Maps as Stories: Manufacturing Place

Posted on by Genise Choy

As part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative Colloquium called Reading Cities, Sensing Cities, we have asked students and visitors to write responses to each of the weekly guest lectures.  On September 4, 2014, Darin Jensen invited listeners to consider the narrative and spatial aspects of two experiential mapping projects he created with his students: Mission Possible: A Neighborhood Atlas about San Francisco's Mission District, and Intranational International Boulevard about Oakland. Jensen is staff cartographer and lecturer in the UC Berkeley Department of Geography.

His presentation is available here.
Video of the first portion of his presentation is available here.

By Yael Hadar

Maps have always fascinated me, and as a graduate student in the department of Landscape Architecture I find myself looking at maps all the time as a source of information. My perception of maps was that they are an objective tool that gives us accurate information. Sitting in Darin Jensen’s lecture inspired me to look at maps in a different way – as storytelling devices. Just the fact that most maps orient to the north is a conception that says something about the story a map is trying to convey.

Darin refers to maps as storytelling devices where the cartographer brings in his own emotion and personal experience. Maps convey a complicated story in a certain moment in time, and the reader of the map can enter that story wherever he chooses. So in that perspective, each person creates a different story from the map, depending on the things he noticed first and the things he put an emphasis on.

The project of Mission Possible that Darin and his students did, where they mapped different things in the Mission District in San Francisco, was very inspiring. The ideas that they had about what and how to map in order to tell a story of a neighborhood got me thinking about the information which surrounds us all the time--information that when put on a map can really manufacture the story of a place.

Yael Hadar is a graduate student in the UC Berkeley Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning.