The Septentrionalium Terrarum, first known map of the North Pole

Monday, 6 March, 2017

Septentrionalium Terrarum, Arctic map by Gerard Mercator

It sounds like the storyline of a Tolkien novel, the presence of a magnetic mountain at the North Pole. Yet the notion itself wasn’t fantasy. In centuries passed, people believed it to be so.

Or at least so did Gerardus Mercator, a Flemish cartographer and geographer, who in the sixteenth century created the Septentrionalium Terrarum, the first known map of the Arctic.

In this instance, Mercator’s efforts relied more on imagination than facts, and the would-be endeavours of an English monk, who wrote of travelling to the Arctic in the fourteenth century.

By the 1500s, not very many people had ventured up to the Arctic – no explorer would set foot on the Pole itself until 1909. This didn’t stop Mercator, who dug into some dicey sources to suss out what he should include. The most influential, called Inventio Fortunata (translation: “Fortunate Discoveries”) was a 14th-century travelogue written by an unknown source; in Mercator’s words, it traced the travels of “an English minor friar of Oxford” who traveled to Norway and then “pushed on further by magical arts.” This mysterious book gave Mercator the centerpiece of his map: a massive rock located exactly at the pole, which he labels Rupus Nigra et Altissima, or “Black, Very High Cliff.”

Even if you’ve not heard of the Septentrionalium Terrarum, you probably know Mercator’s name. That’s because he devised the Mercator projection, the cylindrical map projection that shows maps of the world as being flat on charts.

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This is the age of the world map

Friday, 3 June, 2016

A guide to working out the age of undated world maps, by xkcd… well, you never know when this stuff might be useful.

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The work of collage artist Tristesse Seeliger

Tuesday, 16 December, 2014

Artwork by Tristesse Seeliger

Vancouver based artist Tristesse Seeliger creates collages using historical maps sourced from the Geological Survey of Canada.

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Maps of the Middle East, from the distant past to the present

Tuesday, 13 May, 2014

Forty maps of the Middle East as it was in the past, as it today, and as some states and regions may possibly look in the not too distant future.

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Making maps from memory, is this cartography or abstract art?

Thursday, 16 January, 2014

World maps by memory

In 2012 Zak Ziebell, a San Antonio high school student, asked twenty-nine people wandering about the University of Michigan campus to each sketch a map of the world purely from memory. A layered up composite of all works created forms the above image.

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Maps of the ancient world lacked detail but not intrigue

Tuesday, 19 June, 2012

Ptolemy world map

A nice collection of ancient maps charting out what was the known world, as of the time they were made.

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Before infographics there were cartographies

Friday, 27 April, 2012

The Histomap by John Sparks, 1931

There’s nothing new about infographics, except possibly the name we give them now, as this collection of diagrams, dating from the 1950s back to the sixteenth century, goes to show.

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Historical maps charting the inhabited world

Tuesday, 6 March, 2012

The Inhabited World

The David Rumsey Map Collection contains more than 30000 historical maps and images, including the above Chart of the Inhabited World, dating from 1824.

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Imagine if London’s cartography was based on its tube map

Tuesday, 28 February, 2012

Metrography print

A print designed by Benedikt Groβ and Bertrand Clerc… if the map of London were drawn up based on the schematic map of the city’s underground train system, this is how it would look.

The geographical structure of transportation networks are often reshaped to provide users with more understandable transit maps. These distortions have a major influence on people’s perception of a city’s geography, to the point they get stored mentally and become the collective representation of the real world’s geography.

Here’s a zoomable version of the map.

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I had an ever changing map of Africa

Friday, 15 July, 2011

A collection of maps of Africa, dating back to 1541. While there would probably be older, though far less complete maps, dating back to Roman times and earlier, this isn’t a bad gallery at all.

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