Other posts related to maps

 | August 6, 2010 8:34 pm

Hunt-Lenox Globe 1I’ve always been intrigued by the phrase “Here Be Dragons” (in Latin “Hic Sunt Dracones”), which was sometimes used to denote dangerous or unexplored territories on older maps.  (Or at least, that’s how the phrase has passed into cultural memory.)  There’s just something romantic about it.  It conjures up thoughts of explorers, adventurers and pioneers heading off to uncharted domains just to see what was there.

Which is why I was shocked to learn that “Hear Be Dragons” or “Hic Sunt Dracones” doesn’t appear on a single historical map.

Not one.

The only place that you can find it is on the Hunt-Lenox globe – a small bronze globe created in the 16th century.*  The magical words appear off the eastern coast of China.

But even there, the actual meaning isn’t clear.  There’s no indication that it was used for uncharted regions or mysterious locales.  It may be referring to legends of the Komodo dragons, which were well known in Europe at the time.

Does this mean that the phrase and everything it has come to stand for is somehow fraudulent?

No, it doesn’t.

Literal representations of “Here Be Dragons” may be lacking, but there are many historical examples of similar admonitions (both verbal and pictorial), some of which are just as interesting.  Below, you can find a gallery of examples, spanning history from the Romans to the late Renaissance.**

Show me more… »

 | February 22, 2010 5:49 pm

Charles Minard - Railroad Routes

No study of the history of scientific communication can be complete without mention of Joseph Charles Minard, a 19th Century French civil engineer and cartographer.

At the end of his life, Minard created two very famous examples of statistical charts, called flow maps, that every scientist, engineer and student should be familair with.  The first showed Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps (218 BC, Second Punic War), and the second describes Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia (1812-1813).

Both examples are beautiful works of art and masterful examples of evidence.  But they are also more than that, they tell cohesive and interesting stories.  In this post, I thought it might be interesting to take a closer look at the history of Hannibal and Napoleon, and highlight the ways which Minard’s charts help us to explain their eventual outcome.

(Note: High resolution, PDF versions of the two maps are available for download.  These versions have been translated from the original French.  To download, either click on the images, or here for the Hannibal invasion of Northern Italy, and here for the French Invasion of Russia.)

Show me more… »