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Cartographic Connections: Deciphering a Map

Deciphering a Map

To decipher maps, several steps should be followed. Each step seeks pertinent information about the map and its context in both time and place.

  1. Content: What is the map's title and/or what is the map about?
    • What part of the earth does it represent?
    • What is the scale of the map?
    • How is the map oriented (that is, what direction is at the top of the map)?
    • Does the map depict the themes of geography:
      1. location
      2. place
      3. networks
      4. human-environment interactions
      5. regional identity?
    • In what language(s) is the map prepared?
  2. Authorship: Who made the map (cartographer and/or publisher)? Who were they?
  3. Sponsorship: Who provided the incentive or funding for the map?
  4. Date: When was the map made?
  5. Origin: Where was the map made?
  6. Creation: By what processes was the map drafted and/or printed?
  7. Audience: For whom was the map made?
  8. Function: For what purpose(s) was the map intended, and how was it used?
  9. Context: Where does the map fit in the past, what were its sources, and for what other maps did it serve as a source?

The above nine steps lead to the main historical focus:

Historical Source/Interpretation: What does the map tell us about its creator and his/her time?