Globes and maps are tools of geographic communication. We use them to describe the natural and cultural characteristics of places and their spatial relationships in terms of location, distance, and direction. Maps and globes are simplifications of the real world and are therefore prone to distortion and inaccuracy. They are also an example of a specialized symbolic “language” used to rapidly communicate complex relationships, such as contour lines on a topographic map. Maps can be used to represent the world in descriptive terms but they are also powerful tools to understand and explain change and to plan and solve problems. As we use maps to represent our understanding of the world, they become powerful ways that “worldviews” are reinforced and projected across the globe. Maps become our world whether they are accurate or not, and maps reflect and promote cultural and regional biases.

The most important “essential elements” of Geography for Life in this topic are: The World in Spatial Terms (Standards 1, 2, and 3), Places and Regions (Standards 5 and 6), and The Uses of Geography (Standards 17 and 18).

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