In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Cartography

  • Introduction
  • Professional Societies
  • Journals
  • Key Organizations
  • Trends in the Field
  • Early History
  • Recent History
  • Analytical Cartography
  • Cartographic Communication
  • Cartographic Lines
  • Representation
  • Map Generalization
  • Map Data Structures
  • Cartographic Data and Data Issues
  • Cartographic Design and Map Use
  • Interactive, Dynamic, and Web Cartography
  • Cartographic Education
  • Visualization and Cartography
  • Disciplinary Identity

Geography Cartography
Keith C. Clarke
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0075


The earliest maps date back perhaps 14,000 years, yet the academic discipline and its written literature are very much a creation of the 20th century. While the practice of cartography is well represented in the immense quantity of maps in collections and libraries worldwide, there are curiously few remaining ancient maps and almost no surviving “how-to” manuals, with the exception of Ptolemy’s Geography. The study of cartography as an academic discipline shares its origins with geography as a whole, with beginnings in Europe, and arriving in the United States as recently as the 1920s. Cartography grew immensely in wartime during the 20th century, especially during World War II and the Cold War, and received impetus from the conversion to digital and computer methods in the 1970s and 1980s, and again when the Internet, World Wide Web, and Global Navigation Satellite Systems flourished at the end of the 20th century. The technological transition in the field was profound, and continues to influence research and applications. Since 2001, the field has refocused on visualization, interaction and dynamic mapping, and mobile/web applications. Recently, the discipline has been faced by an increasing overlap with other disciplines such as GIScience (geographic information science) and visual analytics, leading to something of an “identity crisis” that will be visited toward the end of this article. In this article, the term GIScience is intended to encompass the fields variously described as geographic information systems, geographic information science, and those mapping sciences such as cognitive and analytical cartography that are most closely interrelated, especially by their shared research literature. Cartography is a field that is central to geography, GIScience and many other map-related sciences. As has been shown, the field underwent massive changes during the 20th century, largely as a result of the transition from an analog world to a digital world. Most of the papers included in this article are highly cited, and as such form the framework of the research literature. As various problems of data, data structure, representation, and mapping were solved during the late 20th century, a new suite of far-broader technologies again transformed mapping. This time they were based on the Internet, dynamic mapping, geovisualization, mobile mapping, and distributed computing. As is evident, this has led to something of an identity crisis in the cartographic discipline, one further exacerbated by the emergence of GIScience, information visualization, and visual analytics, which have taken on some of the classical cartographic research themes. Regardless, the map remains as a powerful and increasingly ubiquitous information tool in the early 21st century, just as it will for centuries to come.

Professional Societies

Cartography is a relatively small but international discipline. While there are considerable overlaps with other mapping sciences such as remote sensing and geographic information systems, journals and professional societies have remained at the core of the discipline in most nations. At the top of the international field is the International Cartographic Association (ICA), with its numerous working groups, conferences, and publications. In the United States, the ICA representative organization is the Cartography and Geographic Information Society, while others exist for other nations, such as Canada’s Canadian Cartographic Association. Other cartography-specific groups include the North American Cartographic Information Society.

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