Maps are devices of power. Their historical significance as representations of territories – and, invariably, of the people who dwell in them – resulted in an amalgamation between cartography and government. A science of mapping supported the art of ruling, and spatial information was closely guarded. The explosion of geographical representation that we are experiencing has transformed our collective relationship with maps, as they have become a commonplace element of our everyday lives. This apparent democratization of cartography, however, has created challenges of its own. Critical readings of maps and spatial data are more relevant than ever for a growing number of disciplines – as they are for civic life. After all, maps are still devices of power.
This course is an introduction to cartography, its history, and its relationship with humanities. As such, it aims at creating a space (or a place?) for critical reflection on the mechanisms to produce and interpret spatial information. Simultaneously, we will collectively develop the necessary skills to posit spatial questions and to use relevant datasets to produce answers. In other words, the course is designed to illustrate the relevance of maps in different forms of intellectual inquiry.
Through a series of individual exercises, students will grasp at theoretical and practical questions about the use of geographical information systems (GIS), the challenges of spatial representation, and the problems and possibilities embedded in new platforms for digital cartography. These exercises will be accompanied by permanent discussions in class, where participation will be highly encouraged.
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