Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation

Hey, Prospective Frosh!

IntroSems are designed with you in mind. Browse this catalog website to learn more and look for the 2024-25 seminars to post here in August, when you'll be able to start signing up for priority enrollment in 3 IntroSems every quarter.

Main content start

HISTORY 95N: Maps in the Modern World

Map detail, showing where a content meets water.

General Education Requirements

Way SI

Course Description

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 take turns leading discussion, learn how to locate maps on themes of your choice, write one 3-page and one 5-page essay (with a third essay for those taking the class for five credits), and participate in hands-on map and atlas exercises. In addition, class time will occasionally be devoted to probing related resources on campus, including the Branner Earth Sciences Library and the David Rumsey Map Center. For the final project, each of you will have the chance to design and annotate your own map of campus, culminating in a collaborative Counter-Atlas of Stanford. 

Meet the Instructor: Kären Wigen

Karen 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."

More News Topics