Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Glamorous Cartography?

By Lisa Karon Richardson

My husband is a collector. He is or has collected pretty much anything I can think up. From bottle caps to erasers, ball caps, coins, stamps, to copies of Robinson Crusoe. I could go on. I’ll say it again, my husband is a collector. I am not.

He has one collection that I actually enjoy though. Maps. There’s something about antique maps that draws me in. I like to read the names of towns and trace the sinuous path of rivers and roads, and well… imagine.

The oldest known maps are clay tablets from Babylon, believed to have been created around 2300 B.C. Some historians even claim that there are cave drawings that are maps from much earlier. Greek and Roman map makers were well aware that the world was a sphere and their maps reflected their knowledge. During the Middle Ages European maps too a distinctly odd turn, literally. T-O maps began to be created which showed an exaggeratedly large Jerusalem as the center and east was oriented toward the top of the map.

During the Age of Exploration, map making made great strides forward. It was during this time that compass lines began to be added to maps and globes were created.

Maps and globes were incredibly valuable. The country that controlled the knowledge of the trade routes had a decisive advantage. And that advantage extended from bringing home incredible wealth to the nation in control of the maps to military and diplomatic power. Because of this navigational charts and maps were soon given the status of state secrets. And by extension, cartographers became secret service agents, able to lead their countries to new lands to colonize.

The more the European powers came into competition, the more highly prized accurate information and charts became.

For example, the Treaty of Tordesillas between Spain and Portugal divided the world in half. And the two countries agreed to claim new discoveries only in their half. Spain took the western hemisphere and Portugal the eastern.

But there’s some evidence that Portugal’s King John II may have put one over on good old Ferdinand and Isabella. See the originally proposed line was a little further west of the one that was finally agreed upon.

Pedro Alvarez Cabral is officially credited with discovering Brazil in 1500, ostensibly during another attempt to reach India via a westerly route. He promptly claimed the newly discovered land for Portugal since that bump out of the South American continent lay well within the negotiated territory. It’s believed by some historians that Portuguese ships discovered the coast of Brazil

much earlier however, and that John II knowingly had the line moved in order to gain more land.

The discovery of Australia is attributed to Captain Cook, but there’s some evidence that the Portuguese knew of the continent and kept the information a secret.

With so much at stake it’s no wonder that spies were soon dispatched to one another’s capitals to try to buy or steal those incredibly valuable maps. Lisbon in particular was inundated by secret agents.

Anybody else’s head spinning with story possibilities? What, no one else is envision a map sewn into a heroine’s skirt, midnight escapes and swashbuckling adventure on land and sea? Oh. Well I’ll go into my corner now and content myself with daydreaming.

Now maps are much more prosaic. Just tools to get us from point a to point b. There’s no romance or intrigue in a GPS system. But when I look at my husband’s collection of (fake) antique maps I can still smell a whiff of the spice islands and all the adventure of the Age of Discovery.

Do you like maps too? Any map related stories to share?

Is anyone in your life a collector? Is it you? What do you/they collect?


  1. I love maps. Old, new, fake? well maybe not. I have a framed copy of the setting for my wip that I bought as a pdf file from a university archive. I love that thing! I draw maps of rooms and furniture for my scenes too.

    Hey, Lisa, I think I just sent you a 1887 map last night, now that I think of it. See, I'm not kidding!

    I honestly never thought about the political (HUGE) implications of maps for empire-building countries. I did however try to figure out how they did that. Let's say you sale around Australia. How do you take that view and make it into a map that is in any kind of decent proportion to the real thing?

    PS I love my Garmin, Jane.

  2. I think the used triangulation just like your GPS does, Deb. They would look at a specific tree or rock or landmark and then move a specified distance and then do calculations on the angles, and if that sounds like gobbledy-gook it is. I don't fully understand how it worked.

    I've got a street map of Washington DC for my 1917 story, I've got one of London for my regencies and I've got them for California for the book I'm working with Jen on.

    Once done I've framed them and used them to decorate the house.

  3. Thinking glamorous cartography is an oxymoron if I've ever heard one. I do appreciate maps in fantasy novels, though.

  4. This will sound silly. My first (and favorite) map memory is the one printed the inside of my childhood Winnie the Pooh books of the 100 Acre Wood.

  5. Hubby and I got into an argument years ago about a map. More specifically, about my map reading ability. Oh, it's not that I can't read a map. I can.

    The problem was I turned the map in the direction we were going so I'd know a left turn was a left turn.

