David Woodward and J. B. Harley conceived of The History of Cartography series in 1977. It was born in an effort to encourage connoisseurs of maps, devotees of map history, and specialists dedicated to identifying and describing early maps to also consider how and why people have made and used maps. In the coming years, treating maps as cultural documents generated so many new insights that the resource they initially planned expanded from a four book series to six broadly inclusive and increasingly large volumes to be published in eight installments.
Woodward established what would become the History of Cartography Project at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1981. After Harley’s death in 1991 and then Woodward’s in 2004, Matthew Edney was appointed Project director in 2005.
The Project has prepared five published volumes. The first three volumes grew to become five books: Volume One, Volume Two (Books One, Two, and Three), and Volume Three. These books were published in a traditional format, written by a small number of authors with longer essays, and together they include 144 chapters, 2,740 illustrations, 5,060 pages, 16,023 footnotes, and 3.1 million words.
The editors decided to structure the last three volumes as large, multilevel, interpretive encyclopedias. For Volume Six, the first of the encyclopedic volumes to be published, 323 contributors provided 529 entries, arranged in alphabetical order and with a comprehensive volume index. Volume Six alone comprises 1,906 pages, 850,000 words, 5,115 references, and 1,153 illustrations, all bound in two parts. Volume Four, also bound in two parts and arranged in alphabetical order, contains 479 entries by 207 contributors. The volume is made up of 751,995 words and 954 illustrations. Volumes Four and Six were also published as e-books. Volume Five will have the same size, design, and use of color as Volumes Four and Six, and it will likewise be available in print and as an e-book.