City maps and their evolution through history

With each new stride in technology cartographers went from showing what lay around to presenting complex data
In pictures: ten city maps from history

The maps selected by Guardian Cities range from the 15th century to the late 20th century. In the early days of city maps they were just that – city maps. Originally showing merely representations of was to be seen on the ground.

Gradually 3D visualisations began to appear, and the use of pictorial symbols became more prevalent, allowing a certain abstraction from purely planimetric views and for additional information.

Through the 1800s we began to see what might be called “infomaps”. These have the addition of supplementary information, often in data form.

Montigny’s Paris voting map from 1869 is a good early example. Two very well known examples from this period emanated from John Snow and Charles Booth, who used dot mapping and colour shading respectively to chart their themes – influential examples of thematic city mapping.

For many years atlases were the showcase for thematic maps, usually of countries or regions rather than cities, reflecting to some extent the fact that traditional atlas producers were making a large percentage of the cartography at the time.

The State of the World Atlas from the 1970s, for instance, relies very heavily on graphical maps and diagrams to make its points.

In the UK, the higher-end print media would often have what have unfortunately become known more recently as “infographics” to explain economic or other news, and these were frequently of city level subjects. However, this has all changed in recent times with developments in data openness, the availability of cheap and easy-to-use mapping software, and of the internet for ease of dissemination. Now infomaps are pouring out, now no longer from cartographers, but from people across a wide spectrum in interests.

This is sometimes termed neocartography and often the desire to release the mapped data instantly precludes any map design being involved. Instant communication is the aim.

Out of all this there are some attractive and surprising city maps appearing, which perhaps deserves a separate focus for this site. Just as an example Ollie O’Brien (at UCL) has developed a web map that offers change data every couple of minutes for the usage of the Barclays bike share scheme in London.

Steve Chilton is a research cartographer at Middlesex University, chair of the Society of Cartographers and chair of the ICA Commission on Neocartography. He has also written abook about fell running, It’s a Hill, Get Over It © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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