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Luca Jackson
Luca Jackson

The History of Geography Map Making: From Ancient to Modern Times

Geography Map: What Is It and Why Is It Important?


Geography is the study of the Earth and its features, as well as the relationships between people and their environments. Geography helps us understand the world in a spatial way, by showing us where things are, how they are connected, and how they change over time.

One of the most essential tools for geographers is a geography map. A geography map is a visual representation of selected characteristics of a place, usually drawn on a flat surface. Maps can show us the physical properties of the Earth, such as landforms, climate, and vegetation, as well as the human activities and cultures that shape it, such as population, economy, and politics.

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In this article, we will explore what a geography map is, what are the different types of geography maps, what are the benefits of geography maps, and what are the skills needed to use and create geography maps effectively.

What are the types of geography maps?

According to the ICSM (Intergovernmental Committee on Surveying and Mapping), there are two main groups of geography maps: reference maps and thematic maps.

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Reference maps

Reference maps show the location of geographic boundaries, physical features, or cultural features of a place. They are often used to find places, measure distances, or orient oneself. Some examples of reference maps are political maps, physical maps, road maps, topographic maps, time zone maps, geologic maps, and zip code maps.

For example, a political map shows the boundaries between countries, states, counties, and other political units. It also shows roads, cities, and major water features. A political map helps people understand the geography of the world and locate places of interest.

Thematic maps

Thematic maps show the variation of a topic (the theme) across a geographic area. They are often used to illustrate patterns, trends, or relationships. Some examples of thematic maps are weather maps, population maps, income maps, resource maps, earthquake maps, plate tectonics maps, bathymetric maps, volcanic hazard maps, and hurricane track maps.

For example, a weather map shows the daily high temperatures across the United States using colors to communicate the temperature forecast. A weather map helps people plan their activities according to the weather conditions.

Benefits of geography maps

Geography maps have many benefits for different purposes and audiences. Here are some of the main benefits:

For education and learning

Geography maps help students learn about the world in a simple and visual way. They teach about the sizes and shapes of countries, locations of features, distances between places, distributions of things over Earth, and changes over time. Geography maps also enhance students' language skills as they collaborate and communicate about spatial relationships.

For navigation and planning

Geography maps help travelers plot routes for their trips. They also help navigators locate their position and direction on land or sea. Geography maps also help planners decide where to put infrastructure and services such as hospitals, parks, roads, pipelines, etc., based on the land features and current land use.

For analysis and decision making

Geography maps help analysts and decision makers understand and explore complex phenomena related to places and spaces. They also help them visualize data in a spatial context and identify patterns, trends, relationships, opportunities, and challenges. Geography maps also help them communicate their findings and recommendations to others. Geography map skills

Geography map skills are the abilities to use and create geography maps effectively. They involve three main aspects: reading and interpreting maps, using mapping tools and technology, and creating and communicating with maps.

How to read and interpret maps

Reading and interpreting maps means understanding the symbols, colors, scales, projections, legends, and other elements that make up a map. It also means being able to locate places, measure distances, compare areas, find directions, and infer information from a map.

Some tips for reading and interpreting maps are:

  • Look at the title of the map to know what it is about.

  • Look at the legend of the map to know what the symbols and colors mean.

  • Look at the scale of the map to know how large or small the area is.

  • Look at the projection of the map to know how the shape and size of the Earth are distorted.

  • Look at the orientation of the map to know which way is north, south, east, or west.

  • Look at the labels of the map to identify the names of places and features.

  • Use a ruler or a compass to measure distances and directions on the map.

  • Use your prior knowledge and common sense to make inferences from the map.

How to use mapping tools and technology

Using mapping tools and technology means being able to access, manipulate, analyze, and display geographic data using various devices and software. It also means being able to use online maps, geographic information systems (GIS), global positioning systems (GPS), remote sensing, and other geospatial technologies.

Some tips for using mapping tools and technology are:

  • Choose the appropriate tool or technology for your purpose and audience.

  • Learn how to operate the tool or technology properly and safely.

  • Check the accuracy, reliability, currency, and bias of the data and sources.

  • Select the relevant data and variables for your analysis or presentation.

  • Apply appropriate methods and techniques for data processing and visualization.

  • Evaluate the results and outcomes of your work critically and ethically.

How to create and communicate with maps

Creating and communicating with maps means being able to design, produce, and share geography maps that convey a message or tell a story. It also means being able to use maps as a tool for communication, education, persuasion, or advocacy.

Some tips for creating and communicating with maps are:

  • Define the purpose and audience of your map clearly.

  • Select the type and format of your map that suits your purpose and audience.

  • Gather and organize the data and information that you need for your map.

  • Choose the symbols, colors, scales, projections, legends, labels, titles, and other elements that make your map attractive and effective.

  • Edit and revise your map to ensure its accuracy, clarity, consistency, and completeness.

  • Publish and distribute your map using appropriate media and platforms.


A geography map is a powerful tool for geographers and anyone who wants to learn about or explore the world. A geography map can show us different aspects of a place, such as its physical features, human activities, or thematic variations. A geography map can also help us with various benefits, such as education, navigation, planning, analysis, or decision making. A geography map can also require us to have certain skills, such as reading, interpreting, using, creating, or communicating with maps. By mastering these skills, we can make the most out of geography maps in our personal or professional lives.


  • What is a geography map?

A geography map is a visual representation of selected characteristics of a place, usually drawn on a flat surface. Maps can show us the physical properties of the Earth as well as human activities that shape it.

  • What are some examples of geography maps?

Some examples of geography maps are political maps, physical maps, weather maps, population maps, resource maps, etc. There are two main groups of geography maps: reference maps (that show location) and thematic maps (that show variation).

What are some benefits of geography maps?Some benefits of geography maps are for education and learning, for navigation and planning, and for analysis and decision making. Geography maps help us understand the world, find places, measure distances, plan routes, visualize data, identify patterns, and make decisions.

What are some skills needed to use and create geography


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