Will Hard Copy Topographic Maps Become A Thing Of The Past?

Digital maps are more practical navigation tools for the 21st century but the long tradition of map artwork remains magical. For someone who loves the outdoors and map illustrations, it is devastating to hear that hard copy topographic maps will become a thing of the past.

The mystical John Dee, occult philosopher of the Tudor era would probably understand the frustration stirred by Geosciences Australia’s decision to stop the production and selling of paper versions of topographic maps starting December due to dwindling demand.

Meanwhile, not everyone loves and gets maps for practical reasons. Brendan Whyte, curator at the National Library of Australia who is responsible for acquiring every copy of map published in Australia says that not all people appreciate electronic cartography.

According to Whyte, the problem with the development of geographic information systems (GIS) is everyone who makes maps just dumps data without considering aesthetics and what the map must try to tell the user. A map has to be beautiful so that users will look at it and absorb the information it wants to provide.

Whyte gives an example the artistic Marshall Island stick charts from the early 1970’s. Thin pieces of coconut wood were used to form a lattice-like cat’s cradle and whenever there was an atoll, it would lash on a little cowrie shell that represents the island. The little bits of coconut wood represent the routes, wave patterns, winds and currents. While it is not a geographical representation of a modern map, it is a creative navigation tool.

Librarian Sarah Ryan agrees that while digital maps are more convenient, there are people who prefer paper maps for recreational uses. When you visit a certain place, there is a strong connection because the maps show changes. There are so many skills required in the creation of map art because it is a snapshot of time and abstraction in place.

Map illustrators invest a lot of passion and creativity in the creation of map artwork because they want to deliver more than just geographical information. Map art delivers a realistic feeling about a region, area of attraction like from a human’s point of view.