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The Evolution of Cartographic Mapping

Cartography – the study and practice of map-making. The art of cartography has existed since prehistoric times, evolving over time to communicate spatial information about the world around us. In its early stages, cartographic maps were represented as cave paintings describing hunting areas, travel routes, and the stars in the sky (though some will debate whether these drawings are truly maps in themselves). The crude drawings later introduced geometric patterns and the first reference to geospatial shapes used today in the form of points, lines, and polygons. As cartographic maps continued to evolve, it became clear that the driving force behind these developments was the technology for meeting the demands of the time.

As cartographic maps moved beyond paintings and engravings on stone walls, the use of brushes and parchment was introduced. Significantly changing the way maps were created, the sharing and duplication of these maps were limited by the technology of the time. This problem was resolved with the introduction of the printing press, allowing a map to be mass-produced and distributed beyond a single resource. Maps became more accurate with the introduction of lithographic and photo-chemical technology, visualizing finer details and decreasing the time required to create a map – meaning, no more engraving.

The 20th century presented the greatest developments to cartographic mapping with the introduction of aerial photography, satellite imagery, and remote sensing. Physical features including coastlines and topography were further enhanced, leading to the revolution of cartography in the form of computer technology. Computers have significantly expanded the map-making process, allowing imagery to be superimposed on a base map and data to be visualized and analyzed in a geospatial format, while sharing the final results through electronic resources.

Today, the modern extension of cartographic mapping is found in the form of GIS technology. GIS (Geographic or Geospatial Information Systems) are programs designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, and present geospatial data about the world around us. GIS remains similar to previous iterations of cartography as both include a base map in which data can be added, but differ as GIS has no limits to the amount of data it can present. GIS offers the ability to not only present maps, but also perform analysis of statistics and information through an on-demand database that is both dynamic and interactive.

Considering how much cartography has changed over recent years, it is exciting to think about what the future may hold and what the next iterations of both cartography and GIS will be.

To learn more about the geospatial services offered through the Marriott Library or to schedule a one-on-one consultation, please visit the GIS Services website @

Happy Mapping!

Justin Sorensen | GIS Specialist
Creativity & Innovation Services / GIS Services justin.sorensen@utah.eduView the original article on the Creativity and Innovation Services Blog

1 Comment
  • John Ethan
    Posted at 16:11h, 28 February Reply

    The evolution of cartographic mapping showcases humanity’s innovative journey from cave paintings to sophisticated GIS technology, revolutionizing our understanding of spatial data and exploration. Exciting to ponder the future advancements yet to come in this dynamic field!

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