The Guide to Maps and Mapping

Cartography is the study of creating maps. Cartographers are both artists and scientists who create those maps. Most maps relate spatial information two-dimensionally in order to communicate location, other geographic themes or information. Physical maps can be either flat, spherical like a globe, or digital.

There are two basic kinds of locational maps: topographic and topological. Topographic maps are produced to a standard scale, while topological maps are not. Maps have always been used to aid travelers regarding location. As information science and the need for a new way to disseminate information grew, mapping began to include themes. Dot maps for instance depict storm damage in a certain location, or how much soybean is produced in a certain state. The main purpose is to make the map meaningful to its user by keeping to a standardsymbology or legend, so that the map regardless of type, conveys the information necessary to the user who deems it valuable.

Maps and Atlases

Maps and atlases illustrate location. Maps are spatial, physical representations of a region, usually two-dimensional and built to scale. Atlases are map collections. One such atlas would be a driving atlas of the United States where each state is drawn to a specific scale, with mileage and points of interest usually depicted per numerical representation or symbols. Atlases can also be cultural, developed with themes in mind such as language mapping and related cultural or thematic maps.

  • Geologic Atlas of the Moon: Mercator and Lambert Conformal projections of maps including: Kepler, Aristarchus, Copernicus, and the Riphaeus Mountains. Scale 1:1,000,000.
  • Digital Globe: Try flying around the Earth or the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Click on the maps for full resolution imaging.
  • World of Maps: Links to map archives, history, institutions, and curators.
  • Cultural Maps: Maps that depict certain themes that can be bound together to create atlases.
  • Map Projections: Guide to map projections in cartography texts with ratings.

Ancient Maps and Cartographers

Maps are relative to the era in which they are produced. A map from ancient Mesopotamia is likely to cover the region as the cartographer understood its boundaries, unlike today’s maps that draw on computer imagery more than personal information in order to create them. Cartographers were likely to be mathematicians and philosophers in the ancient world. Ptolemy is perhaps the most famous of these ancient cartographers having created a treatise on cartography containing his world map.

  • Free Maps for Students: Small resolution maps of ancient regions for teacher and student use, including blank maps for quizzes.
  • Historic Earth: Interactive site for genealogists, just click on the home page map and bring up historical maps of your chosen area.
  • Ptolemy: The biography of Ptolemy. His world map ranges from around 60°N to 30°S.
  • Geographia: Ptolemy’s treatise on cartography, online edition.
  • Portolan Charts: Also known as vellum charts, for the material that they were made on around the 13th century.
  • Vesconte World Map: Image circa 1321 AD, this map has a top orientation of East, not North.
  • Waldseemuller World Map: Known as “America’s birth certificate,” Martin Waldseemüller’s map is the first document to carry the word America.
  • Pleiades: Scholarly site dedicated to maps of the Greek and Roman worlds.

Map Collections

Atlases are collections of maps, whether they be of driving maps, maps of the ocean, or maps of the brain. The Library of Congress possesses the most extensive collection in the United States, while universities and online portals have more specialized collections as a rule. Thematic map collections include medical atlases, population atlases, and genealogical atlases. Prior to the dawn of the computer age, most atlases were collections aimed at getting a person or community of persons from point A to point B.

  • The Library of Congress: Map collections include cities, towns, conservation, environment, cultural landscapes, military battles, military campaigns, discovery, exploration, transportation, communication, and general maps.
  • California Map Collection: Hundreds of California high resolution maps, including maps developed before California became a state.
  • Globalization Maps: Site deals with geographic globalization, animated narratives, data sets, analysis, and studies.
  • Afriterra: Non-profit archive and library which seeks to preserve its collection of original, rare African maps.
  • Map Gateway: Online accessible map collections from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Cartographic and Geographical Societies

Cartography functions as a historical and cultural tool as much as it does mapping the earth. Promoting cartography and the dissemination of geographical information is a key function of most cartographic societies. Most are geared toward academia, but many include private and professional cartographers or those who have a keen interest in maps. Cartographic societies usually meet at least annually and host map competitions or other gatherings to facilitate interest in mapping and geographic information issues.

  • Free ACMLA Resources: The Association of Canadian Map Libraries and Archives geospacial databases.
  • The Cartography and Geographic Information Society: CaGIS hosts an annual map design competition. The organization exists to promote the use of maps in decision-making. and serves as a forum for exchanging ideas that will lead to a better quality of life.
  • North East Map Organization: NEMO is the umbrella for those in the cartography information business in the Eastern United States, although members can be found in Canada and Europe.

Cartography General Resources

Here are some additional cartography links that you may find useful:

  • Geographic Support: GRASS is the Geographic Resources Analysis Support System. This GIS or Geographic Information System software is free and can be used for map production.
  • Geodata: The government portal for recent geographic data and standards.
  • Journals: Interested in the history of cartography? Here is an index of newsletters and journals.
  • Photogrammetry: Photogrammetrists create detailed maps off of aerial photos and remote sensing information. Map editors verify information.

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