Literature Review: Define the Person, See the Map

A map is something that people used to associate with strictly geography, landmarks, and location. Now, maps have uses such as telling stories, building communities, and documenting significance. No longer are maps just geographical devices; people have their own sense of maps, which include emotion, memory, necessity, etc…all on top of the traditional sense of location. My project, Define the Person, See the Map, takes maps of Davidson College, information provided from different types of students, and ideas/concepts introduced by authors, which all combined together, forms a visual of the ideal map of campus for a certain type of student. My project will answer the question: If students at Davidson College had to create their own map of campus, how would they view/create it?

The core of my idea comes from the concepts of mental maps and sketch maps, which Didem Ozkul and David Gauntlett bring up in “Locative Media in the City: Drawing Maps and Telling Stories”.  The introduction of mental maps to digital mapping has opened up a door leading to new ways to understanding space.  Ozkul and Gauntlett deem cognitive (mental) maps as something that includes “both a broad sense of its geographic features, as well as memories, emotions, and other associations” (Ozkul & Gauntlett, 115).  They go on to say that cognitive maps can’t be directly transferred to paper (115), which is something that my project plans to do: from mind to paper to digital exhibit.  What they do say though, is that a sketch map is an attempt to view a person’s mental map by having them draw a place in order to provoke their spatial emotions associated with that place (118).  I am essentially mapping the mental/sketch maps of different types of Davidson College students with my project.  However, Ozkul and Gauntlett mention that “geographical accuracy is not a significant concern in cognitive mapping” (118). They say this in response to the fact that one individual will think about a certain space differently than another individual, therefore their mental maps and sketch maps will be different and inaccurate from one another. In order to drive a message across to the user of the exhibit, I need geographical accuracy, which will be achieved by using the same base map for each portion of the exhibit denoting the type of student.

Less recently, but still on the topic of mental maps, in 2001, Katriina Soini analyzed the traditional uses of mental maps. Her argument supports what I am trying to do with mental maps in my project even though I’m using them in a less traditional way. She writes that “Mental mapping has traditionally been used in order to explore spatial cognition” (Soini, 229), and she goes on to say that “mental maps have also been analyzed as indications of individual’s spatial preferences, the significance of and attachment to a place” (229). Both the spatial cognition and preference of a place can arise out of necessity associated with that place. An individual’s necessity for a certain place or space derives from that individual’s agenda, which is born variables that define that person; for example, their occupation or age. So, based off of spatial preference, my project focuses on spatial necessity.

Another ability of maps that my project will achieve is story telling.  Viewing the maps will not only teach people about the students and the campus, but it will provide a narrative of what is happening throughout the day. The viewer of a map can only follow the story if he/she understands the language that the map is speaking.  Soini’s argument about mental maps can apply to story telling as well; she writes that mental maps allow people to be able to converse about spatial information (228).  With my project, the viewer will better be able to understand the story that I am conveying if he/she also has a mental map of the college campus; it is a two-way street.  The paths that a student takes on campus will provide details to the story just effectivley as the buildings that the student visits; Lone Koefoed Hansen in “Paths of Movement: Negotiation Spatial Narratives Through GPS Tracking” discusses that narratives come from a combination of daily routine and geography.  Hansen’s chapter encompasses use with space; she uses the term psychogeography, a term from the 1960s that “maps space as it is felt and used by those that inhabit it” (Hansen, 129).   She cites Esther Polak’s NomadicMILK project from 2009, which shows the paths that herdsmen took while working the fields. These simple lines hold within them complex narratives; she found that “When they see their movements replayed in the sand drawings, both herdsmen and truck drives begin telling the stories of their movements in and intertwining with locations through which they navigate” (139).  Polak’s art/map project provides evidence for the ability to visualize a story, and in fact, the visualization can provoke a story that poeple may not have recognized when traveling the path in their daily lives; this is something that my project has the power to do.

In my project, the narrative comes to the viewer via clicking through the exhibit; the screen itself is moving from location to location on the map, but it might as well be the actual student moving around campus throughout the course of the day. In Charles Cumming’s “The 21 Steps”, he successfully simulated a person traveling across the world by having the view jump from different locations on a map. His mapping project is geared strictly to telling a story that includes details in a different way than a book; it shows exactly where the character goes instead of saying that he has gone from point A to point B.  Showing these details allows the viewer to know more about the movement of the character. For my project, I want the viewer to know how the student is moving, otherwise, the viewer may deem it unimportant if I don’t include that information.

