Maps and Wars

In 1748, the first systematic national topographical survey in France (and the first of its kind in Europe) culminated in the publication of the 182-sheet Carte geometrique de la France. On inspection, Louis XV remarked that the more accurate data captured in the survey resulted in a “loss” of more territory than his wars of conquest had gained. This survey work “established the basic principles of national mapping which are still employed throughout the world today,” says the Library of Congress

“Over the past decade, Google Earth and Google Maps have become the online cartographic resources of reference. But popularity does not bestow authority. The lines that Google draws on maps have no government’s imprimatur. Yet by virtue of its ubiquity, Google is often the arbiter of first recourse for borders and toponyms. So where Google’s maps show borders or place names that deviate from official usage or stray into international disputes, they may cause confusion, offense or worse.

…the border dispute between Nicas and Ticos was not merely the result of a simple Google glitch. Rather, and this is the dangerous part of the whole enterprise, Google Maps’ imprecision reignited a long-standing border dispute that, with a few miscalculations, could have led to a real war.”–Frank Jacobs, “The First Google Maps War,” The New York Times, February 28, 2012

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