Gobar Times
Cover Story

Map Making

   People's Atlas   

 Catography for the common man  

The image of the world map has been etched in our minds ever since we took our first basic geography lesson. But what if... it is redrawn—a little differently?

For instance, if the territory of each country is ‘re-sized’ according to the volume of energy consumed by the people living in it?

It will be a world as we have never seen before. While countries like the US, Europe, Japan would balloon enormously, in complete contrast to their actual size, huge portions of the continent of Africa would probably be diminished to a tiny speck in the atlas.

Humans have always been very impressive story tellers. And maps tell stories. But now map-making has entered a very exciting new phase. Where technology allows each one of us to create our own maps, and share them with the rest of the world.

With the help of portable electronic devices, the Internet, and free software

    The Earliest Maps    

The art of making maps dates back to 2300 BC in Babylonia. The earliest known maps were created on clay tablets showing settlements, crop fields, water and irrigation sources, hunting grounds, land boundaries and significant landscape features. Mesopotamian maps of around 1600 BC show cities and tracks between fields and the built up areas. In other parts of the world, bones were carved showing various coastlines. Polynesians wove palm leaf mats and used twigs to show currents and prevailing winds and shells as islands. While small versions of these mats were used on trips, the larger ones were used for teaching purposes.

     The Greek influence     

This art of map-making was greatly developed by the Ancient Greeks.In 6th Century BC, Hecataeus (Greek philosopher, geographer and travel writer) drew a map depicting the world as an island with Greece at its heart. By 350 BC, or during the time of the great Greek philosopher Aristotle, people began to accept the concept of spherical earth. The Greek mathematician and stronomer,Eratosthenes, accurately calculated the circumference of the earth using angle measures.

Ptolemy, the Greek mathematician, geographer, astronomer and astrologer, was the first to illustrate earth as spherical in his world map (drawn for the first time on a flat paper). The map covered the Old World (mainly Europe, Asia and Africa, or Africa-Eurasia) from latitudes of about 60°N to 30°S. Simultaneously, other countries were developing maps. For instance, in China, maps were carved on wooden plates from around 240 BC.

Left - Stone Age Map, showing a line of dwellings besides a river, engraved on a mammoth tusk from Mezhiriich in Ukraine, dating between 12,000 and 11,000 b.c

   Medieval and Renaissance Map-making   

But, there is nearly no information about the development of maps from the 2nd Century AD until the Medieval period. Most world maps were now dominated by religious views. The Church of Rome was the driving force behind map-making, and Jerusalem was the centre of the known world (reflecting the religious doctrines of 14th Century Europe).The Hereford Mappa Mundi, dating from 1300, is a typical example that shows Jerusalem at the centre and the east to the top.

In contrast, Arab maps advanced the earlier Greek practices. Al-Idrisi designed a still-famous world map.

European explorers such as Columbus, Vasco da Gamma, Cabot, Vespucci and Magellan, took mapmakers along on their voyages to map out the new lands and routes that they discovered.These ocean maps, or navigation charts, were very highly valued for commercial and military purposes, and treated as national treasures.

  • 1427: Danish geographer Clausson Swart drew the first known map of Northern Europe.
  • 1491: Cardinal Nicholas Krebs developed the first modern map of ermany.
  • 1500: Erhard Etzlaub produced the earliest route map called the Romweg.
  • 1508: Rosselli produced the first map showing the entire known world.
  • 1508: Waldseemuller produces a remarkable and huge map of America, divided into 12 sheets, after the exploration by Amerigo Vespucci. It showed for the first time that America was not connected to Asia.
  • 1513: Martin Waldseemuller produced the first known atlas consisting of 20 maps of France.

    Mercator Projection    

Belgian geographer Gerardus Mercator was a leading cartographer of the mid-16th Century. In 1569, he developed the cylindrical Mercator Projection, which, till today, is the base of map projections used by map-makers. But, as no flat map can balance the size and shape of a spherical earth correctly, the Mercator Projection also has its flaws. It stretches the poles to the same width as the equator. For example, it makes Iceland appear to be of the same size as Kenya (it is five times smaller in reality).

