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Maps & Cartography: Thematic and Special Maps

Last Updated: May 13, 2024 2:26 PM


Below are links to selected thematic and special maps. Thematic maps show specific, topical features, so that concepts or correlation between concepts can be visualized more readily. Often thematic maps show graphical representations of data, but many also show data in a standard map for ease of understanding. Some examples of thematic maps appear below. 

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Thematic and Special Maps

Thematic and Special Use Maps

  • World Mapper. Excellent source for maps of the World that show demographics, economics, and other statistical sets. Uses cartograms. 400+ maps that display data by varying the size of each country based on statistical data sets.
  • Buzztracker. See the daily news on a map. World map shows news hotspots using density by location/city. Great visualization tool, and you can read the top stories from major news sources world-wide.

Animated Maps

Using Flash or other software, these maps graphically demonstrate chronological concepts or other principles.

  • South America boundaries, 1945-1999.
  • Centennia. Commercial, map-based guide to the history of Europe and the Middle East from the beginning of the 11th century to the present. It is a dynamic, animated historical atlas. Watch over 9,000 border changes occur as the map reshapes itself from one date to the next. Demo version available at this site.
  • Mapping History. Project to provide animated maps showing various themes in history.

Area Comparison Maps

Comparison maps show comparisons between two or more countries or places. For most area compaisons, use a search engine (e.g., Google) and search for "comparison map" or "size comparison map" and add names of geographical features (e.g., country names). Here are a few samples of specific countries:

Geologic Maps


Historical Maps and Atlases

  • Old Maps Online. An index of more than 400,000 maps. Libraries across the globe participate in this project to make their maps available virtually. 
  • Alabama Maps (University of Alabama). Maps covering world, countries,  and states. Maps include outline, historical and current maps. 
  • Eamus VRoma! a virtual tour of Rome, based on a clickable map of the city.
  • Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative (ECAI). This site features cartographic tools for "visualizing and analyzing historical and cultural phenomena." Users may create "maps based on a theme, era and region." The "Projects" section provides examples, and the "Participating" section provides instructions. Also includes information about the underlying technology. Note: Access to some data sets requires a password. Sponsored by the University of California, Berkeley.
  • Historical Atlas of Europe. Interactive atlas covers Europe, by century, from 1 A.D to 2000. Samples: Europe in Year 1; 1000; 1500; 2000; Rome Year 100. Also includes GIS data for the maps for purchase: Georeferenced Historical Vector Data.
  • Historical Atlas of the Twentieth Century. Series of maps relating to variety of themes, with additional tables of data. Some maps provide animated view over time periods (Example)
  • Latin American maps (Latin American Network Information Center, UT Austin). Historic and modern maps, mostly Latin and Central America, but many cover other countries and locations. Also has links to more collections.
  • Luso-Hispanic World in Maps (Library of Congress). Manuscript maps and atlases (pre- 1900).
  • London, 1859. During the time of Dr. John Snow (1813-58), the prominent epidemiologist and anesthesiologist. Created by the Dept. of Epidemiology University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Map is original, but is presented using software that lets you zoom in or move about the map.
  • Map. Use this map to discover the names and dates for local historical newspapers in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Australia. This website is hosted by A subscription to the service is not needed to use this map. 
  • NOAA Historical Map and Chart Collection. Office of Coast Survey collection of historical maps and charts in digital form. The collection contains a wide variety of documents including nautical charts from the mid-1800's through the early 1900's, sketches of coastlines; a Civil War collection; a Washington, DC topographic series; and early exploration maps of the Pacific Northwest. These documents serve as excellent examples of 19th Century cartography. 
  • Interactive Nolli Map Website. "The 1748 Map of Rome, by Giambattista Nolli is widely regarded by scholars as one of the most important historical documents of the city ever created. This project is a collaborative exploration of the exquisite Nolli engraving, through its historic significance and contemporary application."
  • Silk Road Atlas (Silk Road Seattle, Daniel C. Waugh, University of Washington). More than just the trade routes, this shows maps of the various empires, cities, dynastic holdings, etc. Excellent site.
  • Stone Circles (Megalithic sites, etc.). Interactive maps for locating sites, photographs, and data on stone circles in the British Isles, and Brittany.

Nautical Charts

  • OpenSeaMap. This worldwide nautical chart uses freely available nautical information and geospatial data. it is produced by the OpenStreetMap community. 

Outline Maps

Sky Maps and Star Charts

  • Online Planetarium. An online planetarium displaying the stars and planets visible in the night sky on any given day of the year.
  • Twilight Map. Live map showing where on Earth it is currently day, night or twilight.
  • Hubble Space Telescope Image Base.
  • EarthSky. Interactive map featuring the "best places to stargaze". Find a new stargazing location, or share your favorite spot. Website includes other astronomical information, including Tonight, which includes current moon phase and other updates.
  • Custom Star Charts. Constellations and celestial objects are plotted for any location and time. Several sources are:
    • Your Sky. View and produce maps of skies by location, date, and time.
    • Sky Maps. View and produce maps of current skies. Other data available.


Transportation Maps


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