. It is more often the simple spatial relationships that are maintained in this later case. One of the best modern examples of this type is the transportation route map. For example, the Metro map of Washington, DC below shows the order of stops, but it leaves out true directionality, nearby features, and scale to give you only the information you need to know while you are en route.

Many of the cartographic products today are created using digital media. This shift from the original media such as animal hide, cloth, and paper to the computer have, in most cases, simplified map making and enabled a larger group to take advantage of the tools and techniques (for better or worse) of cartographers. However, we must remember that, no matter if it is a hard copy or digital product, it is not the technology that created it but the content of a map that helps, guides, and informs us all.

Blog sources for cartography:

  • Canadian Cartographic Association
  • The Map Room
  • Designorati: Cartography