This unit discusses the functions of maps

Functions of Maps

The importance of maps cannot be overemphasised. We really cannot do without maps. Everybody uses maps, one way or the other. As Jessica

Carpilo (2010) has rightly observed, “Maps are valuable, timeless objects that we would be lost without”. Literally, some of the various uses of maps are listed below.

The media uses maps to pinpoint the locations of important news items

  • Many textbooks include them as illustrations.

Traditionally, maps are used as aids to navigation; we consult maps to help us navigate from place to place. In other words, maps help us find our way from one place to another.

Maps are used as reference documents.

Maps are also used as wall decorations.

A map shows where things or places are located.

Maps can be used to show how far one place is from another.

Maps can be an important source of primary information for historical investigation. To the student of history, the idea of a map as a mirror image makes maps appear to be ideal tools for understanding the reality of places at different points in time.

Today maps are used by people to find places they have not seen.

Let’s say you are interested in finding the nearest shopping centre from your home. You can easily do this by consulting a map that shows the spatial distribution of shopping centres in your neighbourhood.

The scale on the map can help you determine the distance between two places.

The direction in which you should walk can also be determined.

Many tourists (hikers) use topographic maps, especially in areas where there are no roads with signs.

Geologists depend on topographical and geological maps to record the types of rocks and detect possible locations of solid minerals.

Town Planners and Engineers use topographic maps when they are planning roads, buildings, or other human–made structures. Imagine designing a city without considering where hills and valleys are located.

Using a map you can visualise in your mind what the place looks like that you are going to, and you can see what landmarks and features you will pass on the way to your destination. Maps mean you know what to expect, and they help you to know you are going in the right direction to arrive at your destination safely and quickly. (Ordinance Survey).

Maps can be great fun – and they can lead you to all sorts of discoveries. They can help you get to know an area really well, because they pinpoint interesting places that are often hidden away, which you might otherwise never find. They can also help you find different routes to places you already know. Maps can also help you in your geography, history, environmental science or citizenship classes.

Maps are used in the planning and execution of military operations. They are also used in training military personnel.

Maps are important research tools.

We can conveniently group the roles maps play today into four broad categories:

Data display: maps provide useful ways of displaying information in a meaningful way.

data map

Data stores: as a means of storing data, maps can be very efficient, high density stores.

Spatial indexes: a map can show the boundaries of areas (e.g. land use zones, soil or rock types) and identify each area with a label. A separate manual with corresponding entries may provide greater detail about each area.

Data analysis tool: maps are used in data analysis to make or test hypotheses, such as the identification of cancer clusters; examine the relationship between two distributions using simple transparent overlays; identify suitable sites for a proposed project; and so on.



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