James Ford Bell Library

What is a Map?

A map is defined as a representation of physical space. The area depicted on maps can range from the entire world to just a neighborhood, and most maps are depicted on a flat two-dimentional plane. The purpose of a map is to describe spatial relationships of specific features that the cartographer or mapmaker chooses to represent.

Globes, too, are maps. Because the earth is a three-dimensional sphere, globes often are the more accurate representations of the earth. That's because flat maps, sometimes called planispheres, are projections that attempt to accurately portray three-dimensions on a two-dimensional plane, which usually requires some distortions.

We often think of maps as tools to get us from Point A to Point B. However, maps have other uses.

  • Maps can be political, showing boundaries between territories ruled by different people or governments.
  • Maps can represent a particular point of view, rather than objective reality.
  • Some show only the features of the land, while others are focused on the sea or chart the stars across the sky.
  • Other maps might indicate population, roads and highways, cultural sites, natural resources, and climate.
As you can see, just about any type of information can be put on a map.

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O. Meredith Wilson Library
309 19th Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55455
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8:30am - 4:30pm
Weekends: Closed
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Phone: 612-624-1528
E-mail: jfbell@umn.edu
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