Map Reading and Interpretation
Jim Hathaway
Slippery Rock University

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Course and instructor information Grading and Attendance Policy Course outline

Fall 2013

G&ES 115 (1 credit)
Instructor: Jim Hathaway, member of Association of PA State College & University
Faculties (APSCUF). APSCUF is committed to promoting excellence in all that we do to ensure that our students receive the highest quality education
Office: 325 ATS (go through 319 ATS)

Office Hours: T and Th: 3:30-4:15; W:, 2:00-3:15; F: 2:00-4:15;feel free to see me at other times
Phone: 724-738-2391
Email: james dot hathaway at sru dot edu

When and Where:
Section 01: October 2 - November 4, MWF 1:00-1:50, 309 ATS

Required Materials:
"Portersville Quadrangle" (USGS topographic map, also see "Topographic Map Symbols" on this webpage)
calculator (cell phone calculators are not allowed during exams)
flash drive or memory stick
Course Description:
Provides fundamental map concepts with application in web mapping services, topographic maps, and introductory geographic information systems

Grading and Attendance Policy:

Your course grade will be based on the extent of your mastery of the outcomes listed below. I evaluate these outcomes in four assignments worth 50 points each and in two exams worth 400 points each for a course total of 1000 points. You are allowed to bring one page of notes to the two exams. Course grades are awarded as follows: 900-1000 = A, 800-899 = B, 700-799 = C, 600-699 = D, below 600 = F.

Attendance is important. Each class builds on the one before it, so if you miss one, it may be difficult to follow what is going on. Your attendance will affect your grade. Each unexcused absence in excess of 1 will result in a 20-point loss (e.g., a student with 3 unexcused absences will have 40 points deducted from his or her course total). If you are absent, you are responsible for getting the assignment from another student or me and for completing it by the due date. Students who are late to class should see me at the end of the period to ensure that they were not marked absent.

Academic Integrity:
The work that you submit must be your own, for both moral and legal reasons. In this course you may collaborate on assignments but you may not collaborate on exams. The academic integrity section of the undergraduate catalog goes into more detail about what academic dishonesty is and its consequences SRU’s Academic Policies and Procedures.

Student Learning Outcomes:
Map Reading and Interpretation is taught in the Department of Geography, Geology, and the Environment (GGE). Among the outcomes that GGE students will achieve upon graduation are

  1. each graduate shall develop skills in quantitative, qualitative, technological, laboratory, and field procedures, and 
  2. each graduate shall develop general knowledge and understanding of the concepts of location, place, human environment interactions, movement, and region.

Among the evidence that a student displays for attainment of number 1 above is 
each graduate will learn to read, construct, and comprehend thematic maps and derive perspective output from a map

and for the attainment of number 2 above is 
each graduate will demonstrate an understanding of concepts such as absolute and relative location, proximity, separation, direction, region, hierarchy, density, and dispersion, and methods that are used to describe and analyze spatial patterns, and

each graduate will demonstrate an understanding of absolute location systems such as latitude-longitude and alpha-numeric grids

As the first course in the departmentís geospatial techniques course sequence, Map Reading and Interpretation introduces students to the knowledge and skills required to meet departmental outcomes. By the end of this course, the student will

  • acquire map skills involving distance, area, scale, and latitude/longitude
  • acquire skills in creating and interpreting maps with web mapping services
  • describe the purposes and distinguishing characteristics of selected map projections
  • identify and make at least six types of thematic maps and know appropriate uses for each
  • acquire competence using paper and electronic topographic maps; including concepts such as elevation, direction, Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) coordinates, slope, and profiles; as well as competence in generating and interpreting electronic topographic maps
  • acquire a beginning knowledge of geographic information systems


