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What is Cartography?

Cartography refers to the science of making or drawing maps. Map-making is a complicated process. It involves paying attention to the requirements of the user as well as to the arrangement of the content with respect of symbols, colours, the scale of publication, style and other factors.

We can trace the roots of cartography back to the pre-historic era where fishing and hunting territories were depicted. It then developed further in the Babylonian era where the world was represented on a flattened, disk shaped form for the first time. A detailed guide was created by Claudius Ptolemaeus (Ptolemy) who in his eight-volume work showed the Earth that was spherical. This formed a strong foundation for the cartographers of the time to come. So, the maps made in the Middle Ages followed Ptolemy’s guide. These were called T maps because they showed only three continents- Asia, Africa, and Europe separated by the Mediterranean Sea and the Nile River and thereby formed a “T”.

In early times, maps were made on parchments when almost 500 years ago, when the printing press was invented, all maps were drawn by hand. Printing helped make maps more accurate and made it possible for more people to own maps. Also many explorers began to set off on long voyages so maps were needed now more as people wanted to know their way back home.

More accurate geographical representation began to take place in the fourteenth century when charts needed to be compiled for sailors for the navigation of ships. The maps of the seventeenth and eighteenth century became more sophisticated as cartographers now learnt the techniques of representing the features of a curved surface on a flat surface.

Modern cartography involves the use of Internet, aerial photography, and satellite images. From the air, large areas can be photographed quickly including areas that cannot be captured easily using a normal camera. There is a process of translating an image into a map by plotting the reference points and areas which is called photogrammetry.

Maps may contain a legend or the key, symbols, a compass for direction, an overview of the map, a bar scale to translate real as well physical distances.

In most countries today, the factors considered before the publication of a map are cost-related issues, requirements of the users, and the standards set at that time. Today, it is possible to map a map of anything from the space to the human body. But the idea is to make a meaningful map, one that is interesting and conveys all the necessary information.