However, this projection allows for simple visualisation and navigation, as it keeps directions accurate, albeit at the expense of distance, area and shape

     Maps for Colonial and Military Use     

With the development of scientific mapping methods through the centuries, maps became more accurate and factual. They were now steadily brought under use for military purposes, as it was possible to view distant lands and develop strategic plans before deploying troops. During the 17th and 18th Centuries, cartography and printed maps greatly advanced the conquest of the New World and Africa. Infact, superior map making abilities helped a colonial power like the British to—in a sense—'chain' India. (See box on triangulation and the great arc) Mapping was used to control the people in Britain. After the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion in Scotland, Major General William Roy mapped the country in detail.

His maps were used to police the rebellious Scots for decades. They led to the establishment of the Ordnance Survey in 1791, which is now the world's largest producer of commercial maps, and are still in use as the basis of the Ancient Woodland Inventory of Scotland.

 Early maps of India: A Dutch map (above) drawn in 1628 AD showing India and the East Indies. (Below) a map of the Indian peninsula made in France by Jacques-Nicolas Bellin, 1752 ADMap-making was integral to the American War of Independence. In 1755, John Mitchell's map showed the boundaries of the new United States defined by American and British negotiators in Paris in 1782 - 83. A notable piece of map-making in North America was that of the Mason- Dixon Line, which is associated with the division between the northern and southern (free and enslaved,, respectively) states during the American Civil War.

    Going on-air    

Human beings now took to the air. This made the mapping of areas not accessible by land easier, leading to significant advances in mapping the world. And the invention and development of photography was an added boon. Aerial photography became especially important during World War II (to map the bombing targets in particular). Satellite photography and imaging followed—a few decades after the aerial leap.

    Geographic Information Systems    

Photographs of the earth from space, showing cloud formations, light sources, ocean currents, and landforms seem usual. But in the 1970’s it began to evolve into something distictly unusual. In fact, it can be described as the most significant revolution in map-making. It was the development of Geographic Information Systems, or GIS.

GIS uses all the information on a given area. Unlike in traditional paper mapmaking, in which a map is the database and the display of geographic information, GIS includes computer software, hardware, digital data, and storage. It can produce data for very specific purposes, and allow indepth analysis. Satellites orbiting celestial bodies send data to Earth. This is used to create detailed landform maps and images of planets and moons that are beyond our plain sight.

    The Great Trigonometrical Survey     

More than 200 years ago, the over 2,400km of inch-perfect survey of India was, and still remains, one of the greatest human endeavours ever undertaken

“Each millenium throws up a passion for doing something unique. One passion that prevailed throughout the 19th century was the accurate determination of the dimensions of the earth and the location of important geographical features in terms of latitude and longitude. One of the greatest examples of this passion was the Great Arc. In April 1802, Colonel William Lambton (along with George Everest, he is recognised as the man who made the Arc possible) decided to measure the great meridonial arc by trigonometric survey. On April 10, he laid the baseline for the measurement of the length of a degree of latitude along a longitude in the middle of peninsular India: at St Thomas' Mount in Madras.He walked the heart of India along with a team of Indians. One of them was the chief computor Radhnath Sickdhar, who managed most of the instruments, and was known for the accuracy of his calculations.

He, in fact, computed the height of Mt Everest. Many labourers and assistants also helped them with the calculations, and worked on the instruments.Some choolteachers took on the survey on foot as they entered Tibet. Counting the steps on a rosary, distances stored in the prayer wheel, and instruments like compass, sextant, and thermometers stored in secret compartments of their trunks, they comprised the incognito army that made the survey possible.

In 1818, the Government named the nearly half-acentury of dedicated effort ‘The Great Trigonometrical Survey’.This was the Great Arc, upon which, modern mapping and surveying of the Indian peninsula is still based. Precision was the mantra; and it was so rigorously maintained that despite the more sophisticated mapping equipment and survey methods of today, the values arrived at then, have never been disputed.

     My Magic Stick   

GPS (Global Positioning System) is my best friend

You don't need to spend a lot of money on it. It operates in any weather and temperature. Works everywhere in the world. The GPS I buy in India can be used in Brazil, Iceland, or Vietnam. It gives me precise three-dimensional positioning. It not only tells me ‘where’, but also ‘when’, because GPS signals also provide very accurate time. It is available 24 hours a day. But best of all, GPS signals are free to all users. It is a powerful system, available to everyone, especially to you!

