Map | Definition, History, Types, Examples, & Facts (2024)

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map, graphic representation, drawn to scale and usually on a flat surface, of features—for example, geographical, geological, or geopolitical—of an area of the Earth or of any other celestial body. Globes are maps represented on the surface of a sphere. Cartography is the art and science of making maps and charts.

In order to imply the elements of accurate relationships, and some formal method of projecting the spherical subject to a map plane, further qualifications might be applied to the definition. The tedious and somewhat abstract statements resulting from attempts to formulate precise definitions of maps and charts are more likely to confuse than to clarify. The words map, chart, and plat are used somewhat interchangeably. The connotations of use, however, are distinctive: charts for navigation purposes (nautical and aeronautical), plats (in a property-boundary sense) for land-line references and ownership, and maps for general reference.

Cartography is allied with geography in its concern with the broader aspects of the Earth and its life. In early times cartographic efforts were more artistic than scientific and factual. As man explored and recorded his environment, the quality of his maps and charts improved. These lines of Jonathan Swift were inspired by early maps:

So geographers, in Afric maps,
With savage pictures fill their gaps,
And o’er unhabitable downs
Place elephants for want of towns.

Topographic maps are graphic representations of natural and man-made features of parts of the Earth’s surface plotted to scale. They show the shape of land and record elevations above sea level, lakes, streams and other hydrographic features, and roads and other works of man. In short, they provide a complete inventory of the terrain and important information for all activities involving the use and development of the land. They provide the bases for specialized maps and data for compilation of generalized maps of smaller scale.

Nautical charts are maps of coastal and marine areas, providing information for navigation. They include depth curves or soundings or both; aids to navigation such as buoys, channel markers, and lights; islands, rocks, wrecks, reefs and other hazards; and significant features of the coastal areas, including promontories, church steeples, water towers, and other features helpful in determining positions from offshore.

The terms hydrography and hydrographer date from the mid-16th century; their focus has become restricted to studies of ocean depths and of the directions and intensities of oceanic currents; though at various times they embraced much of the sciences now called hydrology and oceanography. The British East India Company employed hydrographers in the 18th century, and the first hydrographer of the Royal Navy, Alexander Dalrymple (1737–1808), was appointed in 1795. A naval observatory and hydrographic office was established administratively in the United States Navy in 1854. In 1866 a hydrographic office was established by statute, and in 1962 it was renamed the U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office.

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Interest in the charting of oceanic areas away from seacoasts developed in the second half of the 19th century, concurrently with the perfection of submarine cables. As knowledge of the configuration of the ocean basins increased, the attention of scientists was drawn to this field of study. A feature of marine science since the 1950s has been increasingly detailed bathymetric (water-depth measurement) surveys of selected portions of the seafloor. Together with collection of associated geophysical data and sampling of sediments, these studies assist in interpreting the geologic history of the ocean-covered portion of the Earth’s crust.

Aeronautical charts provide essential data for the pilot and air navigator. They are, in effect, small-scale topographic maps on which current information on aids to navigation have been superimposed. To facilitate rapid recognition and orientation, principal features of the land that would be visible from an aircraft in flight are shown to the exclusion of less important details.

History of cartography

Centuries before the Christian Era, Babylonians drew maps on clay tablets, of which the oldest specimens found so far have been dated about 2300 bce. This is the earliest positive evidence of graphic representations of parts of the Earth; it may be assumed that mapmaking goes back much further and that it began among nonliterate peoples. It is logical to assume that men very early made efforts to communicate with each other regarding their environment by scratching routes, locations, and hazards on the ground and later on bark and skins.

The earliest maps must have been based on personal experience and familiarity with local features. They doubtless showed routes to neighbouring tribes, where water and other necessities might be found, and the locations of enemies and other dangers. Nomadic life stimulated such efforts by recording ways to cross deserts and mountains, the relative locations of summer and winter pastures, and dependable springs, wells, and other information.

Markings on cave walls that are associated with paintings by primitive man have been identified by some archaeologists as attempts to show the game trails of the animals depicted, though there is no general agreement on this. Similarly, networks of lines scratched on certain bone tablets could possibly represent hunting trails, but there is definitely no conclusive evidence that the tablets are indeed maps.

Many nonliterate peoples, however, are skilled in depicting essential features of their localities and travels. During Capt. Charles Wilkes’s exploration of the South Seas in the 1840s, a friendly islander drew a good sketch of the whole Tuamotu Archipelago on the deck of the captain’s bridge. In North America the Pawnee Indians were reputed to have used star charts painted on elk skin to guide them on night marches across the plains. Montezuma is said to have given Cortés a map of the whole Mexican Gulf area painted on cloth, while Pedro de Gamboa reported that the Incas used sketch maps and cut some in stone to show relief features. Many specimens of early Eskimo sketch maps on skin, wood, and bone have been found.

