To the National Map and Beyond

By Kelmelis, John | Cartography and Geographic Information Science, April 2003 | Go to article overview

To the National Map and Beyond

Kelmelis, John, Cartography and Geographic Information Science


people have relied on maps and geographic information for survival, economic development, and recreation for millennia. One can imagine prehistoric people scratching lines into the mud to direct others to better hunting grounds, describe the relationships of caves to rivers and highly productive food sources, outline dangerous locations, or emphasize the benefits and safety of a prized place of respite. As society developed in complexity through the various levels of band, tribe, chiefdom, and state (Diamond 2001), and beyond to multistate structures and alliances and global enterprises, the need for maps and geographic information continued to increase. The evolution of societies is intertwined with the evolution of technology; major transitions were facilitated by harnessing fire, taming animals, developing metallurgy, the invention of laborsaving devices, and the proliferation of information. In our times, the sophisticated electronically linked nations and multistate societies depend on a highly accurate, readily accessible, and current information infrastructure.

Because a great portion of society's economy depends on geographic information (Bernknopf et al. 1993; Bhagwat and Viju 2000; Kelmelis 2001; NAPA 1998; Oxford Economic Research Associates 1999), maps are a critical part of this information infrastructure. Just as people still sketch maps in the mud to communicate geospatial information, maps printed on paper or other portable, durable material will always be needed. However, the digital age has provided new opportunities for the production, distribution, and use of geospatial information.

In the United States, the authority to produce topographic surveys of the national lands rests in the legislation that established the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in 1879 (USGS 1986). Ten years following this legislation, specific language on topographic surveys was included in the Appropriations Act of 1889, and, in 1897, the USGS was authorized to distribute maps and atlases in Public Resolution 13 of the 54th Congress. The USGS conducted cooperative (joint) funded topographic mapping projects in partnership with States and municipalities during the 1880s, which was recognized in Public Law 100 of the 70th Congress in 1928.

The U.S. Geological Survey produced topographic maps of the United States at various scales throughout its history. The current standard topographic map is produced at the 1:24,000-scale and l:25,000-scale for the conterminous US, Hawaii, and the Virgin Islands; at the l:30,000-scale for Puerto Rico; and at the 1:25,000-scale and 1: 62,500-scale for Alaska. All the United States, except parts of Alaska, has been mapped at the standard scales. Revision has taken place for many topographic map quadrangles in the areas of greatest land surface change. However, the average age of standard topographic maps for the United States is 23 years (Ryan 2002).

This paper discusses the transition from analog to digital maps and the concept of the National Digital Cartographic Database (NDCDB); separating the topographic map into individual theme-based data layers and their importance to the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI); the recombination of these data layers into a spatial data framework, with enhanced local data, monitoring, statistical descriptions, scientific assessments, analyses, and application capabilities to form The National Map (TNM). This paper also provides a vision for USGS geography and other scientific disciplines that goes beyond the NSDI and The National Map.

Transition from Analog to Digital Maps

During the mid- and late 1970s, the U.S. Geological Survey established projects to develop digital line graphs (DLG) and digital elevation models. The long-term vision was for a number of theme-based national coverages of digital cartographic data that would be used to improve the cartographic production process and other analytical applications. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

To the National Map and Beyond


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.