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I”m not one to lament the passing of old technologies as new and better versions come to market. After all, progress is a good thing. However, I believe there is a need to appreciate the work that went into items of the past, and to acknowledge how these items gave us what we have today.

One of the things we”re beginning to see less of are physical maps. Today, most people can pull up their location on a smartphone or computer and easily find their way around. It”s a great convenience, and it opens up new places to everyone. Yet what we lose in the process is the map as a work of art. And when you consider the intricacy, the scientific accuracy, and all the stylistic details, mapmaking truly is an art.

Maps can show a large area to give us a general idea of the planet…

Maps can show a large area to give us a general idea of the planet...

This is a top-down view of Earth from the North Pole.

…or they can focus on a particular location.

...or they can focus on a particular location.

This map shows Mt. Everest and the surrounding peaks and glaciers in the Himalayas.

They can show vast rural areas where the only features are naturally occurring…

They can show vast rural areas where the only features are naturally occurring...

…or cities and other man-made places.

...or cities and other man-made places.

City maps can get very specific, too.

City maps can get very specific, too.

Fun fact: this map actually shows the neighborhood of ViralNova”s office!

People have been making maps for as long as they”ve wanted to know where they are and where they are going. You”ve probably made small maps yourself when giving directions to someone. The earliest world map comes from Babylon in 600 BCE, and features quasi-mythological islands existing beyond the bounds of what people knew of the world at the time.

Maps from the past can show us how people used to perceive the world centuries ago.

Maps from the past can show us how people used to perceive the world centuries ago.

This 1898 reconstruction shows the Pomponious Mela, which dates from 43 CE and shows how people thought the continents were arranged. It also divided the world into five zones, only two of which were considered habitable.

This map was made in the Byzantine Empire around the year 1300. While not accurate by today”s standards, you can still recognize the area of the world it shows.

As people became more aware of the world, their maps changed. Their world became larger…and smaller.

As people became more aware of the world, their maps changed. Their world became larger...and smaller.

This German map shows an approximation of the Western Hemisphere, with a mention of Virginia. It also might have an attempt to show ocean currents.

Of course, the world looked pretty different based on where you were located.

Of course, the world looked pretty different based on where you were located.

This map, likely from the 19th century, is relatively late, but was probably made shortly after Japan”s isolationist period — note the ships coming from North America. After their isolation, the exact shapes and proportions of the continents would have been less well known. North and South America are evident, though, on the right side.

Maps don”t have to be very old to show a time past, like this one from after World War II.

Maps don

Maps can also use geography to make a political statement.

Maps can also use geography to make a political statement.

This map from 1877 shows how little things have really changed.

Maps don”t have to just show the geography of a place. They can also show the locations of all kinds of things.

Maps don

This map of “Literary Canada” shows information about books set and written in Canada.

This map of Austria uses plenty of other illustrative details to teach people about the culture and history of the country.

This map of France shows landmarks and features in a cute, cartoonish style.

Other maps allow us to see what we can”t see with the naked eye, giving us a better understanding of the unseen world.

Other maps allow us to see what we can

This map shows the features of the ocean floor, including the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the world”s largest, but completely submerged, mountain chain.

They can also show us the world in a different way, depending on what their concentration is.

They can also show us the world in a different way, depending on what their concentration is.

This topographical map of the subantarctic Bouvet Island shows the terrain of the glacial landscape.

Maps can even show us places other than our planet.

Maps can even show us places other than our planet.

This map shows the craters and “seas” on the surface of the moon. Early astronomers thought the dark areas were oceans, but they”re actually dust plains.

Maps can depict space, like this constellation map.

Maps can depict space, like this constellation map.

Sailors would navigate by the stars, so this would have been very useful.

Maps don”t have to be old to be beautiful.

Maps don

Bright colors and the natural shapes of the land, water, and streets turn this map into an abstract work of art.

The next time you pull out your phone for directions to the nearest restaurant, think about mapmaking. The tradition is thousands of years old, and has been the way we”ve sought to understand our world, and beyond, for generations.

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