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The Making of a Cultural Atlas

Authors: Ashley Nepp*, Macalester College
Topics: Cartography, Higher Education, Cultural Geography
Keywords: atlas, cartography, map design, community engagement, teaching, GIS, data visualization, storytelling, maps, narrative visualizations, data-driven
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

What makes a place special? What does a place feel like? Sound like? Smell like? These are the kinds of questions examined in a cultural atlas. Following in the example of “Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas” by Rebecca Solnit, and “Portlandness: A Cultural Atlas” by David Banis and Hunter Shobe, this past spring a class of 18 undergraduate students in Macalester College’s Cultural Atlas Production course created “Curious City: In, Out, Above, Beyond Saint Paul” a cultural atlas of Saint Paul, Minnesota. Each student created a two-page spread that “tells a story with data” on a topic of their choosing. These stories explore different aspects of the city from a fossil hunting field guide, to a visualization of the book “The Latehomecomer” a Hmong family’s migration story, to the changing role of local libraries, and many more. The 18 visualizations are organized into three chapters: Ground (what’s under our feet); Shape (what forms the city); and Gather (what brings people together). To create these stories, students spent the semester conducting interviews, meeting with community members, exploring archives, and conducting field work around the city. For 13 weeks the class worked as a team to create a print atlas from start to finish; determine topics, gather data, designing their spreads and the atlas artwork, organizing the atlas, writing an introduction, and finally working through the publishing process. This presentation will discuss the process and offer some reflections and recommendations for instructors or groups interested in creating their own cultural atlas!

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