Map Scale &
Local History


Map scale is the ratio between the size of the map and the area of the ground it represents. The larger the scale the smaller the area it typically represents, and visa versa. The scale should be shown on the map, usually as some number of units on the map equals some distance on the ground (1 inch equals 1 mile, for example), or the simple ration of X:Y, where the units are always the same (1:63,360 being 1 inch = 63,360 inches, or one mile). Some maps merely provide a ruled line any you have to measure it to determine the ratios and some don't provide any indication at all and you have to measure known distances on the map to estimate the scale.

The maps useful in studying local history will range in size from commerical atlas maps, zooming in on neighborhoods (1 inch = 300 feet or 1:3,600) to maps of the entire Western Reserve (1 inch = 1 mile or 1:63,360). Soren Hansen's "SOOM Index" is a good place to visit to understand which scales are useful for which levels of use.

Larger-scale maps are accurate enough for any type of local history research, but the number of individual sheets necessary to cover large areas will make them awkward to use. Small scale maps can show broader areas on one sheet, but the accuracy of the details is often too poor to be of much help for studying small areas of the city.

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June 21, 2003

Last updated January 24, 2013


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