Requirements + Assignments

ATTENDANCE AND PARTICIPATION

We want to make sure we get the most out of our discussions, and that we benefit from one another’s expertise and experience in developing our individual projects. Thus, we need everyone to show up regularly, on time, and prepared – i.e., having both completed the assigned reading and any mapping exercises. You will be permitted two excused absences (“excused” means that you must have contacted me prior to class to inform me of your absence) for the semester. Additional excused absences – and any unexcused absences – will negatively affect your grade. More than three absences, excused or unexcused, will result in failure of the course; if you anticipate needing to miss several classes, you are advised to drop the course. A pattern of late arrivals is likewise detrimental. Your consistent presence and regular, constructive contributions – including your participation in our in-class labs – account for 20% of your final grade.

READING RESPONSES + DISCUSSION PROMPTS

Because this is a praxis-oriented course blending critical discussions with critical making exercises, we have to use our class time efficiently. We won’t always have the luxury of engaging in leisurely, seminar-style discussions of our readings (see this for more about my reading selections). Nevertheless, I do want to ensure that we make time to address particular passages from the readings that resonate strongly for you, that we grapple with any burning questions they raise for you, that we address any frustrations or excitement or discomfort they generate for you. So, if there are particular texts or topics or questions – or themes that extend across various readings or weekly themes – that you find especially compelling, you’re invited to “flag” those items for our in-class agenda. (Your predecessors in previous sections of “Maps as Media” have asked that I implement this requirement.)

On at least three two occasions over the course of the semester – on any three two weeks of your choosing (ideally, not the last weeks!) – you’ll offer a brief (150-word max) response to the week’s readings and their significance within the broader context of the class. If a particular week’s readings riled you up or moved you, that’s your cue to post. Describe what resonated for you or troubled you or confused you; share a passage or quotation you’d like us to unpack together; pose some questions you want us to take up in our discussion. Please post your responses as comments to the appropriate day’s page on our class website (you’ll have to log in in order to post). Your three two posts are due by noon on Wednesdays before class, and altogether they’re worth 10% of your final grade.

MAP CRITIQUE

We’ll dedicate some time in most of our classes to presenting and critiquing several (canonical/ exemplary/ experimental/ overwrought/ elegant/ etc.) maps in a variety of formats, to see what they do right and wrong, what they illuminate and obfuscate, how they integrate form and content effectively and poorly, and what lessons we can take away from them and apply, or avoid, in our own projects.

Each of you will post and present one map critique – ideally, of a map that both addresses (in a direct or tangential way) the week’s theme and pertains to your semester project. Don’t think of this exercise as an additional assignment; instead, use it to advance your own agenda. To identify a map for review, you might look through the websites I list below, and the books I’ll be previewing in Week One. You could also simply Google “your project topic” + “map”; I’ll bet you a dollar you’ll find a few options. Please consult with the other presenters for the week to work out who’s chosen which projects. You’re welcome to double- or triple-up on a particular map, provided you each offer a distinctive perspective.

Your fifteen-minute presentation-and-discussion should consist of two parts: (1) a critique and (2) a critical-creative application prototype. The critique should focus on a single mapping project and should employ some of the critical tools and criteria we discuss in Week 3. Your application is a critical-creative attempt to apply to your own research project the same effective and/or ineffective techniques used in the map you’ve critiqued. You might choose to exaggerate the failures of that map by creating a parody – or you might choose to try out some helpful features from your critique subject in order to generate mapping techniques that might aid in your own work. Be sure to identify what elements inspired you and why, and how and where we can see those elements’ influence in your map. Your application can take virtually any form and format – from a drawing to a paper prototype, from a quilt to a sound map. Keep in mind that this is only a prototype – a rough sketch, a maquette, a “napkin drawing”; we’re more concerned in this context with the ideas behind your project than with your execution.

Before class on your presentation day, please post your text and images (~900 words for grads, ~600 words for undergrads) – which should encompass both your critique and the explanation of your application exercise, along with documentation of your application – to our class website. You should aim to wrap up your formal presentation in seven or eight minutes (I’ll cut you off after ten), so we have time for discussion. And please be sure to have your presentation media loaded on the classroom computer before class begins so we can start on time. Your review is worth 15% of your final grade.

You can view Class of 2015 critiques here, and 2016 critiques here.

MAP LABS + ATLAS  

At the beginning of the semester you should begin to think about a fluid, capacious research topic that you’d like to explore through the maps you create over the course of the semester. Ideally, this topic will pertain to projects you’re exploring in your other classes or your thesis, to a “through-line” you’ve pursued throughout your academic program, or to work you’re doing in your extracurricular life. You’ll need to submit a 600-word proposal for this project, via Google Drive, by Monday, 9/18, at 7pm. This proposal should include:

  1. a topic description, thematic overview, problem statement, or research question;
  2. a discussion of your topic’s personal relevance, larger critical or political significance, timeliness, etc.;
  3. a preliminary discussion of how your topic might lend itself to spatial/cartographic investigation (i.e., what can you learn by mapping it?);
  4. a description of the geographic area(s) and scale(s) you plan to focus on in your maps; and
  5. a tentative bibliography of at least seven sources (some scholarly publications, some popular publications, some precedent maps, etc.) that will likely prove useful in your research and practice.

You’ll share your proposal in class, in an informal three-minute presentation, on September 20. The proposal is worth 15% of your final grade.

You can read about 2015 final projects here, and 2016 projects here.

Each of the maps you then create over the course of the semester should pertain to this topic and cumulatively represent myriad ways of illustrating or investigating your subject. You’ll begin exploring a few mapping strategies in/for our in-class labs. You can then continue to develop these prototypes independency, or generate map ideas of your own. By the end of the semester, you should have a minimum of five (for grads) or four (for undergrads) completed maps, in a variety of “media formats” (e.g., hand-drawn, photographic, audio-based, online-interactive, etc.). You’ll then need to compile those maps into an atlas, which you can present in whatever format you choose (e.g., a book, a website, an installation, etc.), as long as you frame the contents as a cartographic set – as five “spatial variations on a theme.” You should make sure to:

  • offer some means of narratively or argumentatively navigating through your collection;
  • generate connective threads between your individual maps; and
  • Provide critical/descriptive commentary reflecting on the unique medial qualities of each piece in the set (see, for example, how Annette Kim addresses the distinctive features of each map in her “Critical Cartography Primer,” on pp. 113-145 of Sidewalk City).

As you peruse your atlas, ask yourself: Do my maps stand on their own? Do they speak for themselves? Perhaps they don’t. Consider integrating prefaces, captions, legends, citations (i.e., where do the data come from?), disclaimers, etc., where appropriate. You’re also encouraged to integrate some of our class readings – or supplemental cartographic history and theory texts you’ve read on your own – into your atlas text (or, consider how Nick Sousanis graphically integrates theoretical material in his Unflattening).

Please do not email me five separate files or five separate links, or hand me five separate documents; your final submission should be one integrated collection, with all components synthesized and contextualized. If your work consists of analog, performative, or ephemeral media that doesn’t readily lend itself to submission, you’ll need to share with me some coherent form of documentation.

You’ll submit your project before the start of class on December 13, and during that class each student will deliver a 10- to 15-minute presentation of his/her work (details to come). Your final atlas is worth 40% of your final grade.