Ptolemy World Map from the 15th Century Codex of Nicolaus Germanus
Cartography allows us to geographically better understand the world we inhabit. Cartographic advances fuel ages of exploration. Maps have a political, aesthetic, scientific, and hermeneutic significance. From mapping cell structure under the microscope to mapping outer space and the heavens by telescopes, maps inform, instruct, and illuminate our worlds in ways that allow for the advancement of science. Maps let us not only navigate the planet and beyond, but the way our minds organize known space. Cartography is therefore not only about what is ‘out there’ but what is inside our minds and how our minds, from a neurological standpoint, can order space in different and variegated ways.
The history of cartography tells us not just what is ‘out there' in the navigable world, but so much more about the mind's consciousness of what exists over historical periodization. From mapping outer space to the microscopic cell, to invisible neutrinos, to the human genome mapping project, science is predicated on measurement and mapping allows just that.
Some of the most important scientific and technical revolutions that have taken place in the last 50 years have been the development of Global Positioning System (GPS) and other spatial analysis technologies which have changed the face of mapping and improved how we find our way on the surface of the earth. Cartography as it developed from the ancient Greeks through the creation of the firstly truly modern maps by the Dutch cartographer Mercator in the middle of the 16th century is a fascinating journey. Drawing on books and maps from the vast historical collections of the Library of Congress's Geography and Map Division, the technical developments in cartography and the aesthetic and cultural factors that made maps important instruments of art and power in the early modern world can be studied in history of science courses.