Dear friend,

In my freshman year of high school, my end-of-the-year history project was to replicate an antique map. I chose a map of Iceland. I will admit to many moments of frustration, but I absolutely loved that project. It took me four months to finish. As it turns out, cartography is incredibly time-consuming and very detail-oriented.

History of cartography

Maps have been used for thousands of years, beginning with maps of the night sky and localized maps. These were used for organizing societies around agricultural seasons.

According to this environmental website, “Surveying permitted the building of huge monuments, to plot how much land people owned and charge them tax.”

Maps have been used to show the predominance of religions. They were also used by many countries as propaganda to show political power, even as recently as World War II. It wasn’t until the 14th century A.D. that nautical charts were compiled for navigation.

The earliest known world map is the Imago Mundi. It is a circular Babylonian map on a clay tablet that portrays the Mesopotamian world of the ancient Middle East. The tablet dates back to just under three thousand years ago.

The first paper maps were done by the ancient Greeks. The Chinese were the first to utilize a grid system in mapping which increased the geographical accuracy of their maps significantly.

Photo by Ylanite Koppens

Do you love maps?

In order to thrive in a job like cartography, you should, first of all, love maps. You should also be detail-oriented and organized. The job requires analytical reasoning and technological skills for programs like GIS (geographic information system). If you are both an art and math enthusiast then cartography would be a great job for you to learn.

If you are interested in becoming a cartographer Indeed and have a list of things to do to become a cartographer. You can pursue a bachelor’s degree in cartography or a related field, like geography, computer science, or surveying.

If going to college is not your cup of tea (Noah Matthews an inspiring article on non-traditional education), there are certifications available like this one. The next step would be getting an initial license, gaining experience (like finding an internship or entry-level job), and then getting your final license.

If you are interested in learning about mapmaking but want to start smaller, there are plenty of resources to get started.

Check out atlases from the library and study them. Sketch your own maps. Or copy a pretty map like I did in high school. There are also plenty of websites that can connect you to the cartography community such as Map of the Week, The Map Room, and Something About Maps.

What are you waiting for?


R. J. Catlin