Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Maps in the Modern World


Maps are a ubiquitous feature of contemporary culture: so indispensable, and so disposable, that thousands are churned out every day. Yet cartography was not always the wallpaper of daily life. In fact, not so long ago, maps were both rare and strange. When and why did the modern culture of cartography come into being? How have maps empowered states and speculators, scholars and rebels? And how is the recent diffusion of Google Earth imagery and GPS changing our relationship to the planet, both on the ground and in our minds?

This seminar course will introduce students to a range of research in the rapidly changing field of cartographic studies. Each of our four core texts is an interdisciplinary hybrid, drawing from geography, history, and visual studies. Together, they offer a wealth of images and approaches, illuminating cartographic artifacts through such lenses as humanist inquiry, social activism, psychological analysis, and the creative arts. Topics include the use of maps in way-finding, war-making, globalism, tourism, pedagogy, and virtual worlds.

You will participate in a variety of hands-on map and atlas exercises, be asked to write short (one-page) weekly reading responses, and two book reviews, help lead discussion, and locate and bring in maps on particular themes. In addition, class time will occasionally be devoted to probing related resources on campus, including the Branner Earth Sciences Library and Special Collections. The last week of the quarter will be devoted to your student projects, where you will have the chance to explore, individually or in teams, any dimension of mapping that is of particular interest to you, and to create an exercise for the rest of the class using maps on that topic. 


Meet the Instructor(s)

Kären Wigen

"Unlike quite a few of the students whom I have met through this class, I was actually not drawn to maps from an early age. My first loves were language and music. But while majoring in Japanese literature in college I belatedly discovered the appeal of cartography, and once I got a taste for maps, I changed direction entirely. I ended up doing a Ph.D. in historical geography, spent years analyzing the transformation of Japanese landscapes, and recently edited a big book on Cartographic Japan: A History in Maps. At Stanford I get to teach Japan in the Age of the Samurai as well as thematic courses on the history of cartography (Maps and the Modern Imagination, Maps in the Early Modern World, and Maps, Borders, and Conflict in East Asia.) A relative newcomer to the Bay Area, I spend a fair amount of my free time on roads and trails with my family, exploring the extraordinary landscapes that surround us in central California."