The history and future of cartography
Time is a funny thing. So is space, when you really think about it. In a short amount of time, we’ve gone from needing big books of maps to get anywhere to not even thinking about it. When’s the last time you’ve even needed to consult a map to get anywhere? The very concept of being lost has suffered an ignoble death at the hands of technology, short of people being trapped in the mountains or adrift at sea. While it is still possible to get lost, technically speaking, it isn’t very likely. Not anymore. It’s just not a thing that happens anymore. We have everything from computers to the geospatial information system to keep us safe wherever we are. These technologies are actually so ubiquitous that we’ve comparatively forgotten what a mess and what a terrible thing it ever was to be lost in the first place. There was a time less than two decades ago when taking the wrong turn could put you miles from the place you wanted to end up and there was absolutely nothing you could do about it short of asking for directions. It is precisely because of all this that that we should be thankful we live in such an advanced day and age. But cartography, geography and the construction of maps has had a long and venerated history that many people don’t know about. Here’s a short history on how we knew where we were going before knowing where you were going was ever a thing.
- The world before direction and structure
Geospatial anaylsis, the geospatial information system, geospatial analysis, geospatial data anaylsis and general location intelligence are all a litany of wonderful things but they are so incredibly recent. To understand what the world was like before all of these, we have to go back to very beginning before people could even pronounce geospatial information system. We have to understand the texture of the world before people had a solid idea of what the world even was. Let’s go back to the world just at the cusp of the agricultural revolution. This is the world of pre Sumeria, the world of small villages and big forests. There’s a lot we don’t understand about the way people lived back then but we do know that they subsisted mostly on foraging. It’s how we were built as species, after all. We collected food wherever it was, nuts, berries, herbs and whatever else we could find. We hunted as well although this was a lot more difficult and expended a lot more energy. It wasn’t something that our ancestors did without planning and foresight. The actual physiology of the human brain and body hasn’t changed for about ten thousand years. This means that these people were just as intelligent as we are and they knew what sort of dangers they were getting into. The world was a dangerous place and it had to be treated as such.
What the world looked like
They might have been the same as we are but the world they inhabited was very, very different. The only advantage we have is that we now know more in general about the way the world works. We have more information on landscapes and animals and environments. We know the basic structures of the universe, so much so that we forget what it was like to not know what was over the horizon. These people had to treat every action and move as inherently risky. They didn’t know what continents were, let alone oceans and deserts and mountains. They could see and know them but they didn’t have any instruments to navigate them, that is. They had no geospatial information system. If they had a geospatial information system, it would have been a whole lot different. So they had to use what they knew and make maps instead. They had to record down all the land they had crossed and convey it to other peoples. With the rise of writing, this got easier but it was still imperfect. It was just the beginning of one of the most important types of knowledge we have. The knowledge of the land.