The World through Maps: A History of Cartography

Article excerpt

The World Through Maps: A History of Cartography by John Rennie Short. Firefly Books. 2003. ISBN 1-55297-811-7. 224p. Hardcover $40.

This beautifully crafted book contains approximately 160 maps from ancient to present times that portray how humans have seen the world. It is a book of world history using maps as catalysts to illustrate how human perception of the geographic world has changed throughout the ages, thereby aptly demonstrating the strong influence that cartography had in molding world history. Readers will learn how the world expanded and became more interconnected by looking through its pages generously filled with a variety of maps and rich supplemental text.

Short's book includes maps from around the world with a slight emphasis on western cartography--over half of the maps cover Europe and North America, followed byworld maps (17 percent), maps of Asia (8 percent), Africa (6 percent), Middle East (5 percent), Oceania (4 percent), and South America (3 percent). Indeed, maps as historical documents have always been perceptual windows of human history. Maps not only express geographical context and cultural differences, but they also are products of human intellectual achievements. The World through Maps would be a great educational tool for students of all levels who are interested in both geography and history.

The first part of the book contains an introduction to map reading and interpretation. It gives instructions about using different elements of a map, such as scale and orientation, and how one may decipher its symbols and accompanying graphics. These elements are referred to as the language of maps in the book. Ata interesting component of this section is the comparison of maps to other visual media or works, and how maps are seen as both artistic endeavors and products of science.

In the past, scientific knowledge of the Earth was more limited, and the fanciful artistic skills of the cartographer may have filled in the void of objective scientific knowledge, fortunately, the primitiveness of ancient maps also allows one a view of how people perceived their world.

Today, modern cartography requires an understanding of both geography and physics to adequately map the Earth. Examination of the evolution of cartographic techniques aids the reader in understanding how maps reflect scientific knowledge and convention of the time. For instance, one of the vexing limitations in cartography is the representation of the real three-dimensional world onto a two-dimensional piece of paper. Projections and grids were invented to overcome this limitation and are still being created today. The instructional lessons of this chapter should augment readers' general understanding of cartography before examination of the large collection of maps in later chapters.

The second and third sections, "The Ancient World" and "The Medieval World," focus on the development of urban civilization and cartography. …