Requirements + Assignments

Attendance and Participation: 15%
Map Critique: 20%
Project Proposal and Virtual Presentation: 15%
Student-Led Lesson: 20% 
Final Atlas and Presentation: 30% 

Buckminster Fuller, Dymaxion Map, via BFI


Our class is a mix of seminar and workshop, and its success depends on your regular attendance and reliable participation. What does it mean to “attend” and “participate in” an online class? It means showing up on time to scheduled class, group, and individual meetings; completing the readings, screenings, and design exercises in advance of each class session; contributing to group discussions and workshops; and being prepared to engage constructively and respectfully with one another. See “Policies and Procedures” for more on our commitment to inclusion and respect. 

I’m required by The New School to take attendance each week. For our synchronous classes and group meetings, I’ll do so at the beginning of each session. If you arrive late, I could miss you; thus, your timely arrival is appreciated! And for our asynchronous sessions, I’ll look to make sure you’re contributing in accordance with the guidelines spelled out for each activity or assignment. 

While I hope you’ll all be able to join us every week, everyone gets two free absences, no questions asked. I simply request that you please notify me of your absence in advance, if you can, so I can plan group activities accordingly. Any absences in excess of two will impact your attendance grade. If you miss five or more classes, I’ll advise you to withdraw in order to avoid a failing grade. Please note that absences include missed individual and small group meetings, as well as those days you might miss at the beginning of the semester because of late registration. 

I strive to create an inclusive, accommodating classroom – one that’s responsive to students in different time zones, students dealing with tech or connectivity issues; students with specific access needs, etc. –  that should enable (and, I hope, incentivize!) all of you to attend and engage. (I would’ve loved to survey everyone to assess your needs, but January was out-of-effing-control!! 🙂 If additional obstacles or personal challenges arise for you over the course of the semester, please feel free to bring them to my attention; we can work together to discuss alternative means of engagement. I’ll be recording our plenary sessions and saving the chat transcripts, and I’ll make these resources available through a shared Google Drive folder. If you’re unable to join us live, I encourage you to review this material. 

While I’m happy to work with you to tailor the class’s content and assignments to your interests, and to help you develop strategies for project planning and time management – and while I aim to be sympathetic to any challenges you might face both inside and outside the classroom – I ask that you please also respect my time and acknowledge my heavy load of responsibilities. I cannot allow expectations for accommodation to compromise my own health. Please see my deadline policy below. 

Early in the semester we’ll work together to develop a community agreement regarding the principles and practices that will shape our interactions. I’ll post this agreement on our class site for continual reference. 

Attendance and participation are worth 15% of your final grade.


We’ll dedicate some time in most of our classes to presenting and critiquing several (canonical/ exemplary/ experimental/ overwrought/ misleading/ etc.) maps in a variety of formats, to see what they do well and not-so-well, what they illuminate and obfuscate, how they integrate form and content effectively or not-so-effectively, and what lessons we can take away from them and apply, or avoid, in our own projects. In his Mapping: A Critical Introduction to Cartography and GIS (Wiley, 2010), noted geographer Jeremy Crampton (channeling Foucault) reminds us that critique is not necessarily about finding fault, but instead about questioning the “categories of knowledge” and “unexamined ways of thinking” underlying our practices and productions. It’s about questioning who has authority and why, and how “truth” is related to power – and it can help us challenge or resist those assumptions and imagine alternatives. Given the “historical complicity of mapping and GIS in military, colonial, racist, and discriminatory practices” – as well as their potential use in democratic and liberatory projects – Crampton, echoing Brian Harley, argues that mapmakers have an ethical responsibility to understand the ends to which their maps are put. And while some critics of critique (how’s that for “meta?!) have argued that critique has “run out of steam” or even backfired, and that it has lost its potency in the public sphere, political scientist Linda Zerilli agues that we must uphold critique as a “practice of freedom, that is, of speaking and acting with citizens and strangers about matters of common concern” (quoted in Fassin and Harcourt, A Time for Critique (Columbia University Press, 2019): 36). This practice of freedom is of particular significance for “subaltern critics,” those disempowered and excluded who speak out against, or engage in practices that counter, injustices; those practices could include building abolitionist alternatives (see Allen and Dilts in Fassin and Harcourt). 

