Posted on , Last updated

A[ugust] F[riedrich] W[ilhelm] Crome / F.A. Pingeling Sculpsit Hamburg, NEUE CARTE VON EUROPA welch die merkwürdigsten Producte und vernehmsten Handelsplätze dem Flächen-Inhalt aller Europäischen Länder…. Dessau, 1782.“Thematic map” and “thematic cartography” are phrases that get tossed around a bit casually. To put things drily, though, a thematic map uses design elements to depict the distribution of one or more phenomena across a geographic area.  Despite the dry definition, though, thematic maps are one of the most interesting emerging areas of map collecting.

Thematic mapping dates back at least to the late 18th century, as with this early economic map of Europe. Arguably it goes back even further, to the earliest sea charts that showed phenomena such as depth soundings.  But the field really took off in the 19th century, when the mutually-reinforcing requirements of growing government bureaucracies and science–including the social sciences–stimulated both demand for data and the development of means for gathering, collating and depicting it.

Pretty much anything can be the subject of a thematic map: Here at Boston Rare Maps, for example, we have handled thematic maps of weather in the Indian Ocean, the spread of cholera, the Antebellum cotton trade, and camps of the Soviet Gulag. Despite the obvious differences, what all have in common is that they depict some phenomenon that can be both located and counted.

Moving from the relatively straightforward depiction of place names, topographical features, roads and so on to the presentation of thematic data can present the mapmaker with all sorts of graphic design challenges.  The best thematic maps combine intellectual clarity, visual efficiency and aesthetic appeal to create compelling, even unforgettable images such as this map using simple geometric figures to encodes data for the color, range, frequency and sweep of dozens of British lighthouses.



57 results, ordered by Publication Date

Items No longer available

[ Temperance Journal ] Map of Yale from The New York Voice. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, Jan. 6-Dec. 15, 1898. [with:] The New Voice. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, Dec. 22-29, 1898.

Full-year run of a leading Temperance journal … with maps!

A nearly-complete 1898 run of one of America’s “leading temperance journals” (Mott), including maps highlighting consumption in and around leading universities. Funk & Wagnalls published a weekly Temperance journal from 1884 to 1906, though under various titles and in a range of formats: For 1898 the first 50 issues were the eight-page broadsheet New York […]

Out of Stock
View Details
Martin Ulvestad, MARTIN ULVESTADS KART OVER DE FORENEDE STATER OG “NORGE I AMERIKA.” [and on verso:] MARTIN ULVESTADS KART OVER NORDVESTEN OG HOVEDSTRÖGET AF “NORGE I AMERIKA.” Minneapolis: Norge I Amerika Pub. Co., 1901.

Thematic maps documenting the Norwegian presence in the United States

A most unusual pair of thematic maps documenting the Norwegian presence in the United States at the turn of the 20th century. From 1836 through 1900 an average of just over 8000 Norwegians emigrated to the United States each year, and by the turn of the century the country had 3.5 million people of Norwegian […]

Out of Stock
View Details
1943 Theodore Geisel anti malaria map for the U.S. Armed Forces

Second World War anti-malaria map by Theodore Geisel!

A clever and striking persuasive map produced by Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) for the American military’s anti-malaria campaign during the Second World War. The Japanese conquest of Indonesia and the Philippines in early 1942 cut the Allies off from their sources of the malaria drug quinine. The results were nearly catastrophic, so much so that in […]

Out of Stock
View Details
1862 Charles Joseph Minard map of the Civil War-era cotton trade

Charles Joseph Minard map of the Civil War-era cotton trade

A great rarity of thematic mapmaking: a Charles Joseph Minard “flow map” tracking the impact of the American Civil War on the global cotton trade. Minard was one of the great 19th-century innovators in what Edward Tufte has called the “visual display of quantitative information.” Over the course of a quarter century he produced dozens of […]

Out of Stock
View Details
Research by Marvin Resnikoff / Design by Richard Bickhart / Printed by Faculty Press, THE NUCLEAR WEAPONS COMPLEX TRANSPORTATION ROUTES. New York: Radioactive Waste Campaign, 1988.

Thematic map protesting the transport of nuclear weapons and material across the United States

A compelling 1988 persuasive map protesting the variety and volume of dangerous nuclear weapons and material being transported across the United States. The map depicts the United States covered with lines and symbols delineating routes for “truck and rail transportation of nuclear materials among the primary nuclear weapons production facilities, laboratories, and waste sites.” The […]

Out of Stock
View Details
American Map Company, LYNCHINGS BY STATES AND COUNTIES IN THE UNITED STATES 1900 TO 1931 (DATA FROM RESEARCH DEPARTMENT, TUSKEGEE INSTITUTE). [removed from but accompanied by:] George Fort Milton, Chairman, Lynchings and What They Mean: General Findings of the Southern Commission on the Study of Lynching. Atlanta: The Commission, [1931].

The shocking prevalence of lynching in the United States

A horrifying thematic map documenting the prevalence of lynching throughout the United States, from a 1931 report by the Southern Commission on the Study of Lynching. Using as its base a simple outline map of the United States by county, the map uses black dots to identify each location of a documented lynching between 1900-1931. […]

Out of Stock
View Details
National Railway Publication Company, MAP OF THE NORTHERN PACIFIC RAILROAD AND TRIBUTARY COUNTRY. Jay Cooke & Co., [prob. 1872.]

A particularly creative map for selling Northern Pacific Railroad lands

A rare persuasive map of the United States and Canada, issued by Jay Cooke & Co. and using a variety of unusual techniques to promote the sale of lands granted to the Northern Pacific Railroad. Background The Northern Pacific was chartered in 1864 and planned to build a rail line connecting the Great Lakes with […]

Out of Stock
View Details