A guide to finding maps and cartographic information at EMU and on the web

Understanding maps

Some helpful explanations of mapping principles:

History of cartography

Types of maps

Political maps show the boundaries of countries or states. 

Physiographic maps portray the ruggedness of the landscape, often by the technique of shaded relief.

Planimetric maps show the horizontal location of certain features. Road maps and city maps are examples of a planimetric map.

Topographic maps show the height of the land, using a series of lines (countours) that connect all the points of the same elevation. See Practice reading contour lines for a map that will help you visualize terrain features.

Choropleth maps use colors or symbols to relate a subject to geography. Examples would be maps showing income distributions, deer populations, iPod ownership, or almost any other type of subject.

Plats (also called cadastral maps) show ownership and the boundaries between parcels of land.


Many maps will have features of more than one type of map.  For example, a map showing the United States (political) often includes shaded relief (physiographic), while topographic maps may include roads and towns (planimetric).

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