Communicating Basic Spatial Ideas--Static: location, direction, distance, distribution
  1. Coordinate systems: the graticule—parallels of latitude and meridians of longitude
    1. has a helpful site on latitude and longitude, and here's another site. You can obtain the latitude and longitude for domestic and foreign names at the US Board on Geographic Names or the Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names.  Robogeo has a point and click source for latitude and longitude
    2. antipodes: this site or this site takes a point on the globe and provises the point that is diametrically opposed to it. Also see Wikipedia's article
  2. Map information: types and purposes of maps, map elements, map symbols
  3. Scale introduction: units of measurement, map distance and ground distance; represetnative fraction scale, verbal scale, bar scale; scale conversions
    1. To find the distance from place or one set of coordinates to another, use Daft Logic's Google Maps Distance Calculator, Zonum Solutions' MapTool, this webpage, or this Chemical Ecology web page
  4. Mapping a single topic or theme: types of thematic maps (ArcGIS Explorer Online)
  5. Scale, continued
    1. Scale is well illustrated with this Powers of 10 tutorial the Scale of the Universe 2

Tools of Representation: Making and Interpreting Computer Maps 

  1. Location maps

Rand McNally -- maps & directions/online maps  
Google Maps 
Bing (formerly Windows Live Search Maps, and before that Windows Live Local and before that Virtual Earth) 
PENNDOT county highway maps in pdf format
  1. Aerial image: Bing, Yahoo, MapQuest, or Google Maps.  For one- or two-foot resolution maps of most Pennsylvania counties, go to the Pennsylvania Spatial Data Access site's Imagery Viewer and Download Tool and click on PAMAP (2003-2006) in the upper right hand corner
  2. Point symbol/line/isoline/bounded area maps:
  3. Thematic maps: Microsoft MapPoint, ArcGIS Explorer Online (including ESRI Tapestry, see reference guide)

Communicating Spatial Ideas--Static, Continued

  1. Map projections, from sphere to plane: types of global transformation;  planar, cylindrical, conic, and miscellaneous projections; projection properties, choice of projections Wikipedia has a helpful article on map projection, also see the USGS webpage on projections or the user friendly radical cartography site. For two interactive sites that use Tissot's Indicatrices to show distortion in projections, see here. This site also compares map projections by distortion

Maps and Change: Spatio-Temporal Thinking--Dynamic: motion, flow, force, interaction

  1. How spatial features change through time: changes in condition over time, position of something over time, extent of something over time; e.g., Land Use/Land Cover Change
    1. Google Earth, which has a historical imagery button at the top of the window
    2. For historical air photos of Pennsylvania, see Penn Pilot

Displaying and Analyzing the Shape of the Land: Topographic Maps and Geographic Information Systems
download topo maps free!

  1. Topographic maps: what they can tell us,  USGS symbols
  2. Depicting the shape of the land: contour elevation. Here's a three-dimensional topographic map simulation
    1. Use Zonum Solutions' Maptool to point and click to get elevation
  3.  Orientation and direction: true north, magnetic north, grid north
  4. Coordinate systems: latitude and longitude, the UTM grid (fact sheet from USGS), Maptech's online map server provides UTM readings (select UTM in the Coordinates menu)
    1. Convert degrees, minutes, seconds to decimal degrees and vice versa with this FCC utility or this Earth Point page
  5. Slope: a measure of steepness
  6. Exploring topographic maps and layers with GeoPDF, Google Earth, and the USGS National Map
    1. USGS Map Locator and Downloader, Google Earth with topographic map layers, Acme Mapper, and the ArcGIS USA Topo Maps layer
    2. GIS glossary
  7. Slopes with Geo PDFs, Google Earth--continued
  8. Profiles with Google Earth, panoramas with HeyWhat'sThat
  9. Analyzing change with Google Earth and the USGS National Map Viewer



Conversion Factors:

inches x 2.54 = centimeters centimeters x .394 = inches
feet x .3048 = meters  meters x 3.281 = feet
miles x 1.6094 = kilometers  kilometers x .6214 = miles

Feet and Miles
1 mile = 5,280 feet

Metric Lengths:
10 millimeters = 1 centimeter
100 centimeters = 1 meter
1000 meters = 1 kilometer

Back to Jim Hathaway's home page
Email: james dot hathaway at sru dot edu

Created January 1997; revised 9 December 2013