Monday, August 7, 2017

How Maps Have Changed the World – Part I

There are those who feel that “the orientation of our maps, like so many other features of the modern world, arose from the interplay of chance, technology and politic,” and that such orientation was man’s tendency to impose easy or satisfying narratives on such matters. As an example, when drawing a map that had never been drawn before, what led early cartographers (i.e., "the science and at of making maps or graphical representations/images showing spatial concepts at various scales") to place one direction on top over the others since early maps were scattered with one direction or another at the top of their maps.
An early map of the world showing a south oriented world, with the compass heading “south” at the top instead of our common “north” of today

While the Babyonians depicted the world’s first maps on clay tablets, it was the Greek cartographers like Hecataeus, Herodotus, Eratosthenes, and Ptolemy that became the well-known map makers. According to Amanda Briney, in "The History of Cartography," we find that "The Greek maps are important to cartography because they often showed Greece as being at the center of the world and surrounded by an ocean. Other early Greek maps show the world being divided into two continentsAsia and Europe. These ideas came largely out of Homer's works as well as other early Greek literature."
    Likewise, according to Nick Danforth, a Ph.D candidate at Georgetown University, writing about middle East maps, history and politics, states: “There is nothing inevitable or intrinsically correct—not in geographic, cartographic or even philosophical terms—about the north being represented as up, because up on a map is a human construction, not a natural one.” After all, not all people place their maps in the same orientation or alignment and have not since the earliest days of cartography. Take Egyptian maps that show the south as up, since in their experience that is the way the Nile River ran toward the Mediterranean.
Early “T-O” map with “east” at the top, Europe in the lower left and Africa in the lower right
No doubt because of the eastern orientation of the early Hebrew/Jewish and Arab/Muslim faiths, in the Middle East and Europe for quite some time, the top location on the map was east, not the north we now see. As Danforth stated, “If there was any doubt about this move’s religious significance, they illuminated it with their maps’ pious illustrations, of Adam and Eve or Christ enthroned.”
In the same time period, Chinese and Arab cartographers placed the south at the top of the map.
These maps date to the 4th century B.C., with the Chinese maps drawn on wooden blocks, or produced on silk. In fact, as Briney stated, "early Chinese maps from the Qin State show various territories with landscape features such as the Jialing River system as well as roads and are considered some of the world’s oldest economic maps," and as "Cartography continued to develop in China throughout its various dynasties and in 605 an early map using a grid system was created by Pei Ju of the Sui Dynasty.”
Ptolemy’s map showing Spain, England and Europe along with the upper Mediterranean Sea, a north-oriented map
On the other hand, Claudia Ptolemy, a Greek Hellenic cartographer from Egypt in about 150 A.D. created the first map of the world in which he placed, for whatever reason, the top of the map oriented to the north. In his six-volume first-ever known atlas called Geographia, which contained several maps of the world known during his time--he also included longitude and latitude lines and conic projection, under the assumption the world was cylindrical. However, later maps verged into different orientations, with north upward not coming back into vogue until the Great Age of Exploration when seafaring mariners equipped with magnetic north compasses required maps to which they could orient their compasses.
    At this time, around the beginning of the 16th century, the north orientation of maps was secured. Ptolemy had also laid out a systematic approach to mapping the world, complete with intersecting lines of longitude and latitude on a “half-eaten-doughnut-shaped” projection that reflected the curvature of the earth.
The biggest factors that contribute to north being commonly placed at the top of a map, beside the single most important being the compass, included the egocentricity of society, mainly in Europe, where north ended (or began) at the north pole area and thus, would be the top of the world, consequently, facing upward. In addition, when one looked upward to see the stars also contributed to the upward or north being at the top of the map.
    In fact, Zanthe Webb Aintablian, contributing writer to “North at the Top of the Map,” adds, that “Egocentricity is having a view or perspective that revolves around you or your situation at the center. Thus, in cartography and geography, an egocentric society is one that places itself in either the center of a depiction of the world, or at the top.” 
    In the history of map making before the compass, the general rule of thumb was whoever made the map was probably at the center or the top of it. This rings mostly true for centuries of map making, but has been greatly influenced as well with European cartographers’ discovery of compasses and the magnetic north later on.
    Cartography, or map making, has been an integral part of the human history for a long timea cave map showing dots for stars are claimed to date back to 16,500 years, but according to the BBC News broadcast “Ice Age star map discovered,” in August 2008, the Cuevas de El Castillo in Spain contains a dot map of the Corona Borealis constellation dating from around 12,000 B.C.
In addition ancient cave paintings and rock carvings depict landscape features like hills and mountains and archaeologists believe that these paintings were used to navigate the areas they showed and to portray the areas that the people visited. 
    As mentioned above, maps were also created in ancient Babylonia on clay tablets and it is believed that they were drawn with very accurate surveying techniques. As Briney indicates: "these maps showed topographical features like hills and valleys but also had labelled features. The Babylonian World Map is considered the earliest map of the world but it is unique because it is a symbolic representation of the Earth."
    According to her, the earliest paper maps that were identified by cartographers as maps used for navigation and to depict certain areas of the Earth were those created by the early Greeks. The ancient pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, Anaximander (Anaximandros), in the 6th century B.C., considered to be one of the first cartographers becasue he, was the first to draw a map of the known world. Hecataeus, Herodotus, Eratosthenes and Ptolemy were other well-known Greek map makers, with the maps they drew coming from explorer observations and mathematical calculations. 
    The Greek maps are important to cartography because they often showed Greece as being at the center of the world and surrounded by an ocean. Other early Greek maps show the world being divided into two continents—Asia and Europe. These ideas came largely out of Homer’s works as well as other early Greek literature, with many of their philosophers considering the Earth to be spherical and this also influenced their cartography. Ptolemy for instance created maps by using a coordinate system with parallels of latitude and meridians of longitude to accurately show areas of the Earth as he knew it. This became the basis for today’s maps and his atlas Geographia is an early example of modern cartography.
    In addition to the ancient Greek maps, early examples of cartography also come out of China, dating to the fourth century B.C. and were drawn on wooden blocks, while other early Chinese maps were produced on silk.
Those from the Qin State show various territories with landscape features such as the Jialing River system as well as roads and are considered some of the world’s oldest economic maps. 
(See the next post, “How Maps Have Changed the World – Part II,” for more information on early map making and its impact on our understanding of maps today)

No comments:

Post a Comment