We just wrapped up round three of Maps as Media. We visited the NYPL Maps Division and enjoyed a guided tour of the Maria Thereza Alves exhibition about migration, mapping, and ballast. We welcomed a number of guests to the classroom: cartographer and historian of science Bill Rankin spoke with us about his own work and about cartographic epistemologies; Amir Sheikh, a US Forest Service Environmental Anthropologist, discussed how indigenous cartography informed his team’s work on the Waterlines mapping project in the Pacific Northwest; artist Nina Katchadourian shared her inspiring map-related projects; and Bert Spaan, software engineer, talked about his work as head engineer of the NYPL’s Space/Time Directory. We talked about mapping’s histories and futures, about cartographic technologies and intelligences, about sensory and indigenous mapping, about aerial imagery and GIS, about the mapping arts and the limits of cartography.
And all throughout the semester, our 17 students (alongside our extraordinary TA, Emily Sloss) created atlases: collections of maps that allowed everyone to examine the spatial and temporal dimensions of their thesis projects or other long-term research interests. Here’s what most of them did (some students are exploring sensitive topics and have asked that we keep their work private):
Andrew explored the history of ecological transformation and the politics of conservation in the “manufactured baylands of Silicon Valley.” He started with the story of a single protected species, the snowy plover, then scaled up and out to examine the plover as an emblem of larger political and ecological dynamics.
Ayesha explored development and displacement in Cape Town, South Africa by mapping across three “scales”: people, place, and possibilities.
Claudio détourned the real estate marketing brochure to examine real-estate development in Long Island City — and particularly how that aspirational marketing vision erases local culture, and how we might employ community-oriented mapping practices to chronicle and reinforce local knowledges.
Danielle reimagined James Bridle’s dronestagram project in order to highlight the myriad humanitarian and environmental uses to which drones are being put. Put simply, she mapped “the good drones.” Danielle created a StoryMap, a dronestagram2.0 Instagram account, a drone timeline, and an app mock-up.
Jessica mapped the connections between “resilience” and urban inequality. Her atlas of layered transparencies embodied the intersection of myriad political, social, environmental, and infrastructural factors in determining a neighborhood’s preparedness to face climate change. She took the Lower East Side as her case study.
Juana, who grew up in Colombia, was haunted by a set of spreadsheets that tabulated the massacres, murders, landmines, displacements, kidnappings, and disappearances resulting from years of battles between FARC and other guerrilla groups, government forces, and the paramilitary. She aimed to transform those spreadsheets into maps: “to organize the information and give it some sense of spatiality and care, to visualize the effects of conflict and honor the victims.” Juana embroidered her maps on burlap, an integral part of Colombia’s economy and material culture.
Julia, a fan of horror movies, sought to map landscapes of fear. She ultimately homed in on the house and, through a content analysis of a dozen horror movies, heat-mapped the most vulnerable sites in haunted houses and the bodies of their inhabitants.
Larisa wanted to find out where all the smart cities are — and what makes them so smart. She did a content analysis of an extensive body of smart cities literature to find out what and where these elusive creatures are.
For her Design + Technology Masters thesis, La Tricia is not only designing a sports bra for well-endowed athletic women; she also aims to design a process that facilitates its custom design and fabrication. She used her atlas to explore the global history of undergarments and the geography of sartorial customs.
Reem wanted to better understand the migration and refugee crisis around the Mediterranean, and to “convey the severity of a population’s distress.” She sought to spatialize migrants’ stories on both a micro and macro scale, and, like Juana, to acknowledge their humanity and dignity. In painstakingly hand-plotting people as individual points, she transformed her map-making into a contemplative and ethical practice [the following is an animated gif].
For his thesis, Sarath is studying informal settlements in Chennai, India, and “associated urban renewal processes such as the relation, rehabilitation, and redevelopment of … newly sterilized zones for capital appropriation.” He aimed to use his atlas to examine how a city works as both a formal and an informal entity — and to show urban dynamics both from a high level of abstraction and through their on-the-ground texture and granularity.
Sophie’s thesis is examining non-consensual pornography — so she used her atlas to study the phenomenon’s legal and cultural landscapes, its discourses and media representation, its histories of activism, its technologies of enactment. As she writes: “Mapping Nonconsensual pornography has liberatory potential. As well as raising awareness and lobbying for better protection against the practice, mapping could force perpetrators out of the dark and guide victims and activists towards each other in solidarity.”
Taeyeon’s thesis focuses on the design of outdoor recreation and exercise spaces — “playground” — for mixed-generation groups, and particularly for seniors. She used her atlas to explore the history and geography of NYC playgrounds, as well as the cultural geography of urban seniors — and to propose a new playground design.
And finally, Tim is studying ecologies of trash — or, as he puts it, “plastic and organic ecology in the anthropocene.” His atlas aims to situate our waste management systems, particularly the collection of compost and the recycling of plastics, within “the vastness of geological time.”