Here Be Dragons

I don’t really know much about mapping (though I did take a history of geography course as an undergraduate), but I really like maps.

I feel like maps are generally considered to be very factual. This mountain is x kilometers high. This river is located at (x,y) coordinates. This border is here. Greenland is…about the same size as Africa?

But maps are not really factual at all.

Okay, maybe they are a little factual – but taking them as unquestionable truth conceals deeper issues. Maps can say a lot about a socio-political environment.

For years in school I remember teachers saying, “Just ignore the USSR on this map. It doesn’t exist any more.”

Not to mention the challenge that comes from border disputes. Or from rivers moving over time. Or of which direction is “up.” And of course, there’s the well documented argument over how the globe should be projected two dimensionally.

Side note: Africa is almost 14 times the size of Greenland. The contiguous United States are about the same size as Australia. If you’re interested in other size comparisons, check out MapFight.

My favorite are older maps which clearly show, “here is civilization, out there are the barbarians.”

I’m pretty sure every part of the world has maps like that in their history.

While apparently only the Lenox Globe is documented to contain the phrase”hic sunt dracones” (here are dragons), there seem to be plenty of instances of dragons or other wild animals appearing on the outskirts of maps.

So next time you look at a map, ask yourself where those borders came from, how they were measured, and what when into making those determinations.

…Then let me know, cause I’d be interested to find out.


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