A Brief History of Maps

Lab Reports, Timelines

History of Cartography


This is the summary of a simple information visualization exercise conducted in class on the Knightlab Timeline, a tool that can help to visualize information in a interactive timeline format.

The topic I wanted to focus on was specifically on the history of cartography, since I felt inspired by the information provided and the History of Infographics by R. J. Andrews. The format of the website that the history of infographics was presented on was very engaging and hat key events displayed throughout its timeline. Me, as a novice to the topic, felt that this was a great way to be introduced to the history of infographics.

I specifically want to discover where the history of cartography started and how the different parts of the world were visualized and mapped out when the tools were not available to make a detailed map like it is possible today. The ultimate goal is to create a timeline that anyone could use as a starting point for learning about the history of cartography.

Materials & Data


When first approaching this exercise my first instinct was to google the history of mapping. A quick search revealed that there is a lot of material on cartography and its history so I had to become more precise in what I wanted to find out and questions I wanted to answer specifically.

I started to focus on question I thought were relevant to anyone who has never learned about the history of cartography. I wanted to answer questions like: “When were the first maps made?”,”How did different parts of the world interpret the world around them?” and “When did maps become what we know them to be today?”.

Now that the search was narrowed down it was very easy to quickly find the necessary information to answer these questions. With the information readily available it only had to be put into the spreadsheet that would import it to the online timeline.

Google Sheets used to import information into the timeline

The use of the spreadsheet turned out to be very easy, especially since the download of the spreadsheet from the Knightlab website provided not only all the necessary setups, like all the labeled columns and rows for the data that can be manipulated within the timeline but also included some examples timeline events that showed which information would show in the output of the timeline.


The result of inputting all the information showed that one can create a very simple but effective interactive timeline that can used in presentations, learning material or simply as a embedded timeline that engages the user of a website more than traditional presented information.

History of Cartography

Reflection & Future Direction

There are many things that can be improved when looking at the timeline about the history of cartography. More types of media could be used to present the topic and more detailed events could possibly enhance the takeaway for a viewer from looking through the timeline. There are however, restrictions to the Knightlab Timeline that will not allow to fully create the best timeline possible.

The customization of the timeline is very limited. When looking at different timelines created with Knighlab Timeline it is quickly clear what pattern they follow. It is simple right and left slider that shows an overview of a timeline with events. As restrictive as the format might be, the results are as effective as they can be for an open source timeline creation tool and most importantly put order into what could be just a bunch of information in a few easy steps; it creates order and simple design and is accessible to everyone.