This page discusses users as persons who produce and distribute maps and those who use maps for their research and presentations.  It complements the page on individual map users.  It is part of the larger collection of pages on Map Use

Producers as Users of Maps

Just as there are many people employed as authors, editors, publishers and marketers of textual material there are a comparable group of persons who are employed in the production of maps.  For these persons the map is the vehicle which they use to convey their ideas and findings.

For many scientists the map is the end product of their work and it should be considered a work of scholarship and professional activity.  In some cases many years of dedication have gone into the development of the criteria for classifying the data and the compilation of the information making up the map.  Centuries ago cartographers compiled data from many sources to build images of the continents, islands and oceans.  We know many of these maps today by the named of the cartographers. 

In the last half century we have seen the compilation of data to produce maps that have become part of our knowledge base.  Three examples illustrate this use of a map.  Edwin Hammond (1964) developed a system of of landform classification based on morphological characteristics.  He spent many years compiling this map based on a series of topographic maps of the U.S. Geological Survey.  His map was published by a professional organization and was later reprinted in The National Atlas of the United States.  In that same atlas was the Map of Potential Natural Vegetation of the U.S. as compiled by A.W. Kuchler (1966).  Similarly, this map was the product of many years of personal research based on criteria developed by the author.  Victor Quintanilla produced a similar map for Chile based on years of dedicated work.  In these and similar cases, the maps are known by the names of the scholars who dedicated much of their careers to the production of this contribution to knowledge.  These persons have used their maps as their measure of their scholarship.

There are a number of maps which have been produced by the work of one or more scientists or technicians who are employed to make such maps.  A geologic map is based on the work of someone who has gone into the field to make many measurements and notes and collect samples. The end product of this work will be a map, compiled to be consistent with the standards now established for geologic maps.  In early years these geologic maps might have been assembled into a geologic folio and we were likely to know the names of the persons who committed themselves to the building of the report with the map.  Today, these geologic maps are part of series from an organization charged to produce the series.  In a similar fashion, soil scientists produce series of maps for states and nations.  Thus, for these scientists and technicians the maps are the product of their work.  In most cases these persons are employed by government agencies.

The U.S. Census Bureau conducts the decennial census of population and housing every ten years.  To make certain that all areas are covered with equal certainty, they invest great energy in making maps of where the census needs to be conducted.  In the 1980's the U.S. Geological Survey was called upon to make one series of maps so that the Census Bureau could make their series of maps.  The Census Bureau chose to use TIGER files with street addresses to link census data to geographic locations.  Once they had the TIGER files they had a basis to build an online mapping program so that users of the web can create maps anywhere in the U.S. at a range of scales.  Here is an example of the producer of maps also being the user of their own maps and using their digital maps to provide a program for the public to make their own maps online.

There are many other governmental agencies which employ scientists and technicians to produce series of maps.  In the United States, at the federal level are the National Weather Service and the National Ocean Survey among other organizations.  The U.S. Geological Survey is responsible for producing the topographic map series of the nation.  These organizations use their maps to produce and update their map series.   

The U.S. National Weather Service has the responsibility to collect data and produce maps on a regular basis.  Their maps are used internally to produce weather forecasts and similar products.  Their data are made available to private firms and organizations which build on the information to produce their own maps which they then use to issue forecasts.  These firms and organizations also produce their own maps, in many cases supplemented with their own map data, and their maps and forecasts are what they sell.  Tom Skilling of WGN-TV super-station out of Chicago attracts a large audience to see his weather maps.  For more than two decades The Weather Channel has made a success of showing a variety of weather maps on television, 24 hours a day.  On-air weathercasters interact with the maps as they explain what is happening and make their forecasts.  AccuWeather is one of the major private firms which make many maps that are seen on TV and in newspapers around the world, but particularly in the USA.

There are many publishers who are known for their maps and atlases, such as Oxford and Rand McNally.    Michelin and Hammond compete for sales in travel guides and travel maps.  The National Geographic Society likewise competes in some of the same markets but seeks to have a unique niche in the world of serving purchasers of maps.  Allen Cartography and Raven Maps compete for large detailed maps that are decorative as well as informative. 

