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Cartography, or mapping and mapmaking, is a scientific discipline within geography. It is the process of creating a map by evaluating a physical location to show and analyze the relationship between a location and the human population. Mapmaking utilizes science and artistic techniques to represent space.
Maps are depictions of spatial relationships between things within a specific space. There are many different types of maps. Examples include road maps, city maps, political maps, time zone maps, topographic maps, geological maps, and maps that depict weather patterns, like hurricanes, and seismic or volcanic activity. Maps help people understand and navigate the world. Reference maps and physical maps are the most common; however, there are also thematic maps.
Mapmaking has existed since ancient times when humans began to wander and describe their spatial surroundings. At that time, maps were drawings on cave walls and paper. As humans developed more sophisticated technology, maps expanded to print form and eventually digital. Google Maps takes maps and map reading to another level by not only showing conventional maps but also aerial and satellite views of a location, and more detailed photographic representations of places. Online, users can evaluate places all over the world as modern tools allow people to type in and see data for global locations.
Mapmakers use common features to make map reading intuitive. Symbols, scale, and grids are often standard on maps to make them legible to readers. Standard symbols are used to show physical elements on a map. For instance, blue is often used to show water. Stars on geographic or road maps indicate capital cities. Curved lines on topographic maps show elevation and the presence of hills, valleys, and mountain ranges. The symbols are listed in a key, or legend, that lists the symbols used to represent elements on the map as well as an explanation of the scale.
Scale is used to show how elements on a map relate spatially to each other and in the real world. Often the scale is represented by a bar graph that indicates the specific length on a ruler that is representative of a specific distance on Earth. The scale can also be shown as a fraction or as verbal instruction. So, for example, 1/10 on a map means that a distance in the physical world is 10 times the represented fraction on the map. A verbal scale is a sentence or two that describes what scale is being used. Maps are often referred to as large-scale or small-scale maps, indicating the level of detail of the map. A large-scale map shows a smaller area with more detail than a small-scale map that shows a larger area but with less detail.
Grids are also used on maps to show more precise locations. Longitude and latitude are commonly used with a grid to mark points on a map. However, grids can also be used on more detailed or specific maps of a park or another specific area to show the location of key elements.
Maps are important for a number of industries, including building, land use, and surveying as well as geology, mining, and manufacturing. Data mapping is important in politics, economics, business, and commerce. Maps can help convey important information in fields as varied as environmental justice and epidemiology. Genealogy buffs, railroad enthusiasts, and people interested in the environment and habitats all benefit from cartographic resources. Students will benefit in their studies by using interactive maps for any project requiring the analysis of people, places, and data in the world.
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