Some Maps That Changed the World

Peter Barber, Head of Map Collections at the British Library, has compiled a list of 10 “maps that changed the world. It is utterly fascinating. Among the 10: the USSR’s Be on Guard! map, a Chinese Globe from 1623, Google Maps, and an 1889 “Descriptive Map of London Poverty” that resulted in London’s first council houses. Alas, William Smith’s geological survey of the U.K., known to fans of Simon Winchester as, literally, The Map That Changed the World, didn’t make the cut. (HT: Chris Blattman) [%comments]

Ian Kemmish

My candidate, which also didn't make the cut, would have to be John Snow's map of cholera outbreaks around Broad Street.

Josh Moses

What about the Napoleonic invasion map by Minard?

Rudiger in Jersey

Who was Amerigo Vespucci? When the New World was discovered by Columbus and Cabral and Drake, the new continents should have been called North and South Columbia or Cabralia or Drakeland instead of North and South America.

Amerigo wa a mapmaker who was a second rate explorer. He made maps and was mistakenly identified as the New World Discoverer. The maps were widely distributed and the error perpetuated. Now it is one of the most common place names uttered in the planet.

At least we were not named North Vespuccia.

Luis Santos

What about Amerigo Vespuccio's maps of the American Continent!

Joe D

Rudiger @3: Many people mistakenly believe that the conventional (or church) wisdom was the "the world, she's a-flat," and Columbus was setting out to prove "the world, she's a-round." Not so. It was widely known that the earth was a sphere, but Columbus had vastly underestimated its circumference. He truly believed he had reached "the Indies" (southeast Asia), giving rise to the "West Indies" name for those islands today.

Vespucci did the math *correctly*, drew the maps, and had the new continents named for himself.

Eric M. Jones

A list like this is like a list of your favorite Ice Creams. But if you have to have a list, Nicholas Sanson's 1650 map of North America is pretty good.

Try the Ben and Jerry's creme brûlée....!


What a marvelous list - it's truly amazing how the efforts and work of a few someone's from centuries past can still have such far reaching effects today --- Makes me wonder about the effect of today's mapping developments, like Google Earth, on future generations.

You can find me at Life: Forward ( talking about women, the wage gender gap, and body image.

Eric M. Jones

@2--Josh Moses

"What about the Napoleonic invasion map by Minard?"

I'd be with you on that, but I think it is too far outside the definition of "Map" to be considered.


How about the maps of checkpoints - and the bribes and delays associated with them - along primary trade corridors in West Africa? These maps have helped raise awareness of the governance issues that affect the region's competitiveness. So they haven't changed the world, but maybe they could?