Research It | Item 2: The Map

In my first post of this series I discussed the history of the pen. Exciting stuff, I know. Before there were computers, the pen in all its many forms was the only way to go. Well, there’s the pencil, but that’s a post for another day. Oooh…pencils…. Today’s post is going to be all about Item 2 in this Research It series, maps. (That Dora the Explorer map song is stuck in my head. Let’s turn on some soundtracks to get rid of that).

When I was in China during the Summer of 2008 (we left two weeks before the Beijing Olympic Games), I helped TESOL students with their students and it was a might bit disorienting seeing them have China at the center of the world maps in their classrooms. As an American, typically the US is in that position, so it would make sense that each country would take some liberty with their mapping.

People who create map are called cartographers, and this post is all about their contributions to the traveling world.

Item 2: The Map. #allthemaps
I’m the Map, I’m the Map, I’m the MAP~~!
Goodness, get out of my head Dora!


Maps have been used for centuries. Whether they’re drawn in the dirt with an index finger, scrawled on a cave wall or meticulously plotted and updated as new lands were discovered. Maps are popular additions to novels, placed in the first few pages of the story to help the reader find their way, and maps have aided the world’s generals in plotting routes their troops are ordered to take. And star charts (essentially a map) played a huge role in the Dominion Wars with Deep Space Nine as the center of the universe. Okay, that last item is a Star Trek reference. I’m a complete dork, what can I say?

If I’d gone the route of archaeology I imagine myself having rolls of maps in my pack, some haphazardly folded and others neatly rolled and slightly poking out the top of the bag. I suppose that’s the romantic way of looking at them, but it raises questions (in my mind at least). How did maps come to be? Who started making topographical maps? Nautical maps? Gigantic wall maps? (Insert Beckett’s gigantic world map to egotistically display the “accomplishments” of the East India Trading Company in the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise)Beckett_World_Map

Well then, that’s enough for the introduction. Let’s get into 3 Different Types of Maps and what they’re used for. Okay, so there are literally dozens of types of maps that can all be read about here, so I’m just going to touch upon ones that have more practical applications.

  1. Aeronautical.
    My dad was a pilot in the USAF for 34 1/2 years (he’ll typically make a point of adding that half year in there so I had to as well). While he flies the plane and looked at aeronautical maps beforehand, it was the job of the navigator in flight to make sure he got them where they needed to go. At one time I thought of going into the Air Force, but I get majorly air sick, whether I’m the one flying the craft or not. He suggested that I become a navigator. “But Dad, you know I’m directionally challenged on the ground, right?” He admitted that I was correct. Being an aeronautical engineer was not the career for me.These maps are important combinations of air, sea and land travel, utilizing longitude and latitude coordinates.bay-area-detail.ngsversion.1522276711646.adapt.1900.1Um, what?! I have enough trouble with your typical road map. What even is this?! That was dramatic…. I understand the land, and there’s the sea. The circles are almost like sonar blips on those blue and black screens you see in a movie like The Meg. But stop on by National Geographic’s website to have a read on how to interpret this very specific type of map. Visit the ESRI website for a brief history on this type of map.
  2. Global. 
    Arguably the most recognizable of all the maps, globes have been used in classrooms seemingly since the beginning of time. I exaggerate, but what was once a staple learning tool has been converted into those giant pull down maps that cover blackboards (maybe this is where those Flat Earth theorists got the idea from? Now I know I’m not the only one who could spend hours spinning a globe, stopping it with a finger and looking up the place it landed on. You can’t really stick a map pin into a globe though, unless it is one of those blow up balls. But then you’d have a different problem on your hands – a flat globe.And now, directly from Wikipedia itself, “A globe is a spherical model of Earth, of some other celestial body, or of the celestial sphere. Globes serve similar purposes to maps, but unlike maps, do not distort the surface that they portray except to scale it down. A globe of Earth is called a terrestrial globe. A globe of the celestial sphere is called a celestial globe.” I honestly think that I may have to start calling every glob I see terrestrial. That is the technical term after all! I suppose the other plants could also be turned into their own spherical models, but, as many are just giant balls of gas, they wouldn’t really be that helpful.The term “globe” was first dubbed by the Greeks c. 150 B.C. While the use of the word remained constant, the history of using physical globes isn’t. As with anything not well documented, there are long periods where globes aren’t really used in conjunction with the globe we’re familiar with today. The first known record of that comes from 1492 by a German mapmaker named Martin Behaim. No one country is emphasized over another so that the viewer can have a non-biased view of the world as a whole, very useful to those trekking on land and sailing the high seas.
  3. Topographical.
    When I first started researching The Firedamp Chronicles I would catch myself staring at maps far longer than what was necessary. Maps fascinate me, what can I say? Particularly maps of my own state of Pennsylvania. While the majority of the population is settled at either border, one only has to take a look at the topography of PA to figure out why. Topography played a huge role in that. With Pittsburgh in the South Western corner and Philadelphia closer to the Eastern seaboard, they are divided not only by the sheer size of the state but by mountains, plains and countless rivers.Of course there’s rich, farm-able land and early settlers knew this would be a great selling point to bring workers and families over from disease, disaster ridden Europe in the 17th century. In fact, many Germans are here because this land was similar to their own homeland. Penn’s Colony, named by the man himself, would become a hub of activity and development for the American Industrial Revolution. Let’s take a look at what a typical topographical map looks like:
    See that legend in the bottom right hand corner? That tells you how tall an area is or how low. That swoop in the middle of the state are mountains, and directly below them are huge coal deposits, squished together when the land was formed. 0-100 is closer to sea level, the dark green, while 1350 – 1750 indicate the Appalachian Mountain Range.Topological maps are more commonly used by those studying geology or cartography, but I do remember my dad having a really cool one of the Pittsburgh area. I think that’s why I like them so much. There isn’t really a history on this type of map other than it being associated with topology, or the study of, geometry, apparently. “Topology developed as a field of study out of geometry and set theory, through analysis of concepts such as space, dimension, and transformation.” (As defined here). But really, the only thing that really matters, and makes more sense to me anyway, is that it’s a representation of the geology of the land itself.Now I could go into underwater topographical maps, ones for other countries, etc., but that would make an already-long post unnecessarily long. I think you get the point of topographical maps by this point.

Well folks, there you have it. Maps. Unless you love maps like I do, I doubt you’re going to start staring at them, figuring out routes your characters are going to take. Maybe you do, if you’re a writer like I am. Then we’d have a lot to talk about! But maps are not only useful for real life application but for fantastical application as well. Maps open doors for us, allow us to dream of places we want to go. It may seem like a small distance on a piece of paper or on a globe and not everyone has the opportunity to travel. But, if you’re one of those who really can’t, at least you can travel there in your mind, through the power of the Internet and by the power of the book.

Honorable Map Mentions
The Marauder’s Map
Middle Earth
Land of Oz

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