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Should maps be considered works of art?

Maps are everywhere. World maps hang on classroom walls, road map apps help us navigate our cars, star maps let us decipher the night skies, and maps of the brain allow us to investigate neural pathways. We rely on maps to communicate facts. But what then does it mean if a map needs to be changed or corrected? And what about less common forms of maps, like a map of a city’s smells or a map identifying handicap accessible buildings? A map’s creator must choose what information to include and what to exclude. As a result, maps can represent different points of view, aspects of reality, or time periods. Given all these possibilities, should maps be considered objective documents of fact or subjective works of art?


Religious Walking Tour Maps Out The History Of Muslims In New York City

440 Years Old And Filled With Footprints, These Aren't Your Everyday Maps

This graphic designer makes 'smell maps' of cities around the world

Additional resources to think about

Maps that Changed our World
Explore some noteworthy historical world maps, from as early as 150 CE, from the Library of Congress.

What is a Map? | Crash Course Geography
Maps play a huge role in how we interpret the world. Explore the differences between reference maps and thematic maps and take a look at the role of cartographers in making maps.

Boston's public schools have adopted a new, more accurate world map
PRI's The World explains why Boston Public Schools replaced their old world maps.

Getty Voices: Our L.A., Mapped
Learn about a project at the Getty, a museum and art research center in Los Angeles, California, which produced a map of the city based on the personal experiences of staff members.

When I Walk: Mapping Accessibility | POV
Watch how Jason DaSilva, who uses a wheelchair due to his multiple sclerosis diagnosis, created a crowd-sourced map of wheelchair accessible business.

The Map Of Native American Tribes You've Never Seen Before
NPR's CodeSwitch explores how Aaron Carapella, a self-taught mapmaker, created a map of the United States representing the locations of Native American tribes prior to the arrival of Europeans to the continent.

How Do You Start Mapping Unmapped Streets?
Goats and Soda from NPR takes a look at a new project that attempts to map unmapped areas in underdeveloped countries.

Make a topographic map!
Make your own topographic map with the help of experts at NASA.

How bold errors on old world maps shaped the 21st century
This segment from PBS NewsHour Weekend details how mistakes and outright lies on maps throughout history have changed our perceptions of the world.


Who created this message?

  • What kind of “text” is it?
  • How similar or different is it to others of the same genre?
  • What are the various elements (building blocks) that make up the whole?


What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?

  • What do you notice (about the way the message is constructed)? 
  • What’s the emotional appeal?
  • What makes it seem “real?”
  • What's the emotional appeal? Persuasive devices used?

How might different people understand this message differently from me?

  • How many other interpretations could there be?
  • How could we hear about them?
  • How can you explain the different responses?

What lifestyles, values, and points of view are represented in, or omitted from, this message?

  • What type of person is the reader/watcher/listener invited to identify with?
  • What ideas or perspectives are left out?
  • How would you find what’s missing?
  • What judgments or statements are made about how we treat other people?


Why is this message being sent?

  • What's being sold in this message? What's being told? 
  • Who is served by or  benefits from the message
    – the public?
    – private interests?
    – individuals?
    – institutions?

5 Key Questions of Media Literacy used with permission from the Center for Media Literacy.
Copyright 2002-2021, Center for Media Literacy,


Should maps be considered works of art?

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