Wednesday 17 February 2016


As I have only recently got back from holiday and I am still in the holiday spirit, it has inspired me to take a look at maps and guidebooks. As I have learnt from my holiday, the wisdom of others, in planning and mapping an area is a great help when you find yourself in an unfamiliar place. I have gathered together a selection of early examples of mapping as a way of tracing its history. 


Claudius Ptolemy was a Greek scholar who lived in around 150 AD. Utilising the resources of the great library of Alexandria in Egypt he compiled a description of the world based on the writings of Greek astronomers, mathematicians and geographical writers of earlier centuries. The resulting book, the Geographia (also known as the Cosmographia) contained instructions on how to construct maps using projections to 'flatten' the image of the Earth and co-ordinates to place geographical features and towns. It is not known whether he actually drew any maps. The book never seems to have been well known in the western Roman empire and its text was completely lost following the Empire's fall late in the fifth century. There was some, but not much, knowledge of it in the eastern Empire. When a text, illustrated with maps, was brought to Rome shortly after 1400 and was translated into Latin, it caused a sensation. It paved the way for an entirely new, scientific, method of mapping and the text was much copied. This map comes from a copy of the Geographia that was created in northern Italy in about 1480. It looks very different from the form of the British Isles to be found on medieval world maps, on sea charts and on home-grown maps. The strange sharp rightward turn of Scotland is to be found on all Ptolemaic maps but was to disappear from the 'revised' or 'modern' Ptolemaic maps that were soon to appear. This map has, however, already been 'revised' in one significant way: it is drawn on a projection first thought up by Donus Nicolaus Germanus, a German monk who worked in Italy in the late 1400s. It closely resembles the first printed atlases of Ptolemaic maps. (


Cristoforo Buondelmonti (1386 - c. 1430) was an Italian monk who traveled around greece. In 1414 he left his home city of Florence to travel the Aegean Islands. The Liber Insular Archipelagi (1420) above is one of the results of that. It contains a collection of geographical information, charts and sailing directions. 


The first work to represent the first modern atlas was De Summa totius Orbis (1524–26) by the 16th-century Italian cartographer by Pietro Coppo. It contained a collection of systematic woodcut maps of uniform size.


The word atlas dates from 1636, first in reference to the English translation of Atlas, sive cosmographicae meditationes de fabrica mundi (1585) by Flemish geographer Gerhardus Mercator, who might have been the first to use this word in this way. A picture of the Titan Atlas holding up the world appeared on the frontispiece of this and other early map collections. (


Lastly I am going to end in the beginnings of a mapping system that we are more familiar with today. The Ordinance Survery. 

The name Ordnance Survey hints at how it all began. Britain’s mapping agency has its roots in military strategy: Mapping the Scottish Highlands following rebellion in 1745. Later, as the French Revolution rumbled on the other side of the English Channel, there were real fears the bloodshed may sweep across to our shores. So the government ordered its defence ministry of the time – the Board of Ordnance – to begin a survey of England’s vulnerable southern coasts. Until then, maps had lacked the detail required for moving troops and planning campaigns. (

The original draftsman's drawings for the area around St. Columb Major in Cornwall, made in 1810.

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