The Global Positioning System is currently the only fullyfunctional satellite navigation system. Developed by the United States Department of Defense, the first experimental satellite was launched in 1978. It is officially named NAVSTAR GPS (Navigation Satellite Timing and Ranging Global Positioning System). GPS is an indispensable tool for navigation, map-making and land surveying around the world. Here are few of its major applications:

Automobiles and aircraft, equipped with GPS receivers, display moving maps and information about location, speed, direction, and nearby streets and landmarks. Boats and ships use GPS too. Maritime GPS units include functions useful on water, such as “man overboard” (MOB) functions — thus simplifying the rescue efforts.

Mining and precision agriculture use GPS to automatically guide equipment to various locations and provide visual aids
for their operators.

Bikers, hikers and climbers use GPS in racing, touring and locating positions (which also aid in rescue operations).

Surveying, mapping and GIS, and in geophysics and geology, the application of GPS is obvious.

Used for precise time reference. A range of systems, including seismology sensors, are synchronised with it so that events may be timed accurately.

Used for mobile satellite communications. On a moving ship or train, for example.

For emergency and locationbased services. For example, it may find a phone's geographic location and aid a rescue mission.

Used for improved weather predictions. Measurement of atmospheric bending of GPS satellite signals can be used to determine air density, temperature, moisture, and electron density. Unfortunately, it also allows accurate targetting of military weapons, including cruise missiles and precisionguided munitions. GPS receivers are fast becoming small enough and cheap enough to be carried in your pocket. Try it!

    How it works    

GPS satellites transmit signals that allow a GPS receiver to determine its location, speed and direction. It calculates its position by measuring the distance between itself and three or more GPS satellites. The time between the transmission and reception of each GPS radio signal gives the distance to each satellite, because the signal travels at a known speed. The signals also carry information about the satellites' location.

By determining the position of, and distance to, at least three satellites, the receiver can compute its position using Trilateration (use of the geometry of triangles and the known locations of reference points, and the measured distance between the subject and each reference point to calculate the location of the subject).

    Mapping at your finger tips    

The precious art and science of map making was until very recently available only to those with wealth and power. Now it has undergone a revolutionary change.

The evolution of the Internet and consumer electronics have opened up numerous possibilities of digital story telling. Here are some resources that would put the power of making maps in your hands.

    Become a ‘neogeographer'    

Children, marginalised by a global economy and educated by schools and the media to become rootless members of a commercial monoculture, will be ill-prepared to construct institutions capable of equitably providing for human needs in ways that do not compromise the long-term health of natural systems.

The creation of an ecologically sustainable society will require people who share a deep commitment to the social and natural milieus in which they live as well as a knowledge base that is sensitve to the dynamics and needs of these environments.

Greg Smith, Educator —"Rooting Children in Place," Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice, 1998


A mashup is a website or application that combines content from more
than one source into an integrated experience. It is sometimes created as
a critique or commentary on an existing work or product. A maps mashup takes content from multiple sources and displays them in map form. An exciting way of using maps to combine the social with the local.

Interactive sites use Google Map and Flickr mashups to present high-quality television programs, radio spots, blog postings, education guides, and mapbased explorations. Create your very own mashup!


OpenStreetMap is a free editable map of the whole world. It is made by people like you. OpenStreetMap allows you to view, edit and use geographical data in a collaborative way from anywhere on Earth.

The project was started because most maps you think of as free actually have legal or technical restrictions on their use, holding back people from using them in creative, productive or unexpected ways. (www.openstreetmap.com)

     People's Atlas     

Make maps of unique places on Platial.com, a socially networked mapping platform which makes it easy to find, create, share - The People's Atlas. www.platial.com

    GIS for free    

Quantum GIS (QGIS) is a user friendly Open Source Geographic Information System (GIS) that runs on Linux, Unix, Mac OSX, and Windows. http://qgis.org/

   Google Earth, for educators    

Put a planet's worth of geographic on your desktop. For Free! http://earth.google.com/

Google's satellite imagery-based mapping product, represents, in essence, the whole world on a student's computer. It enables users to "fly" from space to street level to find geographic information and explore places around the world. Google Earth is more like a video game than a search engine — it is basically a 3D model of the entire planet that lets the user grab, spin, and zoom down into any place on Earth. Different versions offer tools for measuring, drawing, saving, printing, and GPS device support.

