It may be easy for those of us who are now living in an age of Google Maps and GPS to forget, but maps do more than just tell us where to go. For thousands of years, people have been using cartography to promote their religious beliefs, to show off their wealth and territory, to make provocative political statements – and sometimes just to fulfill the grandiose visions of interior decorators. Maps have been scribbled down on notebook paper, inked onto parchment, painted on ceiling plaster and carved into marble walls. Their move into the newest medium – pixels – is just one more step in the long and storied history of cartography.
A little while back we recommended the British Library’s digital exhibit, Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art, to our staff as our pick for “Website of the Week.” This digital exhibit, which is a companion to an in situ exhibit that the Library hosted last year, explores how maps have been used to convey messages of status and power throughout history – or to simply be beautiful. The site allows visitors to watch and listen as curators talk about each work. There’s an accompanying book as well, which we just received here at the NGS Library. If you missed the exhibit, and you’d like to see more of these incredible maps than what’s online, you can buy the book at the British Library’s online store.
Check out National Geographic’s online map store for even more magnificent maps.