For every Internet commenter who enters online arguments about the USA with facts they got from their butt, there's a map that presents hard data bare and allows the viewers to make their own interpretations.
From light pollution and tree coverage to out-of-service railways and streets and highways, maps may not immediately look as exciting as a viral cat video -- which might explain why we often overlook them when -- but that doesn't mean that are boring. To prove that, we put together a selection of maps that explain the United States better then most textbooks and if broadening your worldview isn't thrilling, I don't know what is.
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There’s often overlapping features between maps. For example, a topographic map could be utilized to show the distribution of a local orchid, making it both a topographic and thematic map. It could also be used to show well-known features of specific interest to travelers making this topographic, general reference, and thematic maps all in one.
The most widely used maps are “Political maps”. They are the ones that are usually mounted on the walls of classrooms throughout the world. They show the geographic boundaries between governmental units such as countries, states, and counties. They show roads, cities, and major water features such as oceans, rivers, and lakes.
Political maps are really good at helping people to understand the geography of the world. They are usually the first type of map that students are introduced to in school, too. They are often called “reference maps” because people refer to them again and again when they have questions.
According to Geology.com, thousands of different political reference maps have been prepared to explain the United States. There are maps of the entire nation, maps for each of the 50 states, and even maps of the 3142 counties (parishes in Louisiana, and boroughs in Alaska) that make up the states. Most counties, boroughs, and parishes are further subdivided into even smaller political units. An incredible number of political maps have been prepared just to display the geography of the United States alone.
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Patrick McGranaghan, who is a land surveyor in Colorado, USA, and the creator of one of the biggest online cartography communities, r/MapPorn, did an analysis on its most popular posts on Twitter. McGranaghan collected the 10 best-performing posts from the previous 18 months -- about 200 maps in total -- and went through each of them individually, tagging them based on the content, style, and subject matter. He then sorted the tags to see which ones were the most common.
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"The most popular subject was history," McGranaghan told Bored Panda. "In this category, the most popular maps were about World War II." Maps about other wars were also well liked, as well as those about the ancient Romans and historic trade routes.
"Another popular category was natural science. Especially popular are maps about wildlife, such as those that use tracking data to show animal migration patterns. Other topics included geology and astronomic maps."
Interestingly, quite a few viral maps focused on language. These include etymology, dialect and various pronunciation maps.
"Another topic that I grouped together are 'political re-alignments'. These are maps that deal with boundaries. Subjects like separatist movements, re-drawing borders, and user-created idealizations. Many of these are satirical and funny," McGranaghan explained.
McGranaghan, however, wouldn't say that all of these maps are scientific. "I think the data is a bit noisy, but it's interesting nonetheless. Users sometimes want a magic formula to make their maps go viral and I don't think there is one. The tastes of the masses are fickle and change over time."
When it comes to maps that best describe a country, McGranaghan thinks that it depends on the goal of the mapmaker. "All maps are generalizations, some good, some bad. They are not true representations and a good 'reader' should know that. I think good data visualization will take disparate datasets and find meaningful connections that weren't known before. It sounds simple but it is not so straightforward. A good mapmaker should be familiar with many matrices of knowledge and should be able to sift through them and make new connections."
McGranaghan created r/MapPorn in May 2011 while living in Taiwan, and it currently has over 995K members. He thinks the reason why the community is becoming so big is the same one why people like maps so much: they are easily digestible. So go ahead folks, continue scrolling and enjoy the rest of the post. Bon appétit!