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Cartography is the art and science of making maps and refers to both the study of maps and the process of map-making. Maps have been around since at least 2300 BC in Babylon. Throughout the Ages, people have been making maps of the heavens and the geographical areas that they were familiar with. But what is a map? A map is defined as a representation, usually on a flat surface, of a whole or part of an area.

By the 15th century, the science of cartography was growing fueled by the Age of Exploration commencing in the 15th century. Maps were also valuable items with important maritime information. Every time new information became available, it was added to maps. Because of the information maps contained, they were also closely guarded state secrets. At the time, one nation did not share its maritime knowledge with another nation.

Maps were broadly available because of the invention of printing machine. One of the most important 16th century cartographers was Sebastian Munster of Basel (Switzerland). In 1540 he published his Geographia with 48 double-page woodcut maps and four years later, Cosmographia which had 500
woodcuts including 24 double-page maps.

European mapmaking during the Age of Exploration was one of many factors in the spread of power by European countries. By 1485, Pedro Reinel of Portugal created the oldest known signed Portuguese nautical chart. Juan de la Cosa sailed on the voyages of Columbus and was credited with creating the oldest known map showing America and other maps of Africa and Eurasia. In the first decade of the 1500s, Portuguese cartographers began to map the latitudes on nautical charts. In 1507, a map by Martin Waldseemuller referred to the New World as America, a name that recalled the explorer Amerigo Vespucci. An atlas of maps was created by Portuguese cartographers in 1519.

In 1527, Diogo Ribeiro, a cartographer working for Spain, created the Padrón Real, the first scientifically based world map. Here Central and South America as well as the Pacific Ocean were well-represented. Ribeiro also made navigation instruments such as the astrolabe and quadrant. The explorations of Magellan and Elcano were influential in the creation of this map.

Probably the most meaningful advance in cartography was that of Mercator, who created his projection of the world map in 1569 on the basis of mathematical principles. This projection has persisted in cartography to the present day, and has allowed mapmakers to provide more accurate two-dimensional representations of our world.

The first map showing North and South America clearly separated from Asia was produced in 1507 by Martin Waldseemulle. An immense map, 4 1/2 by 8 feet (1.4 by 2.4 metres), printed in 12 sheets, it is probably the first map on which the name America appeared, indicating that Waldseemüller was impressed by the account written by the Florentine navigator Amerigo Vespucci.

Cartographer’s tools
Cartographers use different tools to make their maps. These included rulers, calipers, compass, mathematics, paper, pen and ink, globe. Other basic tools for the mapmaker were of latitude and longitude. In the 16th century, they know and used latitude. It was later in the century when longitude was used on land but it would be far longer before longitude was developed for use at sea. Latitude is the angular distance, in degrees, minutes, and seconds of a point north or south of the Equator. Latitude lines are sometimes referred to as parallels. Longitude or meridian lines are perpendicular lines that pass through the north and south poles. Since there was no common “0” longitude, by international agreement, Prime Meridian or 0 degrees of longitude, was the line that runs through Greenwich, England. The meridian values indicate angular distance between the Prime Meridian and points east or west of it on the earth’s surface.

To learn more about cartography, please visit:

Latitude and Longitude by Ted Andros


Maps of World, Pedro Reinel


Juan de la Cosa Map


Maps of Discovery


Coming of Age in Cartography: Evolution of the World Map


The Map That Named America


Latitude and Longitude: Discover the Secrets of Parallels and Meridians by Matt Rosenberg


Understanding Latitude and Longitude: The Global Grid



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