Historical Maps – Uses and Changes to Cartographic Production

By March 16th 2015

2015-2016 has been designated International Map Year and will celebrate the history of cartography. Lovell Johns also marks 50 years of cartographic production in 2015, so this seems an appropriate point to reflect on the genre of historical mapping.

Historical mapping may be described as images which show a particular event or time in the past, or just a contemporary map from a specific point in time, showing land use and settlement patterns as recorded at that point. Researchers and academics may use historical maps to show movements of peoples, ancient boundaries or how a modern landscape interacts with the older underlying detail. Family history enthusiasts may have an interest in how an area looked at a certain time in the past, particularly to compare with a newer pattern.

Lovell Johns’ own beginnings are steeped in the production of historical maps – set up in 1965 by Col. Henry Johns to produce historical mapping for the Historic Towns Atlas Trust, this relationship is still very much alive. The Trust is about to publish its first new atlas in 26 years, of historic mapping of Windsor and Eton. So, it is clear that there is still very much interest in historical mapping, both for research purposes and general interest.

Historical Maps – Uses and Changes to Cartographic Production

This type of historical mapping shows various dates of buildings, laid over a more recent Ordnance Survey map. This can be used to show the development of a town from its early core, as well as key buildings important to a town’s history. Adding the data over a modern map base gives a clear indication of context and position.

Historical mapping may also be used to show movement in ancient times, and the spread of religion and peoples, whether hostile or for economic reasons.

In this example, from Peter Davidson’s Atlas of Empires, an unusual map projection is used to show historic trade movements as clearly as possible. The challenge here is to show the information in a clear manner but still taking into account the large areas involved.

As further recognition of the current interest in historical mapping, Times Books have recently published a new volume entitled ‘The History of the World in Maps’, which shows the development of maps as tools for historic reference, as well as for propaganda and the recording of particular historic events. This is a very useful set of maps for anyone with an interest in the history of cartography and its use for political comment.

Many publishers continue to make use of historical maps to supplement text and maps are useful here to enhance descriptive information. Local history enthusiasts and ancestry researchers will always find interest in historical maps as a record of earlier occupation and land use; many retailers offer historical maps and there is huge interest in this market. Historical maps are a valid research tool and will continue to be used to illustrate past events and to provide a snapshot of earlier settlement patterns.

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