Each of you will draft and present one map critique – ideally, of a single 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! 

  1. Sign up for the date on which you’ll both submit your analysis to Shannon and share it with the class.
  2. Choose your map. To identify a map for review, you might look through this Arena channel or 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-, triple-, or quadruple-up on a particular map, provided you each offer a distinctive perspective.
  3. Draft a brief analysis (900 words or fewer!) in two parts: (1) a critique and (2) a critical-creative application prototype. The critique – which should constitute the major part of your text – should focus on a single mapping project and employ some of the critical tools and criteria we discuss in Week 2, supplemented with questions of your own. 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 “correct for” some of the shortcomings of your critique subject, or expand on some of its helpful features in order to generate mapping techniques that can aid your own work – or push to the extreme some of its omissions. Be sure to identify what elements of your critique subject 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!
        You’re encouraged to embed images, videos, and other media documenting both your critique subject and your application, and your captions for those media should include credit lines (who created the map? who took the photo? who holds the rights?) and links to their original sources (Why so picky? Because we’re hoping to post your work! Please see #5 below). Please share with Shannon via Google Docs before class on the day of your presentation
  4. Be prepared to share your critique in class! Your informal ten-minute presentations are meant to be fun, interactive, provocative, and generative. You could simply walk us through your Google Doc – or, if you like, you can create a separate slide presentation. Please aim to wrap up your presentation within five minutes, leaving the remaining time for discussion. 
  5. Shannon will review your work within two days. You’ll have until the following Tuesday — one week after your presentation — to revise, address all editorial questions, and resubmit to Shannon and Emily. Emily will then post your work in the Map Critique Atlas we’ll maintain on our class website. If you don’t want to have your work featured online, that’s okay; just let us know!  

Your review and presentation are worth 20% of your final grade. You can view Class of 2015 critiques here, 2016 critiques here, 2017 critiques here, and 2018 critiques here.  

via Studio Sun


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 – in editable form (e.g., Google doc or Word doc), via Google Drive – by Friday, February 19, at 5pm. This proposal should include:

  • a topic description, thematic overview, problem statement, or research question;
  • a discussion of your topic’s personal relevance; larger critical, political, cultural, or aesthetic significance; timeliness, etc.;
  • a preliminary discussion of how your topic might lend itself to spatial/cartographic investigation (i.e., what can you learn by mapping it?);
  • a description of the geographic area(s) and scale(s) you plan to focus on in your maps;
  • a tentative description of some of the kinds of maps you might include (e.g., a soundwalk, a Carto map) and why, and some of the methods you might employ in gathering data and constructing your maps; and
  • a tentative bibliography of at least eight sources (some scholarly publications, some popular publications, some precedent maps, etc.) that will likely prove useful in your research and practice.

And sometime before our regular class time on Tuesday, February 23, I ask that you each please record an informal two-minute video overview of your project on Flipgrid (you should be able to log in using your first name). Choose “Record a Video Response,” click on “effects” to play around with the filters (optional!), record your video, then post! Please return to Flipgrid on Wednesday, Thursday, and/or Friday to review your classmates’ proposals and offer brief written feedback to at least three people. Offer encouragement, recommend resources, share constructive caveats. I hope you’ll approach this interaction not as if it’s a form of obligatory discussion board posting (i.e., “all students must respond to two of their classmates’ Canvas posts” – ugh!), but rather as an opportunity for expressing genuine enthusiasm and cultivating a culture of mutual support 🙂 If you’re new to Flipgrid, please watch this tutorial

The proposal is worth 15% of your final grade. You can read about 2015 final projects here, 2016 projects here, 2017 projects here, and 2018 final projects here


There are so many different cartographic topics, themes, objects, sites, and systems we can explore. Rather than trying to predict which would be of most interest and relevance to you, I figured we’d allow the class to evolve in response to your individual and collective curiosities. And given that our group represents a wide array of disciplinary backgrounds and experiences, I also figured we should take advantage of that diversity by giving each of you an opportunity to shape our pedagogical environment. 

