Geography & Maps

Geography & Maps

Every Christmas, without fail, my Grandmother gave us a subscription to National Geographic, which may explain why nearly every research paper I wrote in high school dealt with some topic published in Nat Geo. While I loved the articles and the photos, my favorite part of National Geographic were the maps. They had all sorts of maps: maps of Ancient Britian, maps of the ocean floors, maps of places I had never heard of. Unlike Rand McNally, the Nat Geo maps were a constant source of trivia. Nearly 30 years later, I went back for a graduate degree in planning from Missouri State’s Department of Geography, although I was actually intending to go to law school. I got the planning degree, in part, because the program promised to teach me how to make maps. I never made it to law school, but I did learn to build choropleth maps and to appreciate even more the art of the cartographer…

General Geographic Resources:

There are all sorts of types of geography: physical, cultural, economic, which explains why National Geographic covers nearly all the subjects in the world.

  • Google Earth. If you do not have Google Earth on your computer, take a few minutes to download and install the program. It is possibly the single coolest Geography program/site available. While nothing replaces the National Geographic…this program comes awfully close. It is especially useful if your kids are taking any of the social sciences (geography, history, social studies.) The folks from Google are constantly adding new features (historic tours, articles, videos).Best of all, it is free.
  • National Geographic. Nat Geo has been around since 1888 and has been a fixture in American households for most of that time. The magazine, at $15.00, may still be the best and least expensive education expenditure around. That said, their online site is loaded with all sorts of goods stuff, including a specific section for kids. We strongly recommend you bookmark this page, especially if you have school aged children. Finally, if you are a fan of jigsaw puzzles, Nat Geo has a great online collection, with a sliding scale pieces picker (choose your own degree of difficulty), from the decades of great photographs.

Historic Maps

  • Historic MapWorks: Residential Genealogy. A great collection of historic maps, nautical charts, property atlases, antiquarian maps (really old maps). Of special interest are their temporal map collections, which show changes in a place over time. A first rate site and an excellent resource

Cartography & Making Maps

First, a short aside. Perhaps it is the result of having grown up with the National Geographic maps as a mainstay in the house, or the result of having spent years as a land use planner, but maps hold a special interest. One reason, perhaps, is because maps are inherently personal one the one hand–we engage with them on a personal level. Another is that maps are, in large part, propaganda. They give only the information the cartographer wishes to include, and leaves out all that was either counter to the intent or was deemed unimportant. Like written documents, they have a point, a purpose, and an audience. Road maps, for example, vary depending on who produced them. The Department of Transportation creates road maps, as does the State Tourism Bureau. Both show the roads, or at least most of the roads. We assume that the function in the same way; but the State Tourism Map directs the map user to specific sites or locations. It will tell you what locations are important, what towns are worth stopping in, and what areas you can drive by without a second look. It will tell you what someone else believes is of value.

  • NEWGRASS GIS (Geographic Resources Analysis Support System). A FREE and open source GIS system developed by the Army Corp of Engineers. It works well on Mac OSX, Windows, and Linux. The site also a fairly good range of tutorials, as well as data files.  Some of the information is highly technical, but if you have a child/young adult interested in mapping, cartography, and GIS…this is a great program to start with.
  • United States Geological Survey (Our version of the “Science Guy”). These folks really rock!
  • Understanding Maps and Cartography. ( For a layman’s guide to maps and cartography, this is a reasonably good place to start. The explanations are straight forward and the site provides enough detail to get any future cartographer or geographer heading in the right direction.
  • Making Maps: DIY Cartography (a blog site, suitable for older students). We included this because this blog gives a good sense of the range of what is possible with choropleth maps (maps that communicate statistical data, data that is tied to geography or has a geographic component).
  • The Guide to Maps and Mapping. Compliments of The Truckers Report. Start here if you are looking for maps and atlases, ancient maps and cartographers, map collections, cartographic and geographic societies, and general cartographic resources. Granted, this is not a site we would have found in our perusing–it was suggested by one of our regulars–in part because it never dawned on us to check trucking sites for great geographic information. This said…This is a Great Site and the folks at The Truckers Report deserve kudos. They have some terrific information and one of the most comprehensive lists of map/cartographic sites anywhere.

Physical Geography

  • Radar’s Geography4Kids!. This site provides a reasonably good, concise introduction to the different subjects that make up Physical Geography, from biosphere to hydrosphere to atmosphere.. We recommend it as a starting spot for kids interested in earth science. After reading the introduction, scroll down to the bottomof the page and click on site map, which will give you access to the full list of subjects and terms. The site includes access to “real” examples, which is a real plus. As a side note, the authors of the site have also created other introduction to science sites that are well worth visiting.

Cultural Geography

As the name implies, cultural geographic studies the geography of humans rather than the physical geography of place. Humans tend to move around and to pass traditions to and are influenced by folks in other places. Cultural geography studies the geographic movement of cultural human characteristics and institutions, like language, religion, art, music, economic structures, forms of government, and so on and tries to make sense of why and how folks lived and thrived (or didn’t) in a specific area and how some areas influenced others. One of the key aspects of cultural geography is the study of how landscapes influenced people and how people influenced and changed landscapes. As with most academic disciplines, cultural geography covers a wide range of interests, from urban and political geography to tourism.

  • Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative. Where cultural geography meets maps (or in this case, an atlas). We love this site.
  • Culture: A Geographical Perspective. Part of World Communities: What is Culture? from Dr. Charles A. Heatwole, Department of Geography at Hunter College in New York. A good, accessible overview of cultural geography and an excellent place to start your exploration. The site was developed as a teaching resource for 3rd grade teachers and includes some excellent supporting materials. It is part of a larger site from New York State’s Department of Education and is worth exploring, especially their online resource guides.
  • GeoCurrents: The Peoples, Places, and Languages Shaping Current Events. Want to understand what geography has to do with current events? Check out GeoCurrents. Although not intended for younger readers, GeoCurrents is a great way to understand what is going on in the world and may help you answer the occasional “why” question during the evening news.

Economic Geography

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