Cartography, the art of map making is a skill that has been crafted over the ages. The art has been in existence since man first made markings on cave walls. The earliest of maps were those of the heavens rather than the Earth. Dots were painted on the Lascaux caves to represent the stars in the sky. People then began drawing simple land forms that represented the area around them such as hills, mountains, and rivers.
Soon after, the Babylonians used actual surveying techniques to make maps. Walls and buildings, paths, rivers and hills represented villages. They even included the cardinal directions of North, South, East and West. Then the Egyptians were able to hone their surveying techniques even more so that they could map the areas along the Nile river in order to mark the boundaries after the flood receded.
With the advancements in technology, people have been able to use projections that are able to show whole areas of the Earth more clearly and with much more detail that we were able to before. Gerardus Mercator in 1569, wanted to make the world “look right” on maps. He used math to make a more accurate map for navigation. The Mercator projection map made all of the lines of latitude and longitude straight and perpendicular. This stretched the map from east to west as well as north to south. We still use the Mercator map today.
The Mercator projection was not the last map ever made. In fact there is another projection map that was made in 1855. James Gall used a different formula than that used by Mercator and the result is less skewed. Because there is less of a stretch north and south as well as east and west, the sizes of the continents are more closely to scale. So if you were to look at Greenland and Africa on the Mercator map, Greenland looks larger than Africa even though Africa is 14 times as large as Greenland. On the Gall/Peters projection Africa and Greenland are drawn to scale so Africa looks much larger.
In a world of satellites and Google maps, I think it will be interesting to see where mapping and cartography go from here. You can find more resources at http://icaci.org/.