~ Ken Jennings, record-setting Jeopardy! champion and author of
Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks (Simon & Schuster, 2012)
As a self-proclaimed map nerd and illustrator, I love everything about maps — their history, their construction, their applications, their value and their meaning — and I want to share that passion with you! Maps are educational, entertaining, enlightening, engaging and enchanting. This page is a collection of various map-related history, information and trivia that I find interesting and valuable to a general understanding of maps and our interactions with them. You’ll see I’ve included links to map samples and others sites for further exploration. Enjoy!
MILESTONES IN MAPMAKING
Long before humans invented words and writing, they communicated with graphical representations of their perception of the world around them — yes, they used maps! The history of mapmaking (formerly called cartography and defined as the production of maps, including construction of projections, design, compilation, drafting, and reproduction) goes back thousands of year. Simply put, the history of mapmaking is the history of humans — their settlement, expansion, exploration, migration, conquest and discovery of this planet we share. As long as there have been humans, there have been maps. And today, it seems, there are more maps available to us than ever before!
Below is very abbreviated list of some historical highlights. Click here for a visual tour (this will open a new window)
Today, in this age of all things digital, Google Maps is the most-used navigational tool worldwide (the app is used by 70% of all mobile phone users). With Google having over 7,100 employees and contractors directly working in mapping (as of 2012, according to Wikipedia), Google Maps has certainly become the most powerful mapmaker in the world. Not only do they get us from Point A to Point B in the most efficient way possible, but they have set a most ambitious goal of mapping the entire globe, right down to street level! But despite their omnipresence, they are by no means the only map out there. There is, quite literally, a map for everything!
Below is a list I compiled of common — and not so common — map types in use (historically and modern-day). I think you’ll find that the more you learn about maps, the more you will see how widespread they are, and realize how vital they are to us in our everyday life. Plus, I think they’re just a lot of fun to look at!
How many of these map types below are you familiar with? Click on any of the links to view examples and explore more!
THERE’S A MAP FOR THAT
If you want to understand maps better, it is going to be helpful for you to know some lingo. Here are some terms that every map nerd should know:
Bar Scale — a graphic device used to measure distance on a map. It looks like a little ruler, with units marked equivalent to the map’s scale.
Cardinal Direction — the four primary directions of North, South, East and West
Boundary — a line that marks the limit or edge of one place and another, such as a state or country
Cartesian Coordinates — using an X and Y axis and their intersections to plot specific points on a map
Cartography — the making and studying of maps
Cartouche — the frame around the title of a map
Citation — place on a map (usually in a corner) that lists information crediting the mapmaker, as well as the year it was made, the source of the data, etc.
Compass Rose — a circular figure (decorative or simple) that displays the orientation of the cardinal directions and their intermediate points. In early map designs it resembled a rose.
Contour Line — lines spaced close together or far apart to indicate land levels or elevation
Direction — the line or course on which something is pointing or facing.
Elevation — The height of a point or an object above or below sea level. Also referred to as altitude or height.
Grid — the parallel intersecting lines and corresponding numbers that provide reference to specific points on a map.
Icon — Also called a pictogram, it conveys meaning through a pictorial resemblance to a physical object.
Inset map — a smaller, usually simplified, map found inside the main map which shows the location of the main map in a larger scale.
Latitude — a horizontal line on a map indicating how far north or south a point is from the equator
Latitude — a horizontal line on a map indicating how far east or west a point is from the prime meridian.
Legend or Key — a guide to symbols, numbers and figures (usually with a brief description) appearing on a map.
Meridian — a line of longitude on a globe
Neatline — the edge of the map itself. It may be surrounded by a simple or decorative border that encloses the map.
North Arrow — an arrow or similar symbol that indicates which part of the map faces North. Most, but not all, maps orient the map with North facing the top.
Orient — align or position relative to the points of a compass or other specified positions.
Relief — shading on a map to indicate dimensional changes in elevation (height and depth)
Spatial data — information such as location, elevation, distance, etc. that establish and document the three dimensions of space
Survey — collecting information about the land by measuring its size and shape
Symbology — the use of symbols, icons and other graphic objects on a map to depict places or things in reality
True North — the direction to the Earth’s geographic North Pole
MAPS AS ART
WHY MAPS MATTER
We live in a highly visual age, a time when people are creating, accessing and digesting visual data like never before in history. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Netflix, YouTube and countless websites offer us 24/7/365 access to photos, videos and graphics, influencing our lives and demanding our attention. So it’s no surprise that the popularity and useage of maps is off the charts. Maps are everywhere and everyone uses map. The world is wild, wacky and wonderful place, bewildering in complexity and mind-boggling in scale. Maps simplify information to help us understand the world a little better. They organize, prioritize, categorize and systematize data so that we may comprehend the incomprehensible.