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A map is a symbolic depiction emphasizing relationships between elements of some space, such as objects, regions, or themes.

Many maps are static, fixed to paper or some other durable medium, while others are dynamic or interactive. Although most commonly used to depict geography, maps may represent any space, real or imagined, without regard to context or scale, such as in brain mapping, DNA mapping, or computer network topology mapping. The space being mapped may be two dimensional, such as the surface of the earth, three dimensional, such as the interior of the earth, or even more abstract spaces of any dimension, such as arise in modeling phenomena having many independent variables.

Although the earliest maps known are of the heavens, geographic maps of territory have a very long tradition and exist from ancient times. The word "map" comes from the medieval Latin Mappa mundi, wherein mappa meant napkin or cloth and mundi the world. Thus, "map" became the shortened term referring to a two-dimensional representation of the surface of the world.

Cartography or map-making is the study and practice of crafting representations of the Earth upon a flat surface (see History of cartography), and one who makes maps is called a cartographer.

Road maps are perhaps the most widely used maps today, and form a subset of navigational maps, which also include aeronautical and nautical charts, railroad network maps, and hiking and bicycling maps. In terms of quantity, the largest number of drawn map sheets is probably made up by local surveys, carried out by municipalities, utilities, tax assessors, emergency services providers, and other local agencies. Many national surveying projects have been carried out by the military, such as the British Ordnance Survey: a civilian government agency, internationally renowned for its comprehensively detailed work.

Map designing and types
Modern maps
Map history
Related topics
  • Maps from non-Western traditions are oriented a variety of ways. Old maps of Edo show the Japanese imperial palace as the "top", but also at the centre, of the map. Labels on the map are oriented in such a way that you cannot read them properly unless you put the imperial palace above your head.
  • Medieval European T and O maps such as the Hereford Mappa Mundi were centred on Jerusalem with East at the top. Indeed, prior to the reintroduction of Ptolemy's Geography to Europe around 1400, there was no single convention in the West. Portolan charts, for example, are oriented to the shores they describe.
  • Maps of cities bordering a sea are often conventionally oriented with the sea at the top.
  • Route and channel maps have traditionally been oriented to the road or waterway they describe.
  • Polar maps of the Arctic or Antarctic regions are conventionally centred on the pole; the direction North would be towards or away from the centre of the map, respectively. Typical maps of the Arctic have 0° meridian towards the bottom of the page; maps of the Antarctic have the 0° meridian towards the top of the page.
  • Reversed maps, also known as Upside-Down maps or South-Up maps, reverse the North is up convention and have south at the top.
  • Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion maps are based on a projection of the Earth's sphere onto an icosahedron. The resulting triangular pieces may be arranged in any order or orientation.
  • Modern digital GIS maps such as ArcMap typically project north at the top of the map, but use math degrees (0 is east, degrees increase counter-clockwise), rather than compass degrees (0 is north, degrees increase clockwise) for orientation of transects. Compass decimal degrees can be converted to math degrees by subtracting them from 450; if the answer is greater than 360, subtract 360.
  • Azimuthal or Gnomonic map projections are often used in planning air routes due to their ability to represent great circles as straight lines.
  • Richard Edes Harrison produced a striking series of maps during and after World War II for Fortune magazine. These used "bird's eye" projections to emphasise globally strategic "fronts" in the air age, pointing out proximities and barriers not apparent on a conventional rectangular projection of the world.
  • Typically (2) applies to a Portable Document Format (PDF) file or other format based on vector graphics. The increase in detail is, of course, limited to the information contained in the file: enlargement of a curve may eventually result in a series of standard geometric figures such as straight lines, arcs of circles or splines.
  • (2) may apply to text and (3) to the outline of a map feature such as a forest or building.
  • (1) may apply to the text as needed (displaying labels for more features), while (2) applies to the rest of the image. Text is not necessarily enlarged when zooming in. Similarly, a road represented by a double line may or may not become wider when one zooms in.
  • The map may also have layers which are partly raster graphics and partly vector graphics. For a single raster graphics image (2) applies until the pixels in the image file correspond to the pixels of the display, thereafter (3) applies.
  • Within Russia, Google Maps shows Crimea as part of Russia.
  • Both the Republic of India and the People's Republic of China require that all maps show areas subject to the Sino-Indian border dispute in their own favor.
  • David Buisseret, ed., Monarchs, Ministers and Maps: The Emergence of Cartography as a Tool of Government in Early Modern Europe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992,
  • Denis E. Cosgrove (ed.) Mappings. Reaktion Books, 1999
  • Freeman, Herbert, Automated Cartographic Text Placement. White paper.
  • Ahn, J. and Freeman, H., “A program for automatic name placement,” Proc. AUTO-CARTO 6, Ottawa, 1983. 444-455.
  • Freeman, H., “Computer Name Placement,” ch. 29, in Geographical Information Systems, 1, D.J. Maguire, M.F. Goodchild, and D.W. Rhind, John Wiley, New York, 1991, 449-460.
  • Mark Monmonier, How to Lie with Maps,
  • O'Connor, J.J. and E.F. Robertson, The History of Cartography. Scotland : St. Andrews University, 2002.


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