Since first hearing of Newcastle born Charles Hutton in 2014, I have been chasing the history of a line. Each time contour lines were ‘invented’ it was in response to a particular problem which required a (visual) solution – on a map. Lines on maps are usually drawn to define boundaries – often for defence or attack – or for states and landowners to visualise and quantify what they possess. Contours range across those maps, they traverse boundary lines.
Through trial and experimentation, and arguments for and against their adoption, they have come to represent an elegant solution for the depiction of mountains, valleys and plateaus flattened onto paper.