Research Point: Maps

‘Reflect on a range of maps, both static and portable, that represent the physical world in different ways. What information has been prioritised and what has been left out? How does this change your understanding of the map? Can you suggest ways of counterbalancing any bias or making it easier for a user to access information?


Unfortunately this link doesn’t appear to work – and I couldn’t get access via the British Library website, even when I manually found the page. Frustrating.

On searching elsewhere, I learnt that early forms of cartography are very old – dating back to Babylonian times. Im also amazed to read that the ancient Greeks were familiar with the idea of a spherical earth.

Ptolemy (approx A.D. 85-165) produced a series of world maps. His work was picked up and reproduced in the 1300s

Old maps are incredible;  they remind us just how mysterious the world was, and yet how vitally important any accurate information was for shipping, trade routes, conquest and sheer survival.

Maps were sometimes blended with spiritual or metaphysical concepts, and physical accuracy wasn’t always the main intention.

What information is prioritised, depends on the main usage of the map. Maps can be political, economic, topographic, thematic or climate based.

A thematic map – displaying specialist information

We are familiar with modern day maps that are produced as rail routes, road maps, and ordinance survey maps, showing footpaths, bridleways and the type of ground underfoot. A lot of detail requires a large amount of information per square inch. I have never flown a plane (!) but I’ve been told 25 years ago navigation of light aircraft largely involved looking at maps, and actually following large landmarks such as rivers and roads by eye!

The digital age obviously now allows us to use sat nav and google earth, which moves away from static maps.

Can you suggest ways of counterbalancing any bias or making it easier for a user to access information?

I find this difficult to answer, as I’m pretty sure folk far more knowledgeable than me have given this a lot of thought already. It seems to me that digital maps are already extremely accessible…Though when it comes to sat nav, I think we can all agree there is room for improvement. Maybe voice recognition software so we can talk back to them and point out we are now stuck in a tiny lane with a tractor parked across it and the previous road sent us through a cow shed??

The most obvious form of bias I can think of is of course the world map, first made in 1569 by the Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator

Gall-Peters projection – showing a more accurate view than traditional maps


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s