Define the Person, See the Map, my project, which is a Neatline exhibit, will allow viewers to explore 16 different maps complete with descriptions of the 16 types of Davidson College students that I have defined. It will complement as well as branch off from the literature that I have reviewed. This literature provides support for my initial project idea as well as what my project can show the viewer. In a combination of Ozkul/Gauntlett and Soini, mental maps were significant to me on three fronts. First, they are what inspired me to pursue this project. Everyone’s mental maps are different as Ozkul and Gauntlett explained leading to different mental maps of the same place. I wanted to create a summed mental map of the campus, so that there would be a single map that could reveal facts about the college’s spatial information. However, I couldn’t ‘break’ mental maps to such a degree, which leads me to the second point of significance of mental maps: they are my data. Instead of creating a universal mental map of campus, I would create maps based off of the mental maps of different types of students, which actually would create a better argument than just one map. The similarities and differences between these maps would inform the viewer how the campus is used by students with different agendas and responsibilities. Third, while someone who has never been to campus could have an understanding of my project, I am relying heavily on the viewer’s own mental map, which Soini explained helps people converse about location, of campus in order to understand my argument: who you are affects where you go and why you go there.  In understanding my argument, the viewer will be able to follow the narrative.  Just showing buildings along with the description of what a student may be in that building contains a narrative on its own, however, by including the paths that the student takes from building to building, I am able to add uniqueness to each map. Space in between place is something that should not be neglected, and Hansen as well as Polak showed that movement has an extreme mental process behind it, so by explaining this process in the descriptions in Neatline, I form a whole other narrative that will educate the viewer about the students on campus. Viewers will be able to see and understand the ideal maps of students who have different lives, yet live on the same campus.


Cumming, Charles. “The 21 Steps.” 2008.

Hansen, Lone Koefoed “Paths of Movement: Negotiation Spatial Narratives Through GPS Tracking.” Mobile Stories: Narrative Practices with Locative Technologies. New York: Routledge, 2014. 128-142. 20 Nov.  2014.

Ozkul, Didem and Gauntlett, David. “Locative Media in the City: Drawing Maps and Telling Stories.” Mobile Stories: Narrative Practices with Locative Technologies. New York: Routledge, 2014. 113-127. 20 Nov.  2014.

Polak, Esther. “NomadicMilk.” 2009.

Soini, Katriina. “Exploring human dimensions of multifunctional landscapes through mapping and map-making.” Landscape and Urban Planning (2001): 225–239. 20 Nov.  2014.


Define the Person. See the Map.

My project will provide portrayals of different types of Davidson College students’ mental maps to the user in order to show how the campus is used, which will indicate spatial importance amongst students.

My thinking for this project has originated as we’ve talked about maps (and more specifically, mental maps) in class; we’ve come to the conclusion that mental maps of the same location differ because people don’t have identical views of the world. Variables such as age, perception of distance, ease of traveling, importance, etc… come into play when creating these maps. What one person deems far might be valued as close for another. In Soini’s article, we learn that mental mapping shows spatial preferences of an individual (Soini, 229). At Davidson College, our spatial preferences are shaped by what we have to do and what we have time to do when we aren’t occupied by academic, athletic, or extra-curricular responsibilities.  In this way, a mental map is a way of identifying someone or people.  The spaces they frequent say certain things about them. However, a portrayal of someone’s mental map reveals much more about him/her than just location, especially at Davidson.

In order to answer the question of ‘What does a Davidson College student’s mental map look like?”, I argue that not one map, but many are needed because a Davidson College student is a very broad term. As Farman states in “Site-Specificity, Pervasive Computing, and the Reading Interface” of Mobile Stories, “Stories tend to offer the illusion that they present the events in their entirety (and if they leave out anything, the omitted portions are simply not relevant)” (Farman, 9).  This is highly relevant to my project; a mental map of one type of Davidson student will omit things that actually aren’t relevant to him/her whereas another map might include those things.  I want portrayals of the mental maps to be accurate, but I don’t want them to include useless information, which is why I will have many different portrayals for the user to view. Accordingly, certain variables must be included in differentiating these mental maps in order for generalizations to be eliminated (not all Davidson students are the same) but specificity to be limited (narrowing down too much will end up focusing on a particular person). The variables to consider are:

  • Whether the map is for a student-athlete or student non-athlete
  • Grade
  • Whether student is in a fraternity/eating house
  • Time of year (in and out of season and finals period)

Based on the first three variables, there will be 16 different options to choose from.  This means that I will have to talk to at least 16 people to gather the data I need.  From here, I will need to decide on a program in which I will build my map.  I understand that the amount of information that I am including may be problematic, so my backup plan is to just focus on athletes.

My project, made up of many different maps, will give the user the ‘big picture’ regarding differences and similarities of students’ maps at Davidson College. Radzikowska mentions in “The Iterative Design of a Project Charter for Interdisciplinary Research”, that different parts make up the important whole. The important message doesn’t have to come from one giant map with a ton of information, but instead it can result from a sum of relevant maps that each say something about Davidson College. My project could show that 11 out of the 16 options have a certain building in their mental map, which would indicate that this particular building is well-rounded and makes good use of the space, which I deem an important message for future building development.  The messages that my project provides the user will be shaped by how the user received the messages. Therefore, the program that I use will be just as important as the information it shows. Douglas Adams, when talking about how an idea grows in the interview, states that “your decision about what kind of thing it is then determines how it develops.” How I ultimately want my message to be received will be decided on the medium that I use to show it.