Elements of Cartography

The title of this post comes from an important textbook that every formally trained student of cartography will recognize. Arthur Robinson (1915-2004), a towering figure in the world of cartography and geography, first published in 1953. Now in it sixth edition, Elements remains an essential teaching tool in both cartographic literacy and the basics of mapmaking.

In Elements, the reader is reminded that every map should have a set of common features (elements) aside from the geographic information that delineate the landscape.

And while the book is about making new maps, the elements of cartography, as they are etched, engraved, printed, hand-colored, cataloged, digitized and presented on old maps in our Digital Gallery, and in our new web map toolkit maps.nypl.org, and outlined and illustrated below, can be a source of enormous inspiration, stirring the creative juices of not only cartographers, but visual artists, designers, historians, sociologists, anthropologists and more...

Compass Rose

The compass rose tells us which way is north (not all maps orient north at top as with the image below from the Map of New England Captain John Smith's 1627 The generall historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles ...


The scalebar tells us what a given unit of measurement (inch, cm etc...) indicates when applied to the map (miles, km, etc...) The scalebar on the map below, Lord Baltimore's 1635, indicates its map units as "Sea Leagues".

Representative Fraction

The representative fraction, e.g. 1/62, 500 tells us that one unit (any unit) of measurement equals, in this example, 62, 500 of that same unit on the planet earth. The map below, titled, was first published by the U.S. Geological Survey sometime in the 1880's and reprinted in 1912. This map is a quadrangle map, indicating it covers 1/4 of a degree on the planet earth.


The cartouche frames out a titleblock and publisher’s information and often contain really interesting expositions related to the publication of the map, complete with the appropriate genuflecting to a king or God. The cartouche below is from John Speed's published in 1627. The scrolly shape in this example gives an indication of origins of the word cartouche, which is French for cartridge, as in bullet. Before the invention of metal or plastic casings, the cartridge was made a rolled paper package fulled with gunpowder and lead shot. Apparently, the scrolls looked like cartouches, hence the name.

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The "Peters" world map projection

by Achernar

I'm reading "Flattening the Earth" by John Snyder, and it confirms something I've thought for a long time. So I'm doing my part to set the record straight.
In 1973 Arno Peters claimed to have invented a perfect map projection. In fact, he didn't create it, and it's not perfect.
The class of projections that Peters' falls into (cylindrical equal-area) had been known about and used for centuries, and the one he made specifically (cylindrical equal-area with standard latitude 45°) is identical to one made in 1885 by James Gall.
This projection is equal-area, yes, but it does not, as Peters claimed, preserve angles, shapes, or distances

7 Game of Thrones Apps That Will Get You Through the Much-awaited Winter  — Gizmodo India
.. or Winterfell, you get a dialog box, which asks you to buy more maps. Unfortunately, you can't dismiss the dialogue box, leading to the obstruction of the cartography. ..

Flagstaff's rocky lava field became a little piece of the moon  — azcentral
If American know-how could put a man on the moon, the man should bring back rocks to study. The government agreed, and in 1963, the .. Volcanoes were chosen because of the moon's volcanic history, the test site for its impact craters.

Missing in Alaska without a trace  — Anchorage Daily News
The official version of events, according to a still active missing person's bulletin from the Alaska State Troopers is that Griffis went into the wild "to test out a survival 'cocoon' that he had invented.

Popular Q&A

Dou you think cartography has been important for the development of makind?

Absolutely -- otherwise there would be a lot of lost people!

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