Map creation arose over 5,000 years ago from our desire to explore the world and has given us the ability to gain some perspective about the landscape we live in.

As Maps International celebrates its 50th year, in this article we will explore the traditional uses of maps in modern history and how through cultural changes and trends they have become more prevalent in art and home decor.

Map Uses

Navigational Maps have played a vital role in our ability to plan our travel routes. We have used these physical maps for hundreds of years to explore places and travel across oceans. Navigational maps also exist for activities such as trekking and cycling. Maps allow us to discover land, sea and air through road maps, nautical and aeronautical charts. The digital age has given us portable navigation with sat navs and mobile devices which feature GPS tracking.

Maps used as general reference tools are also important in our everyday lives. There is an abundance of data available with maps such as location information on  railways, bus stations, post offices, schools, hospitals and places of interest to name a few. By searching the internet we are able to source maps to find out ‘where’ places are in our world.

We also use maps to communicate to each other. For example the media use maps to convey information or a story that are difficult to express verbally. Maps can also be used to convince and persuade, or even as propaganda tools.

In business we use maps as planning tools so that we can identify the best business location or to map our customers and competitors.

Maps as decorative art

Giant world map for the home

Giant world map for the home

By their nature, tangible maps are a snapshot in history. A record of our world at the time a map maker created their work. Looking back at maps in history is what is most interesting as they tell a story of how society saw itself at that particular time. Perhaps it’s this story which allows us to view maps as things of beauty and as decorative art we adorn our walls with.

To see how maps were introduced to the home as pieces of art we have to look at home decor in a historical context. Post war years saw a renaissance in interior design where normally functional aspects of the home were now seen as design pieces. Mass production and contemporary home decor has allowed us to introduce a variety of designs into our living room. This choice has placed maps at the top of the shopping list when it comes to decorating our home.

The internet has a multitude of ‘Getting creative with maps’ , with DIY style guides on making unique creations for the home. From building your own canvas map wall art to map decoupage, these have become trend guides and fuelled the popularity for maps in the home.

Maps have the ability to draw your eyes in to explore its detail and can be a real talking point. We all have a story to tell which involves a map. Whether it’s a place you were born or where you met your significant other. These tangible representations of our world are much more than the functional tools we normally use them for. They represent who we are as people and allow each of us to tell our own stories. So apart from being aesthetically pleasing on the eye these symbolic depictions give us the ability to introduce personalised art into our homes.