I love maps.
Do you have a favorite?
I have an old Baltimore street map hanging in my office. My sister-in-law gave it to me.
Don’t those old maps look great? It’s funny, if someone has a favorite map it’s never less than 40 years old.
Some of those old maps are works of art.
Those old maps took a lot of time and many hands; mapmaking used to be a real Process.
100 years ago cartographers had to know geodesy, trigonometry, drafting. If your map needed to show terrain you’d hire an engraver to scratch hachures into a metal plate, or an artist to draw hills and valleys in watercolors, graphite, charcoal. Then to get a map into a reader’s hands you needed a letterer to add text and a lithographer to make the print.
It must be all computers now.
Exactly. Nearly all contemporary maps are made the same way: download a pile of geographic data, discard what should not be shown on the map, make the remainder look nice in a design program or with code.
It’s an inversion of the old way of mapmaking: instead of starting with a blank page, you start with a cluttered map and winnow things out.
Who even makes maps nowadays?
Cartographers are still around. There are probably more cartographers working today than ever before: editorial cartographers, interactive cartographers, land management cartographers, atlas cartographers, government cartographers, all sorts of ‘tographers making maps that move, maps that stay still, maps that change by the second, maps of eternal things, load-bearing maps, nonsense maps.
Huh. But they don’t look like the old ones.
Nope; almost every map you’ll see outside of a theme park is made via database output. Computers made mapmaking cheap, so the maps are cheap, so they look cheap.
By outrageos fortune we still have cartographers and artists who make beautiful maps:
That’s good to hear.
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