Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

H. L. Vacher, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Steven Reader, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Todd Chavez, Dean.

Committee Member

Jeffrey G. Ryan, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Elizabeth M. Walton, Ph.D.


Geoscinece Education, Map Reading, Reference Map, Thematic Map


Maps are increasingly being used in traditional and virtual media, and civic discourse on political, social, and environmental issues, among others, is more and more becoming influenced by them. The often-used expression of a “picture tells a 1000 words” has never been so apt in our progressively more visual world. Despite this increased role and importance of maps, map literacy, as a field of research, remains rather underdeveloped. This is especially so for thematic maps, the very type of map that is finding increasing currency in discourse. As part of this under-developed nature of map literacy, the quantitative skills used in map reading and interpretation have not been systematically investigated, and previous commentary on the subject has been limited to listings of relatively low-level skills. As modern technologies, such as GIS, enable the more sophisticated production of maps, their interpretation can come to depend on more advanced quantitative literacy. The quantitative literacy required for map interpretation can also be expected to vary significantly with the type of map, and while map literacy studies generally recognize the broad distinction of reference and thematic maps, they do not provide a more nuanced framework for investigating how quantitative literacy may vary both within these broad categories and for maps which overlap these categories.

This dissertation represents a first attempt to address these issues, and at least provide conceptual frameworks for their investigation. For the first conceptual framework, the dissertation introduces a three-set Venn model to discuss the content and relationships of three “literacies”: map literacy, quantitative literacy, and background information. As part of this, the field of Quantitative Map Literacy (QMP) is introduced and defined as the knowledge (concepts, skills and facts) required to accurately read, use, interpret, and understand the quantitative information embedded in geographic backgrounds. It is conceptualized as the intersection of the Map Literacy and Quantitative Literacy “sets”. The dissertation also introduces the conceptual framework of a compositional triangle based on the ratio of reference to thematic map purpose and the level of generalization/distortion within maps. This framework allows for any type of map to be located within the triangle and then related to the type and level of quantitative literacy they demand. Finally, based on these two frameworks, the dissertation uses the pedagogical tool of “word problems” to explore the variability of map reading skills and knowledge, and does this for specific map examples.