July 31 –Happy Birthday, Heinrich Kiepert

Posted on July 31, 2017

Celebrating a German cartographer (mapmaker) of the past, I am once again mystified about how past cartographers did their job.

We are so lucky. Not only do we get to see the world from high up with our own eyeballs (at least some of us) via air travel, we all get to see photos and videos of the world from even higher vantage points - from astronauts on the space station and from satellites. 

We not only can call up computerized maps of almost anyplace, we can Google actual bird's-eye images of said anyplace!

Still, it's not so easy to draw an accurate map. I mean, we often come up with something like this:

Back in the days before airplanes and satellites and computers, cartographers usually drew their maps with an eye-in-the-sky viewpoint, but they didn't have the benefit of copious amounts of eyes-in-the-sky! Of course, some took hot-air balloon rides, and by the mid-1800s, photography was readily available. Still, it must have been hard to be truly accurate in one's craft.

And in even earlier times, much of the land was unknown to mapmakers. For example, some California native peoples must have known that California wasn't an island, but clearly this mapmaker (and many others) didn't:

Map from 1626.
Glen McLaughlin has collected more than 700
maps from the 1600s and 1700s - and in all of
the maps, California appears as an island!

When I look at really old maps, honestly, I am more surprised by their accuracies than by their mistakes! In the map above, look how well the coastlines of Central America, the northern part of South America, and the Gulf of Mexico states have been captured - even though nobody could have seen these coastlines from very far above.

Today's famous birthday, Heinrich Kiepert, didn't draw really old maps (after all, he was born on this date in 1818), but he did draw maps of really old lands. He was interested in history, especially ancient history. He made atlases of ancient Greece, he drew maps of Asia Minor (most of which is now Turkey), and he created maps for travel guides for Egypt, Palestine, and other locations.

1 comment:

  1. This blog is so amazing as it celebrates each passing day and recognizes people who are lost in the past. I never knew about this german cartographer but im deffinitely going to google about him now. He sure is a legend