Maps are how we understand and think about location in our environment and around the world. We might struggle a bit if asked to provide a definition, but we intuitively recognize maps when we see them. A focused and critical exploration of some maps should help sharpen your ideas about not just what a map is, but also help you become more attuned to the purpose of a given map and the point of view expressed in it.

Browse through at least three interesting-looking maps from the Esri Map Book. Use the FILTER tool at the top of the list to explore themes of particular interest to you (e.g. Environmental Management, Transportation, Health and Human Services) and observe things like:

  1. What features, pattern or process does the map attempt to illustrate? What is the purpose or message of this map?
  2. How does the map employ color, shading, and symbols to communicate its message?
  3. How do marginal elements provided by the map author (e.g. title, legend, charts/graphs) help the reader interpret and understand the map?
  4. Is the map effective? Is the location and geography of the study area/area of interest apparent? Are the various colors, shading, and symbols relatively easy to interpret? Do the marginal elements help you to read and understand the contents of the map more efficiently or effectively? (To answer this last question, imagine if those elements were absent.)
  5. What is the point of view expressed in the map? Are there any stated or unstated assumptions the map makes by including or excluding certain information, or in the way that it is displayed to communicate the map’s purpose or message? We tend to accept maps as truth, though they may not communicate the whole truth, or they may be used to hide or distort the truth.
Screenshot of maps at Esri Map Book 2020, Vol. 35

>> 2. Map Scale