Established in 1959, the International Cartographic Association (ICA) is basically a technical organisation which has as its aim the advancement of the study of cartography and geo-information (GI) science. In particular the ICA is concerned with the processing, storage and analysis of cartographic source material and the design, construction, reproduction and display techniques of maps and associated forms of graphic communications. Because historical maps and historical cartographic material are an integral part of modern cartographic databases, the ICA also has an interest in the history of cartography.

Although the history of cartography did not feature as one of the first commissions of the ICA to be established, the international cartographic community soon realised the importance of cartography’s historical context. In 1972 a Working Group was established, and in 1976 this group was given commission status. In 1985 this commission became the Standing Commission on the History of Cartography – one of four in the association. When the ICA General Assembly abolished Standing Commissions in 1999, the Commission on the History of Cartography (CHoC) continued to function. Chaired by the following eminent historians of cartography, the CHoC has, over the years, contributed significantly to the study and knowledge of historical maps:

  • Dr Helen Wallis (UK), 1972 to 1976, and 1976-1987;
  • Mdme Monique Pelletier (France), 1987-1995;
  • Prof Matthew Edney (USA), 1995 -1999;
  • Dr Christopher Board (UK), 1999-2003;
  • Prof Alexei Postnikov (Russia), 2003-2007; and
  • Prof Elri Liebenberg (South-Africa), 2007-2015.

The history of cartography covers a vast field of knowledge and includes all maps and map-like graphics ever made by humankind. However, to compile and use modern maps the cartographer and map user seldom, if ever, requires cartographical information older than 1800 CE. Given this, the CHoC will concentrate on the history of cartography during the 19th and 20th centuries only.

Older maps are equally fascinating but their contents do not contribute sufficiently to modern cartography to merit their inclusion. For the study of pre-18th century maps, well-established international organisations such as Imago Mundi Ltd. exist, which organizes the bi-annual International Conference on the History of Cartography (ICHC), as well as the International Map Collectors’ Society (IMCOS) and ISCEM the International Society of Curators of Early Maps (ISCEM). For your information links to the websites of these institutions appear on this website.