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Thread: Cartographers, Lend Me Your Knowledge?

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    Question Cartographers, Lend Me Your Knowledge?

    To all the worldbuilders, mapmakers, cartographers, and more: Hello! Having been a long-time admirer (and user) of maps for years, my appreciation for the art and science involved in creating a map is deepening as I do more research. Research for a story I'm writing, a story in which a map is a key plot device, and cartography is intrinsic. But as I delve deeper and sporadically into my research, I get a little sidetracked, and I keep wishing I knew a few cartographers in person so I could sit down and just have a nice chat with them about what they do.

    I'm hoping a few of you might be willing to have that chat.

    Resource recommendations, "tricks of the trade," little-known facts, and the like are definitely appreciated and welcomed. But I also have a few questions. If you'd be willing to answer them, either in this thread or in a message, I would love to hear from you.

    1. What are the core parts of a map that must always be included (e.g., compass, scale)?
    2. What are some common cartographic terms, or your favorite terms (e.g., point of beginning, terra incognita)?
    3. What are some cartographic "secrets" that aren't well known to the general public (e.g., trap streets)?
    4. What's your favorite part of mapmaking, or the general cartographic process?
    5. What are some artistic vs. informational trade-off decisions you often have to make?
    6. What are your favorite features to include on a map?
    7. If you had to create a map of the world without today's technology, how would you proceed? How much could you map in a year? In ten?


    I've popped in and out of various areas on the forums here and haven't found the answers to my most basic questions, but I am new, so if this information does exist already in a thread, please do point me in the right direction.

    And if this isn't the right place for this thread to live, please forgive me and move it as appropriate.

    It is easy for me to get lost in research because I enjoy learning about new things in general, so any thoughts you have will be read and absorbed with glee. Even if you only answer one question, I'll be delighted.

    Thank you for reading this far, and if you've decided to answer a question or two, thank you doubly!
    Last edited by llywellyn; 08-16-2012 at 07:42 PM.

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    Some further digging turned up the perfect answer for the first part of my second question. Apologies!

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    Guild Artisan rdanhenry's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by llywellyn View Post
    What are the core parts of a map that must always be included (e.g., compass, scale)?
    Well, what you include depends on what type of map it is. You certainly would not always include a compass rose or a scale because not all maps will preserve compass bearings or scale. This is particularly true of world or other small scale (i.e., large area) maps, due to projection issues, but may also apply to much more local maps. A typical subway system map will be laid out for easy of use and distort both distance and direction to simplify and maximize readability.

    There are elements which are fairly common, such as borders or a key, but I can't really think of anything that is mandatory.

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    Interesting, and thank you for answering! The key piece will be a world map, with a separate journal of sketches of more local areas. I apologize for not stating that up front, and thank you for catching my oversight. I've realized in doing my research that you can truly map just about anything, which is both fascinating and overwhelming.

    I appreciate your input! It's helpful to know nothing is truly mandatory, though there are common pieces. Great distinction to make.

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    Software Dev/Rep Gracious Donor waldronate's Avatar
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    An important point to consider about map making is that a map is an abstract representation of a place that shows a particular set of concepts. They are always done by a person using a technology for a reason. Navigation maps done to let sailors get from one place to another with minimum risk, for example, are quite a bit different from the big map that hangs on the King's wall to show everyone how grand his kingdom is. Similarly, the kinds of things that you'll show on a woodcut map of the kingdom to go in a small book are probably different than the ones that go on a wall-sized painting, which are again quite different than the ones that one would find in a modern GIS system that shows on a monitor.

    As rdanhenry pointed out, a scale bar is likely to be seen only on a fairly local map. What he didn't point out is that there might be several scale bars (possibly including different measurements on each side of the bar) due to local differences in systems of measurement.

    A compass rose might be pointing true north, magnetic north, or have both markings on it (depending on how your culture measures north).

    A map border and cartouche describing who did the map and why is very common on published historical maps because that's where the mapmaker gets to do fun artistic things and brag about how great he and/or his sponsors are. The artistic flourishes in the white space on a map are also done to show off or to add interest to the map. My experience with woodcuts suggests that having something to break up very large tracts of empty space can help to prevent certain printing artifacts that occur as the plate ages (blank areas can sag and drop blotches on the paper if you apply too much pressure and your engravings aren't deep enough).

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    Thank you, waldronate, for such an insightful answer. I had just been reading about plate-engraving and printing for maps, so your point about woodcut artifacts is fascinating. I appreciate you taking the time to reply!

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