Map | Definition, History, Types, Examples, & Facts (2024)


Map | Definition, History, Types, Examples, & Facts? ›

map, graphic representation, drawn to scale and usually on a flat surface, of features—for example, geographical, geological, or geopolitical—of an area of the Earth or of any other celestial body. Globes are maps represented on the surface of a sphere. Cartography is the art and science of making maps and charts.

What is the definition of map in history? ›

Norman Thrower, an authority on the history of cartography, defines a map as, "A representation, usually on a plane surface, of all or part of the earth or some other body showing a group of features in terms of their relative size and position."* This seemingly straightforward statement represents a conventional view ...

What are some facts about the history of maps? ›

When and how the earliest maps were made is unclear, but maps of local terrain are believed to have been independently invented by many cultures. The earliest surviving maps include cave paintings and etchings on tusk and stone. Maps were produced extensively by ancient Babylon, Greece, Rome, China, and India.

What is a map and its types? ›

What are the 7 types of maps? There are many different types of maps. Some of the ones listed in the lesson are Physical Maps, Topographic Maps, Weather maps, Economic Maps, Recourse Maps, Population Maps, World Maps, and Political Maps.

What is an example of a historical map? ›

A historical map is a modern map made to illustrate some past geographical situation or event. Hence, a map of Boston published in 1775 is a historic map; while a map prepared in 2002 to show Boston in 1775 is a historical map.

What is an example of a map? ›

Examples of maps include street maps, topographic maps, nautical charts, road maps, land use maps, and climate maps. Other representations of geographic data include three-dimensional models, digital elevation models (DEMs), satellite images, aerial photographs, and weather radar data.

What is the definition of a map? ›

A map is a symbolic representation of selected characteristics of a place, usually drawn on a flat surface. Maps present information about the world in a simple, visual way. They teach about the world by showing sizes and shapes of countries, locations of features, and distances between places.

Why are maps important to history? ›

Maps are one of the most important human inventions as they allow people in different countries to be able to explore and explain the world. Historical maps depict past interpretations of reality and events, reflect cultural and social trends of the time, offer artistic value, and track the evolution of cartography.

What was the first map history? ›

A Babylonian clay tablet helped unlock an understanding for how our ancestors saw the world. Dating all the way back to the 6th century BCE, the Imago Mundi is the oldest known world map, and it offers a unique glimpse into ancient perspectives on earth and the heavens.

What are three facts about a physical map? ›

Physical Maps

A physical map is one that documents landscape features of a place. These maps generally show things like mountains, rivers, and lakes. Bodies of water are commonly shown in blue. Mountains and elevation changes are sometimes shown with different colors and shades to show elevation.

What are the three types of map scales? ›

Map or cartographic scale is the ratio of a distance on Earth compared to the same distance on a map. There are three types of scales commonly used on maps: written or verbal scale, a graphic scale, or a fractional scale.

What explains the symbols on a map? ›

A map key or legend is an essential part of the map. It explains what the symbols on the map mean and allows you to make sense of the map.

What is a special purpose map? ›

Special purpose maps are designed to be used for a particular purpose or for one specific group of users. For example, Sanborn fire maps were created to be used by insurance companies, and navigational maps are created for captains of ships or other craft.

What does map mean in history? ›

The word "map" comes from the medieval Latin: Mappa mundi, wherein mappa meant 'napkin' or 'cloth' and mundi 'the world'. Thus, "map" became a shortened term referring to a two-dimensional representation of the surface of the world.

What is a map key in history? ›

A map key is sometimes also called a legend. Map keys use symbols, colors, or lines to represent important places or landmarks on a map. They are usually located at the bottom left or right of a map.

What does an historical map show? ›

The information is usually superimposed over a base map. Historical maps may show places as they existed in the past, or may show locations where major events occurred. Many older maps that showed contemporary information at the time they were made are now useful for historical purposes.

What is a concept map in history? ›

A concept map is a visual representation of a topic that students can create using words, phrases, lines, arrows, space on the page, and perhaps color to help organize their ideas and show their understanding of an idea, vocabulary term, or essential question.

What is political map in history? ›

A political map is a type of map that represents political divisions, or human-created boundaries, of the world, continents and major geographic regions. Political features are characteristics such as country borders, roads, population centers and landform boundaries. Political maps can vary in size and content.

What is the best definition of the world map? ›

world map, graphical representation, using projection, that depicts Earth's exterior on a flat surface. World maps usually show political features, such as country borders, and physical features. World maps can also be used to present data on average temperature, soil type, rainfall distribution, and much else.

What is the concept of definition map? ›

Concept definition maps are organizers that help students understand the essential attributes, qualities, or characteristics of a word's meaning. Students are required to describe what the concept is, make comparisons, tell what it is like, and give examples.

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