What is Cartography? - Definition & History

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  • 0:04 What Is Cartography?
  • 1:23 Basic History of Cartography
  • 3:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Josh Corbat

Josh has taught Earth Science and Physical Science at the High School level and holds a Master of Education degree from UNC-Chapel Hill.

It's hard to imagine how difficult our lives would be without maps. Even something as simple as locating a store in a shopping mall is made easier by referring to a map. In this lesson, we'll discuss cartography.

What Is Cartography?

So it's the day before your mother's birthday and you haven't bought her a gift yet. You know exactly what to get her: a candle from her favorite candle store. You drive to the mall, park your car, and walk inside. You then realize you've no idea where the candle store is. What do you do next? Ask someone for directions? Never! Your pride couldn't take the hit. Wander around until you find the store? Sure, you could do that, but it could take a long time. You suddenly realize the perfect solution. Look at the map of the mall! Using the map, you can find the store in no time.

Maps make our lives infinitely easier. From finding our way around town to finding a store in a shopping mall, maps simplify the physical world. It's not easy to make a map, however. There are countless measurements to be made, lines to be drawn, and all of it must be done with painstaking accuracy. It's no wonder the practice of mapmaking is a complex one.

Cartography is the practice of making maps as well as the study of maps. Cartographers generally either study the history of mapmaking or use tools and techniques to make new maps. Many take on both roles. It's common for cartographers to have a broad knowledge base of both mapmaking history and the latest techniques.

Basic History of Cartography

The history of cartography is incredibly complex. Some cartographers argue about the earliest known maps and new discoveries are often made regarding major advances throughout time. The earliest maps may have been made as early as 7000 B.C.E. Some cartographers claim that the earliest map was of the city painted on the wall of a cave. Since then, maps evolved over time and had many uses. Some maps simply showed the elevations and terrain of an area, while others showed landmarks like mountains and rivers.

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