“Maps that Changed Our World” a story map from the Library of Congress

open atlas with folded glasses

Dying of boredom?  Feel like you haven’t been out of the house in ages?  Or just too many Zoom calls?

Then it’s time for a virtual trip to the Library of Congress Map Room!

World Continents

After searching through the collections, the authors (Julie Stoner, Rodney Hardy, and Craig Bryant) have chosen eight world maps that have influenced generations.

Here we find Ptolemy who published in several scientific areas including “Geographia”.  While his work was lost to the Europeans for years, Arabic copies remained available and were eventually translated to Latin.

Another early geographer was al-Idrisi who created a world map for King Roger of Sicily.  An experienced traveller, al-Idrisi worked at a nexus of religion and culture to create a very detailed map.

Later we meet Martin Waldseemuller who created the 1st world map to name “America”.  Influenced by Ptolemy and working with information from sea charts, he also added the Pacific Ocean.

By choosing a date from the upper right corner of the screen, you can see maps from Mercator and the Blaeu Atlas.  While the Mercator projection heavily distorts a world map at the poles, it is very popular with navigators.  With advances in printing, the Blaues went into business publishing maps for the commercial world.  The Dutch would hold sway for nearly a century.

Eventually, J.H. Colton created a map publishing company in the United States.  They continued to use the Mercator projection.  Many of Colton’s maps are available online.

Finally, the authors end with a contemporary map of the world in digital form.

This storymap is a great starting point for a deeper look into the history of world maps.