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Resources for using maps in research

Organizing Maps for Research & Teaching

Using Digital Map Collections in Class

The GIS & Maps Librarian is available to:

  • help instructors select maps and create digital map collections for classes
  • give presentations on cartography and map interpretation
  • help design map-based assignements

Sample Assignment 1: Map Interpretation

Learning Outcome 1:
Students will learn how to interpret cartographic elements, visual hierarchy of information, and apply map interpretations to the course subject.
Learning Outcome 2:
If assigned, students will learn how to incorporate primary sources into selected software platforms to communicate interpretations.


  • Students select or are assigned one or more maps
  • Students answer a series of questions (below) to interpret the primary messages of the map and connect interpretation to the course subject or instructor provided theme
  • Instructors may choose how students share their interpretations, such as through live discussion, forum posts, essays, or digital presentations using platforms like LUNA's annotation feature, ArcGIS Story Maps, or UChicago Voices

Interpretive Questions:

  • Who made the map?
  • What was the historical, political, and social context in which the author created it?
  • For what purpose was the map designed, and for whom was it made?
  • What information is included in the map? What is missing?
  • What is at the center of the map? What is closer to the edges? Why might the map be framed in this way?
  • What is visually emphasized or highlighted in the map?
  • What is visually deemphasized?
  • What symbols are used to designate the various things that are represented on the map?
  • Why might the mapmaker have chosen these symbols?
  • What colors does the mapmaker use?
  • Are some things (names of places, symbols, etc.) smaller or larger than others? If so, what might this variation in scale signify?
            - Adapted from Writing with Maps, Duke University


Sample Assignment 2: Map Re-Interpretation

Learning Outcome 1:
Students will learn how to understand data quality and documentation.
Learning Outcome 2: 
Students will learn how to produce visualizations to convey a message.
Learning Outcome 3: 
If assigned, students will learn how to use graphics or mapping software.


  • Building on the assignment above, students create a new map using the same or similar data used to produce their selected maps
  • Map products may be hand drawn, produced in a graphics program or a mapping software (such as QGIS or ArcGIS Online), depending on the class objectives