In a classroom, Google Earth emos can be used to spice up geography lessons, Students can use different Google Earth layers to study economics, demographics, and transportation in specific contexts.For instance: One can use real-time coordinates to demonstrate distance calculations and verify the results using easurement tools; view tectonic plate-shift evidence by examining whole continents, mountain ranges, and areas of volcanic activity; study impact craters, dry lake beds, and other major land forms. The only limit to Google Earth's classroom uses is the imagination of the user!

  Mapping your neighbourhood     

An initiative of Centre for Science Development and Media Studies (CSDMS) and funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India. Working with school students as the 'tenets of change' and representatives of their community. http://www.csdms.in/nm/


Have you ever looked at someones's photo album and wondered where the photos were taken? Using your GPS and digital camera, you can figure out just that, and it is easier than you think. Share your geo-referenced images with the web-wide world in various forms. As the geo-photo community has grown so has the list of ways to publish your photos for others to see. GeoSnapper (http://geosnapper.com/) eases the GPS-linking problem by providing tools to process your raw tracklog and photos.

    GPS Biomapping     

GPS can be used for many types of scientific surveys, including remote navigation, locating specific points on ground, mapping species encountered, mapping geological features, and mapping boundaries. Scientists trace changes over time and can compare "before and after". You can start by making a tree inventory of your school premises using GPS/GIS.


In West Bengal, a location base map prepared by hand held GPS with the instant booth level data helped the entire Pulse Polio Immunisation programme to plan and monitor the action strategy throughout the state.

This mapping technique was fast and had an immediate impact with the ground level staff of the health service provider.

They either accepted the spatial accuracy of the location or wanted immediate correction of the inaccurate location with their help. This mapping effort helped get better coverage of polio immunisation on the ground.

Try It! Rather than saying ‘how can I use the GPS and GIS?’ Ask ‘what do I want to do?’ Then, ask how the GPS, websites, digital camera, and other technology can help achieve this goal.

   GPS Nature Trail    

Creating a GPS Nature Trail is a great club or class project. The young people search the designated area for notable geological, botanical, or zoological features. They mark the coordinates and flag each station, and then plot the stations on a topo map. The group researches information on the natural features and decides which ones should be included on their nature trail. Then it creates written descriptions of the selected sites. The final product is a "GPS Nature Trail Guide" booklet with coordinates and natural history information for each station.

    GIS in education    

Learn the basic principles of GIS at www.gis.com. This informative site provides a great introduction to GIS and has links to additional resources. Introduction to Neogeography Neogeography combines the complex techniques of cartography and GIS and places them within reach of users and developers. This Downloadable PDF booklet for purchase from O'Reilly by Andrew Turner (published December 2006), introduces you to the growing number of tools, frameworks, and resources available that make it easy to create maps and share the locations of your interests and history. http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/neogeography/


Deep in the most remote jungles of South America, Amazon Indians (Amerindians) are using Google Earth, GPS mapping, and the Internet to map and catalogue their forest home, helping to better manage and protect ancestral rainforests by monitoring deforestation and preventing illegal incursions on their land. Helping them is the Amazon Conservation Team, a nonprofit organisation.

    Mapping Hacks    

A wonderful book with a collection of one hundred simple techniques available to developers and power users who want to draw digital maps. Authors: Schuyler Erle, Rich Gibson and Jo Walsh. Publishers: O’Reilly. http://www.mappinghacks.com/


Treasure hunts have gone high-tech, with owners of GPS tracking systems pioneering a new craze. Known as geocaching, participants bury a box containing 'treasure', log the coordinates, then upload the data to the geocaching website. Once the box is found, players must remove the item inside, add one of their own, and write about their escapades in a journal in the box. There are various geocaching-aware software applications that you can use as a companion to your GPS unit. www.geocaching.com


Location: Brighton and Hove,
East Sussex, UK.
Date: 04/08/01-27/02/02
Total Track Length: 67.7 km
Method: Bicycle
Artist: Jeremy Wood


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People's Atlas