What's the difference in meaning between "cartography" and "cartology"? Many sources on the internet would suggest that these words are synonyms but I'm sure they're not. I thought cartography is the process of making maps and cartology is the study of maps. As a supplemental question, what do you call someone who collects maps?

  • To the consternation of spermologers everywhere, a person who collects maps is apparently called a map collector. didyouknow.org/collectors
    – remarkl
    Commented Feb 19, 2019 at 14:18

1 Answer 1


Cartography is far, far more common than cartology, to the point where cartology hardly appears outside of academic texts and seems disputed within them. Some data points.

  1. Cartography is in the Oxford English Dictionary. Cartology is not.

  2. Cartography is far more common than cartology in corpus searches, including this NGram: Ngram of Cartology and Cartography

  3. Some early sources, like the 1879 Transactions of the Department of American History of the Minnesota Historical Society, seem to use cartology to mean the study of maps:

If "geography is the eye and light of history," it is well to note the cartology of the Lake Superior region.

A list of maps with descriptions follows. Compare this to a similar reference to maps in the 1887 edition of The Cartography of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, from Cartier to Champlain:

In reviewing the influence of Cartier's voyages on subsequent cartography and development of geographical knowledge, the first question which presents itself is, did Cartier leave any maps?

It's possible that writing and body of knowledge are being distinguished as "cartography" and "development of geographical knowledge," but otherwise cartography here seems similar to cartology in the other excerpt. Whatever it is (a technique for drawing maps or a body of knowledge shown through maps), reference to maps is necessary to understand it.

  1. In more modern texts, cartology seems to primarily come up in academic discourse, whereas cartography is a broader term for making or studying maps.

For instance, here is how one scholar mentioned in the journal Cartographica (1981) distinguishes cartology from cartography: cartology is equivalent to applied cartography:

Cartology he regarded as "a system of theoretical cartography ... and, moreover, the theoretical superstructure of applied cartography", the practical activities involved in map making.

The snippet goes on to mention scholars who disagree with the use of cartology. Other results largely correspond to this rarefied academic context.

In short, without doing a more complete cartography/cartology literature review, it feels like (a) cartography is more common as a term used to refer to maps, (b) there is some academic distinction between the technical practice of making maps (cartography) and a more theoretical kind of study of map work (cartology), and (c) in common use the distinction is not great enough or common enough to come up.

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