One Hundred Years of National Geographic Maps

National Geographic’s cartographic department turns 100 this year. Over the last century, we’re told, they’ve “produced 438 supplement maps, ten world atlases, dozens of globes, about 3,000 maps for the magazine, and many maps in digital form.” These include political maps of the world’s borders, geological maps of land and sea, migratory maps of the world’s animals, space maps of planets, solar systems and galaxies, and on it goes.

Last year, during the 50th anniversary publication of National Geographic’s original Atlas of the World, the Society and Google integrated about 500 maps into relevant Google basemaps. Those can be found here.

Mapping, no doubt, is difficult business. It needs to take into account the emergence of new countries, the dissolution of others, geographical changes and updates, and an ever changing lexicon of place names.

For example:

Most changes in toponymy… are due to changes in how we convert, or “romanize,” names from non-Latin alphabets, such as Greek, Georgian, and Amharic, into words written in Latin characters. In China alone, thousands of place names receive different treatment than they did before the Wade-Giles romanization system was replaced by Hanyu Pinyin in the late 1970s. Thus, the Chinese cities formerly spelled Ch’ingtao and Peking now appear as Qingdao and Beijing.

For typography nerds, here’s a bit on the evolution of type throughout National Geographic’s history. Until the 1930s the maps were hand-lettered.

Want more maps? See here.

Images: Map of the Milky Way (top), trash in the world’s oceans (middle left), human migratory patterns (middle right) and a map of the Atlantic Ocean floor. Select to embiggen.

Michael Cervieri

Michael Cervieri is the creator of the Future Journalism Project where he explores better ways to produce, consume and understand the news. He has taught Internet and Mobile communication technologies at both the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the university’s School of International and Public Affairs. (Twitter | Contact)