Sunday, 5 January 2014

Session 7. Maps and map-making

In this session we'll be looking at maps and map-making.

The very earliest of  maps were often pictures or representations of the sky or the 'heavens'. Some were a representation of the known world, but mixed with the mythological or religious beliefs of the time.

The Babylonian World Map is one of the earliest surviving maps

(For more information on possible interpretations of this map, see the Wikipedia entry here  )

The foundations for map-making took a huge leap in Ancient Greece. The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle (384-322 BCE), is thought to have been the first person to prove the earth is round, and later, another Greek, Eratosthenes, is thought to have come up with a scientific estimate of the circumference of the earth.  

The Tabular Peutingeriana is an early Roman map. It shows the roads of the Roman Empire.

This picture shows one part of the map

The early middle ages used to be called the 'dark ages' because it was believed that there were few advances in science, literature or technology after the fall of the Roman Empire. However, as historians have found out more about this period they realised that this was not such a 'dark' period afterall.

In the early middle ages Islamic scholars built upon the map-making traditions of previous cultures, and also learned from explorers and traders. The Tabulara Rogeriana was a medieval atlas, produced by an Arab geographer (Muhammad al-Idrisi) in 1154. Although the atlas was partly based upon existing maps, it benefited from additional information provided by Arab merchants who had traveled to Africa and the Far East. It is thought to be the most accurate map of the world created in pre-modern times. In this map, North is at the bottom, so it appears upside-down compared to modern maps.

Here is the map, rotated around. Does it look more familiar?

In Europe, medieval maps were mostly symbolic, like those of the Babylonians, and often steeped in religious images and beliefs. The maps, known as Mappa Mundi (cloth of the world), were usually circular or symmetrical and often showed the earth as a central disc surrounded by the oceans. In Majorca, a group of cartographers (map makers) less influenced by these beliefs, produced one of the first known nautical maps - a map with accurate navigational directions)

The later middle ages is known as the Renaissance, but also 'the age of exploration' because of the huge increase in trade and exploration during this period. When the Europeans 'discovered' the Americas and wanted to divide up the lands, map-making once again became popular. This is the first map of The Americas, created by the Spanish explorer and cartographer, Juan de la Cosa, who sailed with Christopher Columbus.

If you're interested in learning more about the history of maps, "The Beauty of Maps" is an excellent BBC series, more suited to older children, which explains the history of cartography. Well worth searching out on YouTube. (I won't post the full episodes here as it's been a while since I've watched them and I can't guarantee age suitability).

This is an excerpt from the first episode on European Medieval Maps, describing the Hereford Mappa Mundi (*warning* if you have a sensitive child the background noise/music can be a bit spooky in places.)

Although the following video is basically an advert for the features of Google Maps, it is a good illustration of modern advances in mapping).

The Ordnance Survey's website for children, Mapzone, has a variety of map-related games. Teaching resources can also be found on the site here.

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