These materials were developed by Kenneth E. Foote and Shannon Crum, Department of Geography, University of Texas at Austin, 1995.  These materials may be used for study, research, and education in not-for-profit applications.  If you link to or cite these materials, please credit the authors, Kenneth E. Foote and Shannon Crum, The Geographer's Craft Project, Department of Geography, The University of Colorado at Boulder.  Graphics revised by Natalia Vorotyntseva. at the University of Connecticut. These materials may not be copied to or issued from another Web server without the authors' express permission.  Copyright 2000-2015.  All commercial rights are reserved.  If you have comments or suggestions, please contact the author or Ken Foote at

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1. The Value of Maps

Maps are perhaps as fundamental to society as language and the written word. They are the preeminent means of recording and communicating information about the location and spatial characteristics of the natural world and of society and culture. Some would say that the use of maps distinguishes geography from all other disciplines. The truth is that maps, though of special concern to geographers, are used throughout the sciences and humanities and in virtually every aspect of day-to-day life. Millions of maps are produced and used annually throughout the world by scientists, scholars, governments, and businesses to meet environmental, economic, political, and social needs. Many cartographers have reflected on the important role played by maps in society. One of the most recent statements worth considering is Denis Wood's book The Power of Maps (New York: Guilford Press, 1992).

 Maps gain their value in three ways:

1.1 As a way of recording and storing information

1.2 As a means of analyzing locational distributions and spatial patterns 1.3 As a method of presenting information and communicating findings To realize this potential, it is useful to learn some basic principles of cartographic communication and map design. Cartography is a special type of communication that does require training. But, attention invested in learning the basics will pay off handsomely in the production of more effective maps. Sometimes people assume that such training is too highly technical to be mastered easily and forego the use of maps. This is unfortunate because maps could be used more widely in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities for analysis and communication, particularly now that computers can be used as an aid to production. Some attention to first principles is still warranted. Apart from the following notes, you may wish to consult:

 Go on to Cartography as Communication

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