The Art of Cartography: BBC Film Shows Off Medieval Maps

Though removed from the BBC's website, "The Beauty of Maps," a guide to some of the world's great objects, persists on YouTube

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One of the first printings of the earliest example of a map of the world (1483). Originally drawn in the 7th century as an illustration of Isidore of Seville's Etymologiarum. Library of Congress


More than a year ago, I featured the BBC's excellent program The Beauty of Maps: Seeing Art in Cartography, at the time viewable only on the BBC's highly restrictive iPlayer. The series has since been pulled from iPlayer and is unavailable on DVD—a shame of media obsolescence, since it was a remarkable celebration of creativity in cartography. But its presence on YouTube, more than a clandestine treat for map-lovers, makes a powerful case in the copyright debate on having "illegal" content online, even if it's unavailable elsewhere. It breaks my heart to think about the invaluable knowledge and insight rotting away in siloed archives and, in my book, any law that enables this is a broken law and one that begs breaking. Enjoy.

"Our love affair with maps is as old as civilization itself. Each map tells its own story and hides its own secret. Maps delight, they unsettle, they reveal deep truths, not just about where we come from, but about who we are."

"Hereford's Mappamundi is many things—an encyclopedia of all the world's knowledge, a memento mori, a remarkable piece of medieval art. It remains a unique testament of a vanished world and a vivid illustration of the depth, complexity and artistic genius of maps themselves."

For more on the genius and charisma of cartography, don't miss these 7 must-read books on maps.


This post also appears on Brain Pickings.

Presented by

Maria Popova is the editor of Brain Pickings. She writes for Wired UK and GOOD, and is an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow.

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