Defining Map and Different Types of Maps

The field of geography relies on many different types of maps in order to study the features of the earth. Some maps are so common and others are not so common mainly handled by professionals.

What Is a Map?

Simply defined, maps are pictures of the Earth’s surface. General reference maps document landforms, national boundaries, bodies of water, the locations of cities and so on.

A map is a visual representation of an entire area or a part of an area, typically represented on a flat surface. The work of a map is to illustrate specific and detailed features of a particular area, most frequently used to illustrate geography.

While reading an old book by Captain R.P.Cave found some easy and useful facts about maps.Here they are:

  • A map is a  representation on paper of a certain area of country.
  • Fundamentally, a map is nothing more than a picture from which one can visualise the subject which it portrays.
  • A map is a diagram showing the details and features which exists on the ground.
  • A map can never be completely up to date ,for there must must always be features which have appeared since the map was made.
  • A map cannot show everything because there is not room to do so.

The beginning of map history constitutes from cave painting and rock carvings to ancient maps of Greece, Babylon & Asia, from the age of exploration to the 21st century. People have produced and utilized maps as necessary tools to help them identify, understand and navigate their way around. Mapping has an important step in the human race. They assisted us in our intellectual growth and development and have been passed from generation to generation helping us in the development of our society and culture.
In the Medieval period, European maps were mostly based by religious views. Viking explored the North Atlantic while map-making developed more realistic and practical lines in the Mediterranean region. All maps were drawn by hand, which made the circulation of maps limited.

During the 17th to the 19th century, Maps became more and more accurate and factual with the use of scientific techniques. Various countries adopted national mapping programs. Following World War I, the widespread use of aerial photography helped a lot in map-making process. The combination of ground observations and remote sensing is the base of modern cartography.

Thematic maps display specific data, such as the average rainfall distribution for an area or the distribution of a certain disease throughout a county.

With the increased use of GIS, also known as Geographic Information Systems, thematic maps are growing in importance and becoming more readily available. This century has seen a major shift from paper to electronic maps with the advent of mobile technology.

Political Maps

A political map does not show topographic features like mountains and  focuses  on the state and national boundaries of a place. They also include the locations of cities large and small, depending on the detail of the map.

Physical Maps

A physical map is one documents landscape features of a place. They generally show things like mountains, rivers, and lakes. Bodies of water are always shown with blue. Mountains and elevation changes are usually shown with different colors and shades to show relief. Normally on physical maps, green shows lower elevations while browns show high elevations.

Topographic Maps

A topographic map is similar to a physical map in that it shows different physical landscape features. Unlike physical maps, this type of may uses contour lines instead of colors to show changes in the landscape. Contour lines on topographic maps are normally spaced at regular intervals to show elevation changes and when lines are close together the terrain is steep.

Climate Maps

A climate map shows information about the climate of an area. They can show things like the specific climatic zones of an area based on the temperature, the amount of snow an area receives or the average number of cloudy days. These maps normally use colors to show different climatic areas.

Economic or Resource Maps

An economic or resource map shows the specific types of economic activity or natural resources present in an area through the use of different symbols or colors depending on what is being shown on the map.

An economic activity map for Brazil can use colors to show different agricultural products of given areas, letters for natural resources and symbols for different industries.

Road Maps

A road map is one of the most widely used map types. These maps show major and minor highways and roads , as well as things like airports, city locations and points of interest such as parks, campgrounds, and monuments. Major highways on a road map are generally shown in red and larger than other roads, while minor roads are a lighter color and a narrower line.

Depending on the level of detail, the map may also show county roads, major city arteries, and rural routes. These are usually depicted in shades of gray or white.

Thematic Maps

A thematic map is a map that focuses on a particular theme or special topic. They are different from the six aforementioned general reference maps because they do not just show natural features like rivers, cities, political subdivisions, elevation, and highways. If these items are on a thematic map, they are background information and are used as reference points to enhance the map’s theme. These are special purpose maps based on single topic. these are basically representation of data on map.

‐ choropleth, dot, graduated circle maps
‐ isoline, flow maps
‐ value by area maps (cartograms)

Navigational Charts
Navigational charts are  invaluable tool when it comes to actually getting around, whether you’re at sea or in the air. Maps for the ocean are typically referred to as charts, and the same applies to air navigation mapping. The charts tend to include information that’s important to avoiding accidents – such as features in and around the water, like submerged rocks – along with any specific navigational aids.

Cadastral Maps and Plans
Cadastral maps are are specific, and although they’re widely used, there’s a good chance you won’t see one every day. The plans map out individual properties, offering details like boundary information when houses or land are surveyed, and can be joined together to create much larger cadastral maps. You’re likely to see a cadastral map when you get a house surveyed, and town planners will also deal with them a lot. Perhaps surprisingly, cadastral mapping is one of the oldest forms of mapping, with ancient Egyptians known to have developed cadastral records to establish ownership of land after flooding of the River Nile.

Souce(s) ,Link(s),Inspirations and Further Readings:


maps of india


Map Making

Some Rare Maps of South Asia

Muslim Travellers and Map Makers

Aerial Photography

40 maps of North America

40 Highly Informative Maps of West Asia


About Rashid Faridi

I am Rashid Aziz Faridi ,Writer, Teacher and a Voracious Reader.
This entry was posted in Class Notes, earth, Geography Practicals/Lab and Statistical Techniques, map making. Bookmark the permalink.

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