I love historical dramas, especially ones that include exploration scenes of people on ships sailing across oceans, looking for new lands to explore. Now and then, you will hear the word cartographer or mapmaker mentioned on those ships. There was a cartographer on all of those exploring vessels: how else would you document the new land, know how to navigate back to it, or get back home if you didn’t have a map maker? These cartographers made exquisite and ornate maps, almost as if they were art.
Then we discovered all the land on the earth, mapped it, documented it, and studied it. What was left for the cartographers of the world? They turned to more specific avenues of mapping, like drawing out the topographic relief or contours of the earth, making maps of city streets with directions on where to find the courthouses, doctors, or the post office. However, as more maps were completed, the study of geography and cartography was almost forgotten except by scholars and the military.
Fast forward to today and now geography is flourishing. The world is ever-changing, and maps are needed to document these changes. Now, through the technology of remote sensing, we can tell you how much snow is on the mountains or if your crops are receiving enough water before they even show signs of stress. Or we can look back in time and determine how much your city has changed over the years in physical dimensions, demographic statistics, or structurally by mapping the expansion of buildings.
With the Henry’s Fork Foundation this summer, I viewed communities along the Henry’s Fork incrementally over time, studied changes in farmland and irrigation patterns, and quantified water returns to the river all with mapping. With the help of Rob Van Kirk and a few others at HFF, I was able to develop a plan on how to increase groundwater so it can seep back into the river and aid the aquatic life and fisheries in the Henry’s Fork. All of this was done while sitting in my home office, outside of Atlanta, or visiting my family’s farm in Western Kentucky. This is cartography and geography today. It isn’t an elaborate artistic rendering of new lands discovered, it is supporting the environment, communities, and individuals all from 1,939 miles away.
World map from Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (“Theatre of the World”) by Abraham Ortelius, 1570.
Can you find Ashton on this map from 1955? Hint, look at the bottom.
What some maps look like today. Did you know Rexburg has grown 2,943.38 acres since 1985?