Cartography – Past & Present

I have mentioned previously my love for old maps and especially those produced by the Ordnance Survey. Years of rummaging through second hand bookshops and trawling eBay have resulted in the build up of a significant collection currently housed in a dusty cardboard box lurking in the corner of my study. Many of them collected as much for their cover art as for their cartographic content – but that’s for another day.



The cartographer’s skill lies in the ability to produce clear, informative and readable maps depicting recognisable and easily understood features. Over the years many changes have taken place to the styling and colouring of maps. The Cartography team at the OS have recently put together a display and to help demonstrate the changes have produced an impressive montage that clearly shows the evolution of mapping over a 200 year period. The image shows an area of the Lake District at the old 1 inch to 1 mile scale that we now know better as 1:50,000 scale.

Many of the earlier maps were hand drawn and are works of art in their own right. With the increasing use of digital mapping systems and GIS, understanding the fundamentals of good map design are still as important.  A poorly designed map will diminish effective communication of information to users and at worst will mislead, perhaps seriously.

For those who are interested the British Cartographic Society, in support of its Better Mapping Campaign, recently produced an excellent little booklet called Cartography – an introduction. Its aim is to give basic information on what works well in map design and to get the world thinking about maps and their messages.

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