I’ll organize you into loose thematic clusters (e.g., “mapping migration,” “queer cartography” “critical GIS,” or whatever) based on your final project plans. This is ideally how conference panels and edited collections work: you take several folks’ individual, and often idiosyncratic, interests; and you build a (semi-)coherent framework around – and draw connections between – their individual contributions, putting them into dialogue with one another, hoping that the ensemble becomes something more than the sum of its parts. Building such connections is a form of intellectual generosity and creativity.  

Your group will lead the class, with my assistance, on one day in November. Each of you will be responsible for the following:

  • Choosing a reading / listening / screening assignment – anything that takes a 20 minutes or fewer (fewer is fine!) – for your colleagues to complete before class; this could entail a ~10-page article, a ~20-minute podcast, excerpts of an online video, media in other formats, or some combination of the above. 
  • Offering an individual, ten-minute (max!) presentation, live or recorded, in which you share your own research interests and/or works-in-progress with the class while connecting them (loosely) to the week’s theme;
  • Working with your group to (1) “design” some form of intellectual and creative “scaffolding” that ties your individual presentations together and (2) determine how you’d like to use some of our remaining class time – e.g., open discussion, small-group or full-class mapping exercises, etc. Aim for 90 minutes to two hours of “programming”; we’ll use our remaining class time on these days for tutorials and tech workshops to support your projects.

I created a little slide show that offers more context and direction. 

I am happy to contribute both to the lesson and its preparation. In fact, I ask that you meet with me (ideally as a group!) at least a week prior to your assigned presentation date. You must have finalized your reading assignments one week prior to your date so we can distribute them to your colleagues; please send me a comprehensive list, formatted to match our syllabus “house style,” with links to / copies of all materials, so I can post everything to our website. And on the evening of your presentation, Emily and I will offer a brief response (five to ten minutes) at the end of class (please plan for this!) to contextualize your work within the class and in relation to relevant discourses and practices in various fields, and to highlight key take-aways. 

Given all the disruptions and traumas of the pandemic period, I want to ensure that this project is not a burden or a source of stress! It’s meant to be self-validating and generative, an opportunity to share your expertise and interests. I hope it’s fun, too! If “group work” is too burdensome, please focus on your own individual — informal! low-pressure! — presentations, and imagine the “group” part as a means to make connections to, to build community with, your classmates around that work. Certainly a useful skill in these times. If your group members are distributed across time zones, we can be creative in devising asynchronous formats. And while I do hope that everyone contributes reliably and constructively, you will not be held responsible if a particular member of your group proves unresponsive. Please feel free to consult with me regarding any problematic group dynamics. 

Your lesson is worth 20% of your final grade. 

James Corner + Alex McLean, Taking Measures Across the American Landscape, via Socks Studio


Each of the maps you create over the course of the semester should (ideally!) cohere around a particular topic or theme 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 independently, or generate map ideas of your own. By the end of the semester, you should have a minimum of five completed maps, in a variety of “media formats” (e.g., hand-drawn, photographic, audio-based, online-interactive, etc.). You’ll then 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, whom we’ll read this semester, 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? who serves a shout-out?), 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; 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 don’t readily lend themselves to submission, we’ll need to discuss how you can share some coherent form of documentation.

You’ll share your projects in our final class on Tuesday, May 4, and submit your work via Google Drive by end-of-day on Thursday, May 6. Your final atlas is worth 30% of your final grade.