Palaeogeography is the cartographic representation of the past distribution of geographic features such as deep oceans, shallow seas, lowlands, rivers, lakes and mountain belts on palinspastically restored plate tectonic base maps. It is closely connected with plate tectonics which grew from an earlier theory of continental drift and is largely responsible for creating and structuring the Earth's lithosphere. Today, palaeogeography is an integral part of the Earth sciences curriculum. Commonly, with some exceptions, only the most recent state of research is presented; the historical aspects of how we actually came to the insights which we take for granted are rarely discussed, if at all. It is remarkable how much was already known about the changing face of the Earth more than three centuries before the theory of plate tectonics, despite the fact that most of our present analytical tools or our models were unavailable then. Here, we aim to present a general conspectus from the dawn of ‘palaeogeography’ in the 16th century onwards. Special emphasis is given to innovative ideas and scientific milestones, supplemented by memorable anecdotes, which helped to advance the theories of continental drift and plate tectonics, and finally led to the establishment of palaeogeography as a recognized discipline of the Earth sciences.