Cartography, the art and science of graphically representing a geographical area, usually on a flat surface such as a map or chart. It may involve the superimposition of political, cultural, or other non geographical divisions onto the representation of a geographical area. Cartography is the production of maps, including construction of projections, design, compilation, drafting, and reproduction. cartography as the discipline dealing with the conception, production, dissemination and study of maps. Cartography is also about representation – the map. This means that cartography is the whole process of mapping.

Cartography is a complex, an ever-changing field, but at the center of it is the map-making process. Viewed in the broadest sense, this process includes everything from the gathering, evaluation and processing of source data, through the intellectual and graphical design of the map, to the drawing and reproduction of the final document. As such, it is a unique mixture of science, art and technology and calls for a variety of in-depth knowledge and skills on the part of the cartographer. Sometimes one person directs this entire sequence of cartographic activities, but this occurs only in relatively simple cases. In the creation of a map, it is much more common for the various tasks to be split up and accomplished by several individuals.

Cartography is much more than just map-making, however. It is also an academic discipline in its own right. It has its own professional associations (regional, national and international), journals, conferences, educational programs and its own identity. As a discipline, it embraces not only cartographers who make maps, but also cartographers who teach about maps and cartographers who do research on maps. Once seen as the products of a relatively straightforward practical exercise, maps are now viewed as complex intellectual images offering a rich potential for scientific investigation. Whether the thrust of the research is cognitive, mathematical, historical, perceptual or technological, cartographers are exploiting this potential to the fullest.

Cartography today has two essential characteristics. First of all, it is important. Maps perform a fundamental and indispensable role as one of the underpinnings of civilization. Few activities relating to the earth’s surface, whether land use planning, property ownership, weather forecasting, road construction, locational analysis, emergency response, forest management, mineral prospecting, navigation–the list is endless–would be practicable without maps. And never has this role been more vital than it is today. Humanity faces severe problems, many of them environmental in nature, and effective mapping is crucial if solutions are to be found. In conjunction with the great data gathering capabilities and analytical power of remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS), cartography, in many instances, provides the key to finding solutions.

Cartography is an ancient discipline that dates from the prehistoric depiction of hunting and fishing territories. The Babylonians mapped the world in a flattened, disk-shaped form, but Claudius Ptolemaeus (Ptolemy) established the basis for subsequent efforts in the 2nd century ce with his eight-volume work Ge?graphik? hyph?g?sis (Guide to Geography) that showed a spherical Earth. Maps produced during the  Middle ages followed Ptolemy’s guide, but they used Jerusalem as the central feature and placed East at the top. Those representations are often called T-maps because they show only three continents (Europe, Asia, and Africa), separated by the “T” formed by the Mediterranean Sea and the Nile River. More accurate geographical representation began in the 14th century when portolan (seamen’s) charts were compiled for navigation. The discovery of the New World by Europeans led to the need for new techniques in cartography, particularly for the systematic representation on a flat surface of the features of a curved surface—generally referred to as a projection (e.g., Mercator projection, cylindrical projection, and Lambert conformal projection). During the 17th and 18th centuries there was a vast outpouring of printed maps of ever-increasing accuracy and sophistication. Systematic surveys were undertaken involving triangulation that greatly improved map reliability and precision. Noteworthy among the scientific methods introduced later was the use of the telescope for determining the length of a degree of longitude.

Modern cartography largely involves the use of aerial and, increasingly, satellite photographs as a base for any desired map or chart. The procedures for translating photographic data into maps are governed by the principles of photogrammetry and yield a degree of accuracy previously unattainable. The remarkable improvements in satellite photography since the late 20th century and the general availability on the Internet of satellite images have made possible the creation of Google Earth and other databases that are widely available online. Satellite photography has also been used to create highly detailed maps of features of the Moon and of several planets in our solar system and their satellites. In addition, the use of geographic information systems (GIS) has been indispensible in expanding the scope of cartographic subjects.