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CV-21 - Map Reading

Map reading is the process of looking at the map to determine what is depicted and how the cartographer depicted it. This involves identifying the features or phenomena portrayed, the symbols and labels used, and information about the map that may not be displayed on the map. Reading maps accurately and effectively requires at least a basic understanding of how the mapmaker has made important cartographic decisions relating to map scale, map projections, coordinate systems, and cartographic compilation (selection, classification, generalization, and symbolization). Proficient map readers also appreciate artifacts of the cartographic compilation process that improve readability but may also affect map accuracy and uncertainty. Masters of map reading use maps to gain better understanding of their environment, develop better mental maps, and ultimately make better decisions. Through successful map reading, a person’s cartographic and mental maps will merge to tune the reader’s spatial thinking to the reality of the environment.

CV-11 - Common Thematic Map Types

Thematic maps cover a wide variety of mapping solutions, and include choropleth, proportional symbol, isoline, dot density, dasymetric, and flow maps as well as cartograms, among others. Each thematic map type requires a different data processing method and employs different visual variables, resulting in representations that are either continuous or discrete and smooth or abrupt. As a result, each solution highlights different aspects of the mapped phenomena and shapes the message for the map readers differently. Thematic maps are tools for understanding spatial patterns, and the choice of thematic map type should support this understanding. Therefore, the main consideration when selecting a thematic map type is the purpose of the map and the nature of the underlying spatial patterns.

This entry reviews the common types of thematic maps, describes the visual variables that are applied in them, and provides design considerations for each thematic map type, including their legends. It also provides an overview of the relative strengths and limitations of each thematic map type.

CV-01 - Cartography and Science

"Science" is used both to describe a general, systematic approach to understanding the world and to refer to that approach as it is applied to a specific phenomenon of interest, for example, "geographic information science." The scientific method is used to develop theories that explain phenomena and processes. It consists of an iterative cycle of several steps: proposing a hypothesis, devising a way to make empirical observations that test that hypothesis, and finally, refining the hypothesis based on the empirical observations. "Scientific cartography" became a dominant mode of cartographic research and inquiry after World War II, when there was increased focus on the efficacy of particular design decisions and how particular maps were understood by end users. This entry begins with a brief history of the development of scientific cartographic approaches, including how they are deployed in map design research today. Next it discusses how maps have been used by scientists to support scientific thinking. Finally, it concludes with a discussion of how maps are used to communicate the results of scientific thinking.

CV-08 - Symbolization and the Visual Variables

Maps communicate information about the world by using symbols to represent specific ideas or concepts. The relationship between a map symbol and the information that symbol represents must be clear and easily interpreted. The symbol design process requires first an understanding of the underlying nature of the data to be mapped (e.g., its spatial dimensions and level of measurement), then the selection of symbols that suggest those data attributes. Cartographers developed the visual variable system, a graphic vocabulary, to express these relationships on maps. Map readers respond to the visual variable system in predictable ways, enabling mapmakers to design map symbols for most types of information with a high degree of reliability.

CV-42 - Collaborative Cartography

Collaborative cartography is a newly emerging approach for engaging community-centered processes of map production to represent harm caused by oppressive systems and pathways for healed futures. While mapping has a long history of engagement in activist movements, community involvement is often segmented to considerations determining the topic of the map and the subsequent supporting data-collection/validation processes. Collaborative cartography, however, ensures that communities are also central to discussions around and implementation of the design of the map. While the cartographic processes may differ from those of a professional cartographer, the term cartography and cartographer are used (rather than mapping or mapmaker) to indicate the close attention to design this technique facilitates. A collaborative cartographer commits to work that supports community control, embraces multiple forms of knowledge, and engages in non-linear and iterative process. These three key elements work together to support the production of a map whose standards of effectiveness are defined specifically by the needs, desires, and goals of those who produced it. This may lead to the creation of maps that fall outside of traditional expectations of cartographic design, aesthetic, and function. However, such creative ruptures are considered a necessary aspect in the pursuit of community empowerment and liberation.