Named for the mythological god who holds the world on his shoulder and staggers under the weight, an atlas is a collection of maps and cartographic information regarding a particular area of land or sea. An atlas can contain maps of a particular city, state, country or even planet. With the rising reliance on technology to find information, hard copy publications like atlases are becoming less and less common. This is unfortunate because an atlas can be a resource for learning as well as a handy directional tool. There are many things to learn from an atlas and many ways to enjoy the information it provides. Here are our three ways to use an atlas:
1. Check Out the Area
Most people don’t know the area within and around their own town or city very well. Imagine, we all spend so much time in our places of residence and yet few of us have a good understanding of our landscape. Grab an atlas for the local area and take a look at the topography in particular. Topography is the ups and downs of the land: the hills, the valleys, etc. Find familiar spots and notice where they are located on the map. Oftentimes, we don’t have an accurate mental image of the layout of our town.
2. Follow a River
Every stream ultimately ends up in the ocean. Find a nearby stream or river on a map. Follow it in one direction and then the other. Where does this local water originate? How many other streams, rivers and lakes does it pass through before finally making it to the ocean? To take an even closer look at the local watershed, take a look at what areas upriver also contribute water to the nearby stream.
3. Compare Distances
Getting out a world map is a great way to get a feel for how big the earth is. First, find two landmarks whose distance from each other is familiar. Then, use that same distance to look at how far apart other parts of the world are. Using an atlas, everyone can understand how far it is from Paris to Berlin – about 650 miles – by comparing that distance to, for example, the distance to their sister’s house in the next state over.