I love the beauty of old maps. They evoke a sense of curiosity, adventure, and discovery of the unknown. Sea monsters and the “island” of California are well known features of antique maps. On their face they tell us of mysterious creatures in the seas and the unexplored land of North America. But they tell us so much more than just the state if the world; old maps tell us about our past selves. Perhaps the sea monster is the effort of a cartographer to make sense of strange tales from seafarers. If so, “here be dragons” is as much about warning readers of potential danger as it is an early and crude placeholder in an ecological inventory of the planet’s life. The “island” of California tells us that early mapmakers had imperfect information, but it also tells of an age of optimism where paradise might lie just over the horizon.
My particular interest is in comparative views, which show geologic features side by side for comparison. They may not look like maps, but they are! Join me in studying these fascinating pieces!