Historical Maps

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Historical Maps


maps that reflect historical phenomena and events and that illustrate the interdependence of social developments of the past and geographic factors.

Historical maps show the distribution of ancient cultures and states, indicate social movements and trade routes, and so on. They are subdivided into archaeological, ethnographic, his-toricoeconomic, historicopolitical, historicorevolutionary, military-historical, and historicocultural. Within these branches, historical maps may be general, delineating processes as a whole, or specialized, showing individual aspects of phenomena, events, or facts. Maps may be important in and of themselves (for example, reference and instructional maps and atlases) or have illustrative purposes (maps in works of history).

Historical maps were first included in an atlas by A. Ortelius, in his Atlas of the Geography of the Ancient World (1579). This was followed by the appearance of historical sections in the atlases of the Sansons and in the Duval atlas (latter half of the 17th century); the 18th century saw publication of the maps of J. B. d’Anville.

In the 19th and 20th centuries in a number of capitalist countries, national historical atlases were brought out containing maps of population distribution and administrative divisions; in some countries (Great Britain, the United States, France, and Finland) maps were also produced on the history of the economy and culture. Historical atlases likewise made their appearance in Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria.

Russian historical maps began appearing in the first quarter of the 18th century, with the publication in 1713 of the Book of Martial or Military Deeds by Troops of His Majesty the Tsar of the Russians …, a collection of plans, maps, and diagrams accompanied by explanatory texts of dispatches and war diaries on the battles fought by Russian troops in the Northern War of 1700–21. Appended to each dispatch was an engraved plan of battle as well as engravings of fortresses. Next to make their appearance were a considerable number of manuscript maps in the area of military history, picturing major victories on land and sea. The publication of the first Historical Map of the Russian Empire dates back to 1793.

In the 19th century and the early 20th century, atlases and individual maps were published in political, military, and economic areas; these included the Historical, Chronological, and Geographic Atlas of the Russian State, Compiled by I. Akhmatov on the Basis of Karamzin’s History (parts 1 and 2, 1829–31), N. I. Pavlishchev’s Historical Atlas of Russia (1845), the Instructional Atlas of Russian History of E. E. Zamyslovskii (1865 and 1887), and the Instructional Atlas of Russian History for Secondary and Elementary Educational Institutions of A. Il’in (1868).

Maps and atlases treating economic problems were published by the resettlement office of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, by the Ministry of Trade, and by other government bodies. P. I. Keppen (1851) and A. F. Rittikh (1875) published ethnographic maps. The historical military maps brought out had an ancillary function, either accompanying descriptions of the wars of 1799, 1805–15, 1828–29, 1853–56, 1877–78, and 1904–05 or delineating state boundaries and the most likely theaters of military actions.

Soviet historical maps not only reflect historical phenomena, events, and facts but also show their cause-and-effect connections. Speaking specifically of the preparation of Soviet geographic atlases, V. I. Lenin offered guidelines that have had a great effect on the general development of historical cartography. Lenin noted the prime importance of the historical approach in the interpretation of social phenomena and processes, and he underscored the special importance of historicoeconomic maps (see Leninskii sbornik, vol. 20, 1932, pp. 317–23; vol. 23, 1933, pp. 206–08; vol. 34, 1942, pp. 344–45). Soviet historians have produced a number of atlases; among these are the Russian Historical Atlas (1928) of K. V. Kudriashov and the Atlas of the History of the USSR by K. V. Bazilevich, I. A. Golubtsov, and M. A. Zinov’ev (parts 1–3, 1948–50). Atlases of the Union republics, containing historical sections, have been published since the Great Patriotic War (1941–45). The events of military history are reflected in the Atlas of Maps and Diagrams on Russian Military History (1946) of L. G. Beskrovnyi, The Officer’s Atlas (1947), and Naval Atlas (vol. 3, 1958). Very important are the sets of historical maps included in the multivolumed Outlines of the History of the USSR (1953–56), History of the USSR From Earliest Times to Our Day (1966–71), and World History (195569) and in encyclopedias and individual historical studies. A large number of instructional maps and atlases have been issued for secondary and higher schools.

Of substantial interest are thematic atlases: Lenin: Historico-biographical Atlas (1970), Atlas of the History of Geographical Discoveries and Explorations (1959), and the ethnographic atlas Map of the Peoples of the USSR (1966).

As maps become obsolete, they take on the function of historical source material, to which the principles of historical source analysis are applicable. This type of source calls for the use of special research methods and a knowledge not only of history but also of historical and general geography. The scientific discipline that studies historical maps and the methods of producing them is called historical cartography.


Preobrazhenskii, A. I. Sostavlenie i redaktirovanie spetsiaVnykh kart. Moscow, 1961.
Iatsunskii, V. K. Istoricheskaia geografiia. Moscow, 1955.
Gol’denberg, L. A. “Istoricheskaia geografiia.” In Sovetskaia istoricheskaia entsiklopediia, vol. 6. Moscow, 1965. Pages 517–23.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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