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A webliography of cartographic resources for fledgling map makers.

By Karen A. Vagts

[ Glossaries & Definitions ] [ General Sources ] [ Mathematical & Geodesic Aspects ] [ Map Projections ] [ Map Scales ] [ Toponomy ] [ Map Design ] [ Software & Data Sets ] [ Books ] [ Organizations ] [ Inspirations ]

Cartography is the science and art of map making. With the introduction of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and mapping websites, people other than professionally-trained cartographers now can produce maps easily.  To ensure that a map is appropriately designed for its intended purpose requires knowledge of cartographic tools and options.  The sources provided here offer a basic introduction to the technical and mathematical aspects of map making.

Glossaries and Definitions

Google. Compendium of Sites for Cartographic Definitions and Glossaries.

Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection. Glossary of Cartographic Terms.

University of California at Berkeley. Dictionary of Abbreviations and Acronyms in Geography Information Systems, Cartography, and Remote Sensing.

General Sources on Cartographic Applications

The following sites cover cartographic techniques, elements, and issues in general.

ESRI Mapping Center.

The Geographer’s Craft: Cartographic Communication.

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Mathematical and Geodesic Aspects

Mapping involves geodesy, the science and mathematics of measuring the earth. Consequently, underlying maps and globes lurks much mathematics, especially geometry and trigonometry – grids and graticules, scales, and conversions. The following sites provide formulas, explanations, and examples.

Dana, Peter H. Coordinate Systems Overview.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Geodesy Tutorial.

Smits, Jan. Mathematical data for bibliographic descriptions of cartographic materials and spatial data.

U.S. National Geospatial Intelligence Agency website.

Map Projections

Presenting the earth – a globe – on a two-dimensional surface involves distorting the earth’s surface to a certain degree.  Such distortions are called map projections. In selecting a projection, cartographers make trade-offs in the accurate presentation of surface area, distance, scale, and direction. These websites explain the major types of map projections with recommendations for their suitable uses.

Dana, Peter H. Map Projection Overview.

Mathworld Map Projections.

Snyder, John P. Map Projections: A Working Manual (1988).

United States Geological Survey (USGS). Map Projections.

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Map Scales

Map scales determine the relationship of the distance or area on a cartographic object with the actual size of the earth. The following sites show standard map scales and appropriate uses.

United States Geological Survey (USGS). Map Scales Fact Sheet.

Map Scales: What are they really….?

Map Scale Calculator.

Toponomy (Place names)

Place names are essential aspects of most maps but their selection can be complex. Name place authorities and gazetteers are good sources for determining appropriate (and non-controversial) toponyms.

Arizona State University Libraries. Place Name Sites Gateway.

National Geospatial Data Agency (NGA) GEOnet Names Server (GNS).

U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

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Map Design

A well-designed, functional map displays a tight relationship between appearance and function. All design elements -- overall layout, symbols, typography, and color schemes -- should be selected with a view to how they help map users understand the content. The following sites offer design guidelines as well as some handy tools to facilitate design decision making.

Atlas of Canada. Map Content and Design for the Web.

United States Geological Survey (USGS). Topographic Map Symbols.

Handy Tools

Color Brewer.

Map Symbol Brewer.

Type Brewer.

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GIS Software and Data Sets

Nearly all maps professionally produced today rely on software, typically "intelligent" geographic information systems (GIS) tools, which combine mathematical modeling with tabular data sets, vector graphics, images, and other "layers" of information to generate 2D and 3D maps. As these links show, available tools range from complex, proprietary software to "free" or open source packages. In addition to GIS software, cartographers can access an ever expanding amount of data for every map theme from census information to epidemiological events to transportation networks.

GIS Applications


Scaleable Vector Graphics (SVG)Applications.

Wikipedia. List of GIS Software.

Select Data Sets

ESRI Geography Network.

Global Spatial Data Infrastructure Association (GSDI) Spatial Data Infrastructure Links.

U.S. Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) Data Clearinghouse Nodes.

U.S. First Data National Atlas Map Maker Raw Data Downloads.

UNESCO Index of National Mapping Agencies.


ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc) Press: books, manuals, and training guides.

Slocum, Terry A. et al. Thematic Cartography and Geographic Visualization.

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Cartographic Organizations

Professional associations provide information on techniques, resources, and educational opportunities. The list here consists of major English-language organizations.

American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM)

British Cartographic Society (BCS)

Canadian Cartographic Association (CCA)

Cartography Specialty Group, Association of American Geographers

International Cartographic Association

North American Cartographic Information Society

Society of Cartographers


Examples of notable and unusual applications of cartography to inspire and delight.

David Ramsey Map Collection.

Library of Congress Map Collections.

Making Maps: DIY Cartography.

Strange maps.

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