    Hubby said I was reading the map upside down. True, but it was the actual way we were traveling. Didn't matter to him. How I was reading it was wrong because I was holding the map upside down.


    I like GPSs.

    My grandmother-in-law is a collector of . . . okay, I can't remember the name but it's American crystal. She buys two of everything. Problem is her two daughters buy either their own copies or buy a different brand. So who is Gran gonna leave all that crystal to? She has 3 grandchildren.

    I put my dibs in for the green velvet colonial-style loveseat.

    My mom collects Mary Moos cow figurines.

    The problem with collecting things is that's all people get you for gifts. Thus I collect nothing.

  6. Gina, I turn my maps too. Upside down doesn't matter if it lines up in my head with the direction I'm going.

    But GPS is so much nicer than pulling over to read the map! (especially on an interstate with no shoulder and a major Y split coming up)

    Niki, I think I fell in love with maps doing candyland, so you're okay.

  7. I love maps in books, Dina. As a pre-teen I used to copy them. I can tell you all this since you already know I'm a big geek!

  8. Not at all, Niki. See my comment above! I had a map of Narnia at one point. Loved being able to see where everything was in relation to everything else.

  9. Gina, my husband makes fun of me for the same thing. I even used to reorient the GPS in our car so that "up" was the same as in my head. (I.e. the direction we were traveling.)

    Oh, and the gift thing goes for hobbies, too. If you tell people you're into something that's all they buy you.

  10. Deb, don't get me wrong. I'm a huge fan of my GPS. Just not likely to frame it and put it on my wall when it's obsolete.

  11. Lisa,
    When I was attending Ball State University, I also home-schooled our daughters. My younger daughter loved to go to school with me and always begged to go to the map room in Bracken Library. How fascinating it was, with its unique collection of maps--old and new--and assorted globes! Did they influence her? She has traveled much of the globe.

    For one academic year, she taught first-graders in Seoul. And they studied maps. Yes, indeedy! Those wee ones ended the year knowing all Earth's continents, most of the countries, and the capitols.

    Having told you that, now visit my Facebook page and listen to the YouTube snippet I've posted from "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader?" Have a box of tissues handy.

    Lisa, you know very well you already have a novel niggling around in the back of your mind right now--one that features those maps. You know what I say, don't you?


    Because of Christ,
    Sharon Kirk Clifton

  12. P.S.

    I love it when novels have maps included. Liz Curtis Higgs' books often do. And of course the Middle Earth maps were essential in LotR.


  13. I love maps. One of my treasured ones is only 11x16 or so but it contains all the Scottish clans. I was quite disappointed when I couldn't find my maiden name 'Muir' on it, though. :(

    I have to draw a map of every story I write, both the town and the surrounding area. I guess I need to see it in my mind.

    And like some of you, I turn the map to read it although I'm quite skilled at orienteering. (Retired military don't forget.) The screen on my GPS turns so that it's always facing the same direction as my van - and that's the way I like it. :D

    Great post, Lisa. I enjoyed it.

    Anita Mae.

  14. Ooh, Sharon, the Lord of the Ring map was one of the ones I copied. In the version we had it actually folded out of the front of the book (or maybe the back) into almost a full size.

    I guess it's a chicken/egg kind of question. Did I want to travel before I loved maps, or did I love maps because I wanted to travel. Can't say I have an answer at this late date, but I have been blessed to be able to do a lot of traveling, and maybe in the future I'll do more!

  15. Yeah, Anita Mae, I imagine it's pretty important for soldiers to be able to read a map and figure out where they are. I love the idea of one with all the Scottish clans, what a neat thing to have.

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  17. Lisa, I used to copy maps, too! I loved it. I was always excited when we got to write reports in school so I could do a map. LOL! I think a map figures into the next Pirates movie.

    I used to collect baseball cards and angel figurines. Now I collect rocks and seashells.

  18. Suzie, I did lots of maps for reports too. Poor kids today miss all the fun of drawing their own, they just print it from Wikipedia.

    I did know that you collected shells now, but didn't know that you had collected baseball cards. Very cool. Did you have any valuable ones?

  19. I think the map-turning thing is a very female-related trait. I do it, too. It makes tons of sense... which is probably why our husbands don't do it ;+}

    In our family, I'm the collector. I have a collection of china animals from when I was a kid (and will one day inherit my mom's Hagen-Renaker horses). I also have a small collection of Barbie dolls. They're the special ones, the kind that are meant to stay in the box and look pretty. I fell into that collection by accident after my mom gave me the See's Candy Barbie.


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