Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Transcribing from the Mind to the Map: Tracing the Evolution of a Concept

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Transcribing from the Mind to the Map: Tracing the Evolution of a Concept

Article excerpt

From cities, to neighborhoods, to territorial lands, the insight of the people who occupy these places is being acknowledged by researchers and policymakers as key elements in understanding a variety of social, economic, environmental, and health processes in which they participate and that impact their lives. This move to seek local knowledge has a long history in many disciplines. (1) However, a broad shift toward ecological frameworks (2) at fine and dynamic spatial-temporal scales, particularly evident across the social sciences and public health, has driven a resurgence of interest in local knowledge, and especially in using the map as the medium through which to collect, analyze, and communicate these insights. As a result, "sketch mapping," the concept of having people mark on or create their own maps, is experiencing popularity in a wide variety of studies, ranging from perceptions of safety along a trail, to boundaries of indigenous land use, to activity spaces defined by gender, sexuality, and employment.

Mapping what is held in the mind is perhaps one of the more enigmatic goals undertaken by geographers. Methodologically, it appears quite simple: in most cases participants are asked to draw, in some form, a map of what they know/believe/feel about a place or places. The resulting maps can then be examined individually or collectively to analyze a range of geographical variables. Especially when using these data in a geographic information system (GIS), the opportunities for spatial analysis and visualization create novel and authoritative maps of an otherwise invisible landscape. As such, this form of mapping can be a powerful approach to give voice to marginalized populations, contribute to participatory methods, and lend another way of knowing to the scholar's toolkit.

Despite this recent widespread adoption of sketch mapping, the idea of transcribing from a person's mind to a tangible map is not new. Three seminal works are often cited in the genesis of this concept: Kevin Lynch's The Image of the City (1960), Roger Downs and David Stea's Image and Environment (1973), and Peter Gould and Rodney White's Mental Maps (1974). (3) In geography, prior to Gould and White's watershed book, existing work in this vein was emerging through their earlier research on the mental maps of British school-leavers (1968) and their 1974 compendium reflects this and other relevant developments of the time. For example, they point to Lynch (1960), but they also draw on the gray literature that includes Brian Goodey's (1971) work on residential perception of Birmingham measuring preferences through "weighted mental image," which much like Lynch, is aimed at a practical approach to obtaining resident's perceptions as input in planning. They also note the dissertation work of David Ley (1972) creating "environmental stress surfaces," Peter Orleans's (1967) composite knowledge map, and even work beyond academe (for example, the maps of D. K. Wallingford). These studies that examine preference, perception, and knowledge of places serve as the precedents for the more recent work that follows these three veins of investigation and the novel introduction of sketch mapping to document behaviors.

Indeed, these directions in sketch mapping have also been reflected in this journal following the period of its popularity in the 1960s and 1970s with the works of Waldo Tobler (1963), Larry Svart (1976), and Risa Palm (1976). Shortly thereafter, Terry Jordan (1978), Karl Raitz and Richard Ulack (1981), and Ulack and Raitz (1982) used this approach to identify perceptions of regions in Texas and the location of Appalachia, respectively. P.P. Karan and colleagues (1980, 1982) employed it to capture perceptions of an urban slum environment by its residents, while most recently Jeffrey Smith and Matthew Cartlidge (2011) used the same concept to elicit residents' pre- and post-tornado images of Greensburg, Kansas, and Bor-Wen Tsai and Yung-Ching Lo (2013) implemented sketch maps to investigate territorial delineations of indigenous populations in Taiwan. …

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