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Atlases have traditionally been bound into book form, but today many atlases are in multimedia formats. In addition to presenting geographic features and political boundaries, many atlases often feature geopolitical, social, religious and economic statistics. They also have information about the map and places in it.
The use of the word atlas in a geographical context dates from 1595 when the geographer Gerardus Mercator published Atlas Sive Cosmographicae Meditationes de Fabrica Mundi et Fabricati Figura. (Atlas or cosmographical meditations upon the creation of the universe, and the universe as created.) This title provides Mercator's definition of the word as a description of the creation and form of the whole universe, not simply as a collection of maps. The volume that was published posthumously one year after his death is a wide-ranging text but, as the editions evolved, it became simply a collection of maps and it is in that sense that the word was used from the middle of the seventeenth century. The neologism coined by Mercator was a mark of his respect for King Atlas of Mauretania whom he considered to be the first great geographer and it is that King who is portrayed on the frontispiece of the 1595 edition, however, by the time of the 1636 edition, the frontispiece image had become the Titan Atlas supporting the globe.
The first work that contained systematically arranged woodcut maps of uniform size, intended to be published in a book, thus representing the first modern atlas, was De Summa totius Orbis (1524–26) by the 16th-century Italian cartographer Pietro Coppo. Nonetheless, this distinction is conventionally awarded to the Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortelius who in 1570 published the collection of maps Theatrum Orbis Terrarum.
A travel atlas is made for easy use during travel, and often has spiral bindings so it may be folded flat (for example Geographers' A-Z Map Company famous A-Z Atlases). It has maps at a large zoom so the maps can be reviewed easily. A travel atlas may also be referred to as a road map.
A desk atlas is made similar to a reference book. It may be in hardback or paperback form.
Some cartographically or commercially important atlases include the following:
- 17th century and earlier
- Atlas Novus (Blaeu, Netherlands, 1635–1658)
- Atlas Maior (Blaeu, Netherlands, 1662–1667)
- Cartes générales de toutes les parties du monde (France, 1658–1676)
- Dell'Arcano del Mare (England/Italy, 1645–1661)
- Piri Reis map (Ottoman Empire, 1570–1612)
- Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Ortelius, Netherlands, 1570–1612)
- Klencke Atlas (1660; one of the world's largest books)
- The Brittania (John Ogilby, 1670–1676)
- 18th century
- Atlas Nouveau (Amsterdam, 1742)
- Britannia Depicta (London, 1720)
- Cary's New and Correct English Atlas (London, 1787)
- 19th century
- Andrees Allgemeiner Handatlas (Germany, 1881–1939; in the UK as Times Atlas of the World, 1895)
- Rand McNally Atlas (United States, 1881–present)
- Stielers Handatlas (Germany, 1817–1944)
- Times Atlas of the World (United Kingdom, 1895–present)
- 20th century
- Atlante Internazionale del Touring Club Italiano (Italy, 1927–1978)
- Atlas Mira (Soviet Union/Russia, 1937–present)
- Geographers' A–Z Street Atlas (United Kingdom, 1938–present)
- Gran Atlas Aguilar (Spain, 1969/1970)
- The Historical Atlas of China (China)
- National Geographic Atlas of the World (United States, 1963–present)
- Pergamon World Atlas (1962/1968)
- 21st century
- Atlas of Our Changing Environment
- Bird atlas
- European Atlas of the Seas
- Fictitious entry
- Google Maps
- NASA World Wind
- National Atlas of the United States
- Star atlas
- Theatrum Orbis Terrarum
- Mercator's own account of the reasons for choosing King Atlas are given in the preface of the 1595 atlas. A translation by David Sullivan is available in a digital version of the atlas published by Octavo. The text is freely available at the New York Society Library Archived March 10, 2016, at the Wayback Machine., pdf page 104 (corresponding to p34 of Sullivan's text).
- "Road map". Merriam Webster. Retrieved 2012-05-31.
- Greeley, Ronald; Batson, Raymond. The NASA Atlas of the Solar System. ISBN 978-0521561273.
- Schwartz, John (2008-04-22). "The Body in Depth". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-05-07.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Atlas.|
- Online atlases
- World Atlas
- ÖROK-Atlas Online: Atlas on spatial development in Austria
- Geography Network
- MapChart EarthAtlas, free online atlas with interactive maps about topics like demography, economy, health and environment.
- National Geographic MapMachine
- History of atlases
- Atlases, at the US Library of Congress site - a discussion of many significant atlases, with some illustrations. Part of Geography and Maps, an Illustrated Guide.
- Historical atlases online
- Centennia Historical Atlas required reading at the US Naval Academy for over a decade.
- Historical map web sites list, Perry-Castañeda Library, University of Texas
- Ryhiner Collection Composite atlas with maps, plans and views from the 16th-18th centuries, covering the globe, with about 16,000 images in total.
- Manuscript Atlases held by the University of Pennsylvania Libraries - fully digitized with descriptions.
- Historical Altas in Persuasive Cartography, The PJ Mode Collection, Cornell University Library
- Other links