Map Critique: Mapping Memories

Map Critique: Mapping Memories

Mapping Memories by Lívia Sá

To map memories, feelings and sensations is not a simple task. One can’t simply follow instructions on how to do it so. It all begins by thinking about the past, about personal experiences, and such step can be intense and difficult. It is also relevant to acknowledge that many memories are automatically dealing with a time and place. Consequently, such memories connect a certain experience with a specific time and location. By analyzing memories that happened in a certain location, at a specific time, I then conclude that a place (and/or a city) has two different interpretations: one that many different people relate to it, and another that is personal and is made by each one’s personal stories and emotions. Memories can be pleasant, nostalgic and painful, but regardless of the feeling that comes with it, we are all embodying our personal memories. The representation of personal memories and experiences becomes then an extremely relevant step when documenting other’s stories. As the visual theorist, Cliff McLucas, once stated, “negotiation and contestation over who and what is represented and how,” (McLucas, 7) is an important thought regarding the portrayal of people’s personal experiences. One effective result can be approached when the people (who own the memories and experiences) document it themselves. This lets the person interpret their personal memories, document it and share with others what they envision. Nowadays most storytelling platforms are digital and it has become more common to see interactive projects, through which a designer builds a platform where individuals get to provide the content and interact with it by adding and sharing their personal stories and experiences with others. However, there are people who are still using different techniques that can often be poetic, beautiful and even nostalgic, such as hand made (written or drawn) projects. Following, I will investigate and contrast two different examples of projects; one that is digital and the other that is hand made.


Map Your Memories


1 Video about the project Mapping Manhattan.

Project’s website:

The project Map Your Memories by the student Becky Cooper asks New Yorkers to draw their memories of Manhattan. In 2009 Cooper began this project, and decided to walk 13.6 miles through Broadway, from Marble Hill to the Financial District, as she was handing out hand drawn maps of Manhattan while asking different people (whom she didn’t know) to share their memories of Manhattan. The maps also had a stamped envelope so people could mail the maps back to her. She handed thousands of maps to all kinds of different people and her directions were: “Maps are more about their makers than the places they describe. Map who you are. Map where you are. Fill the map with a story or paint your favorite cup of coffee. Map the invisible. Map the obvious. Map your memories” (Cooper). Cooper then received many maps back and made a book with 75 of these maps called Mapping Manhattan: A Love (and Sometimes Hate) Story in Maps by 75 New Yorkers. The maps varied a lot in its content, areas of focus and ways of expressions, going from written statements, drawings to even photographs. In addition to the book, anyone can still go to the website,, and at the “Participate” page, people can download a map, share their memories and send it back to Cooper.



Example of maps that have been shared on the website:


“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do.  Explore, Dream, Discover.”


“My love find what you love and let it disappointed by the things that you didn’t do. kill you.” Bukowski




I consider this an extremely poetic and personal project through which individuals share their personal relationship with a city while also being inspired to think about it. In a city like New York, it is likely that most people don’t take the time to reflect about their memories in relationship to the city and even more, most people don’t think about documenting such memories. Moreover, I do think that this project does a great job of establishing a connection between unknown people and their connections to one city, which is different for each individual that inhabits it. The one thought that came to mind about the project was the decision to only choose Manhattan. I believe that many people who experience Manhattan might also experience Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Bronx in a more or equal meaningful way. However, I understand the beauty and simplicity of just focusing in Manhattan. I do appreciate all the steps involved in the project, from Cooper’s decision to choose one street that crosses the whole city, to actually having physical interaction with each person and then publishing a book with many of these maps, while also having a website through which people can continuously share their “memories” (I do wonder about her process of selection. What was included in the book and what wasn’t?)

In addition to this project, when researching projects related to mapping memories, I came across the project, It Happened Here by the Pratt graduate student Eric Rieper. The project was created in 2013 and, on the contrary of Cooper’s project, Rieper’s project chose a different platform to let people share their memories. He chose to develop a website through which people could quickly share their experiences that happened at a specific place. As he described the project, “There’s something interesting trying to explore these intangible, ephemeral moments and render them tangibly. So I had this idea to build this system without any real pretext, giving people this opportunity to contribute their experiences and place them in space” (Rieper). The project functions in a way that the viewer has to open the website and refresh the page to see a new statement by someone else who tells (by a written phrase) what happened at a specific location, which is marked by a pintpoint. An example of a statement is, “this is where I learned to fear.”

For me, this project seems like a great start to what could become a more powerful and profound project. I absolutely appreciate the project being quick and interactive while letting anyone share a moment with others and I believe that simplicity is one of the intentions of the project. However, I’m still confused about the fact that the viewer doesn’t have the option to zoom in or out in the map, which makes it harder to figure out the city where a specific statement is referring. This might actually be intentional, so the project emphasizes that people are experiencing personal moments all the time, everywhere and it doesn’t really matter the city or context, but it does matter that all of us are having different experiences, at different locations, and this reminds us that life is happening for everybody, everywhere. However, the functionally of the project is still unclear to me. I tried myself to add a personal statement into the map, and it didn’t work, which made me wonder if the project is no longer functioning, as it should. Also, I personally would like to see a date connected to the statement and I think even a longer description so others get closer to those who are sharing a personal moment. Even though Cooper’s project also doesn’t give any information about the people who are sharing their thoughts, the audience still gets closer to them by the format of her project and for me, Rieper’s project definitely misses this element, which again, is probably intentional.

Project’s website: and Eric’s website with some information about the project:



Creative prototype:

By analyzing both of these maps, in addition to reading Mapping Spectral Traces and Deep Mapping the Media City (specially chapter Multisensory Methods), I began to think about my memories of NYC and other cities, and I then started to think about my memories in relationship to specific senses. Which moment and place reminds me of a smell, or a taste and so on. I then thought about this concept in relationship to both New York and San Francisco, where I lived for almost 7 years. It was interesting that the memories connected to San Francisco were more profound, nostalgic and specific. I think that this happened because I still live in New York, and, in this specific case, often times it is easier to “remember” when you don’t live in a city anymore. Thus, I decided to create a map for San Francisco and Marin County. The maps use colors to express feelings towards specific areas in relationship to my memories about these places. In addition, the map uses a legend to show the five different senses in relationship to specific locations. I also created five extra legends that refer to: places where I worked, homes where I lived, places I biked a lot, routes I used to drive frequently and lastly, where I feel extremely nostalgic. The experience of creating these maps was indeed more emotional than I expected and this made me conclude that I absolutely love the organic steps of documenting memories and emotions (next, I will create one of the East Bay, where I also lived and worked, and one of Brooklyn and Manhattan). I consider this an initial step of personal documentation that can lead to documenting further personal emotions, or even traumatic events.






Cooper, Becky. “Map Your Memories.” Mapyourmemories. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.

“Geo-Tag Your Most Important Places In This Map Of Memories.” Fastcoexist. 16 Sept. 2013. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.

McLucas, Cliff, and Karen E. Till. “Deep Mapping. A Brief Introduction.” Mapping Spectral Traces. Blacksburg: Virginia Tech, 2010. 7. Print.