What’s A Map?

June 14, 2009

Map: “a spatial representation of reality”

  • spatial: consisting of at least two dimensions and usually referring to geographic space
  • representation: something that stands for something else
  • reality: “The totality of all things possessing actuality, existence, or essence” (The American Heritage Dictionary, 2002). Origin (etymology): 1550, originally a legal term in the sense of “fixed property.”

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Less is More:

  • maps simplify & make “reality” easier to understand

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Maps show us what we cannot see:

  • temperature: we feel, not see, temperature
  • maps are synesthetic

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Maps can show just about anything:

  • much more than just road maps!

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Abstraction and Categories

Humans have the ability to think abstractly and develop categories

  • abstract: having conceptual rather than physical existence
  • categories: a unit or a subunit of a larger whole made up of members sharing one or more characteristics

What goes into a category can vary from person to person and culture to culture

Common categories of human and environmental stuff on maps:

  • examples)

Categories simplify our environment so we can understand it easily

  • a contradiction?
  • we understand better and faster by simplifying and categorizing the world, and how we simplify and categorize varies from person to person and culture to culture
  • maps are an important means of simplifying and categorizing things so we can understand them

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Symbols and Representation

Symbols are at the basis of natural languages (eg., English), math, statistics, pictorial communication (such as drawings, maps, graphs)

Symbol: A thing representing something else because of relationship, association, convention, or resemblance.

symbol_types

Common symbols on maps:

  • examples) based on our categories (above)

Diversity of symbols on maps:

symbols

Resources