National, regional and state atlases are produced for a variety of reasons, and seldom for commercial success.  It has been a tradition for nation states to produce National Atlases in large part to showcase the nation and perhaps in part to help inform their own citizens about their country.  In the 1960's the United States was one of the few countries in the world which did not have a national atlas.  This was part of the motivation for the production of The U.S. National Atlas which was published in 1970.  Today many national atlases are on the web, such as the Canadian, Finnish, Chilean and United States. 

Many states in the U.S. have help fund a state agency or university to compile and produce an atlas of the state, to showcase the state.  These atlases also serve as scholarship for their makers and showcase the capabilities of the makers.  One of the earlier atlases of this type was the Metrolina Atlas of the area around Charlotte, North Carolina.  The success of the Geography Department that produced that atlas led many other programs to produce similar atlases.  Today the Atlas of Oregon is probably the model of producing an atlas to promote and showcase the state, the university, the department and the persons involved.  

Using World Map Projections

An attribute of any map is the projection on which the map is constructed.  In 1569 Gerardus Mercator developed a projection on which a constant compass course plots as a straight line.  This projection has great utility for navigation and still today the Mercator Projection is unsurpassed for nautical and aeronautical charts.  The normal view of the Mercator projection is to have it centered along the equator, but the projection can be used in other orientations, such as the transverse Mercator.  In the normal view, the map is constructed by continuously enlarging the scale of the map as one moves away from the equator, which makes high latitude areas relatively much larger than low latitude areas.  Thus, on the equator-centered Mercator Projection, Greenland appears to be as large as South American but in reality it is only one-eight the size of  South America.  Although the Mercator contains great exaggerations of some areas relative to other areas, this map projection is used very commonly for general reference maps of the world.  Some people object strenuously to the use of the normal Mercator projection as a general reference map--calling it the 'Mercator problem.'

A number of persons have produced alternative world map projections to 'solve the Mercator problem.'  In the mid-Twentieth Century, R. Buckminister 'Bucky' Fuller and colleagues created the Dymaxion Map Projection, being 20 triangles that could be folded into an icosahedron.  Their unique contribution was that they positioned the continents on the icosahedron so that when it was unwrapped the continents were not interrupted.  On this projection distortions of scale and shape are distributed across the entire surface of the map.  Fuller and his followers argued that this projection solved the Mercator problem, and some even went so far as to say they were the first to produce a world map projection with no distortion.  Near the end of his life Fuller was quoted as saying his map projection was one of the two things he was most proud of in his life.  This projection is still used, but as much as a curiosity as anything.

Two decades later Arno Peters produced a colorful world map on a projection that was not new.  However, he named his projection the Peters Projection and has been able to give it great publicity.  In his case he not only solved the Mercator problem, but contended he brought equity to the poorer peoples of the world who live in areas that are shown relatively small on the Mercator projection.  His argument was warmly received in some religious communities and the map has become widely disseminated. 

Today in my community, I can purchase two general reference maps of the world; the one in bookstores is on the Mercator projection while the one sold in the global handicraft store is the Peters map.  The choice of world map projection is a real problem.  When I first unfolded my copy of the equal-area Peters projection a student looked a Indonesia along the equator and exclaimed that Indonesia was greatly exaggerated on this projection.  The student was so used to seeing a relative small Indonesia on most world map projections that when he saw it at correct relative size, he thought it was an error.  Indeed, there is a Mercator problem because too many people use that projection for purposes it was not designed for.  

Here we see the base projection of the map is the object being used, or misused.  There have been many other players in this game.


In summary, many uses of maps are revealed by looking at the persons or organizations which conceive of, research, compile, edit, produce and distribute a map or a series of maps.  In the process of producing and distributing maps, individuals use maps.  But, more importantly are the many ways maps are products that should have value to others.  Individuals produce maps for a variety of reasons, including pure scholarship.  In the commercial sector the value of the map enterprise is measured by the success of the operation.  In the governmental sector the value of the map enterprise is measured by the funding allocated to the agencies producing the maps.  Not surprisingly, there is frequently tension between these sectors and within sectors for users and their support.


References Cited

Hammond, Edwin H., 1964, “Classes of land surface form in the forty-eight States, U.S.A.,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 54(1), map supplement.

Kuchler, A. W., 1966, “Potential Natural Vegetation,” The National Atlas of the United States, 1970, pp. 89-92.

U.S. Department of Interior, 1970, The National Atlas of the United States.

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