“Innovations in Mapping” was a short term class offered at Bates College in May 2016. Cross listed in History and Environmental Studies, the class offered a unique experience of reading the history surrounding early modern cartographic practices and then actually using these methods in the field. We learned about historical trends in the production, use, and philosophy of mapping through readings (see syllabus below), and conducted surveys using inexpensive models of the original tools used by 18th century surveyors. The tools included sextants, graphometers, surveyors compasses, tripods, and measuring tape. These fieldwork labs helped us understand the true experience of the cartographers in the early modern period, especially regarding their attempts to measure latitude, longitude, and relative distances.

Halfway through the course, we switched our focus to modern mapping practices. While reading about and discussing the ethical and practical problems of satellite imagery, we worked around several aspects of modern satellite imagery and data projection software. From defining differences between Google Maps, Google Earth, and QGIS to mapping in OpenStreetMaps using Fieldpapers, we received a brief overview of modern, digital map making practices. The class also discussed issues regarding accessibility of modern maps, imposition of western ideals, safety and accuracy of open data sharing, and discussions of exactly what counts as a “map.”

About section compiled by Porter Harrast, Alex Bedard, Ryan Corley, Cael Schwartz, Gordon Platt, Pratap Khadka

Bates College Campus Map

Bates College Campus Map

Course summary:

ES/HI S24 Innovations in Mapping: From Paper to Pixels

Bates College Short Term 2016

Professor Katie McDonough


Hello Mappers!

You are participating in an experiment in taking History out of the classroom and into the field. You will be going where few students have gone before! During this 5-week course on the history of mapping, you will step into the shoes of surveyors, spatial theorists, state leaders, government organizations, and international non-profits. Our labs are based around recreating the historical practices that these people used to make, evaluate, and distribute maps and geospatial data.

Rather than just a course about maps, the emphasis in this course is on mapping. It focuses on the human choices and practices that are behind every map. As we begin in the early modern period and shift to the modern there will be some common threads around mapping practices that will connect our investigations. These include the (often related) issues of:

  • Labor (who maps, why, and under what conditions)
  • Power (secrecy, security, ownership, patronage, influence, legitimacy, etc.)
  • Design (for example, What does and does not appear on a map?)
  • Purpose (intended and unintended)
  • Audience (maps as tools for learning, maps as objects that are analyzed)

In the first two weeks of the course, you and your fellow mappers will be “living” in the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century. Our case study is the creation and impact of the first national survey in the west, the Cassini map(s). The men involved in the Cassini project (over 4 generations) were among those asking and answering the most intriguing “map questions” of their day: How do we measure an entire kingdom? What rate of accuracy is important? What features belong on a national map? Who owns the data survey teams collect? By diving into the maps themselves as well as texts written by English admirers and collaborators of the Cassinis, we will relive and reflect on the experience of making a national map from scratch. Our focus on the world of the Cassinis will be contextualized during a visit to the Osher Map Library at the University of Southern Maine.

In the third week, we will begin our transition to modern mapping. We will embark on a series of labs that will situate you in the world of GIS, web-mapping, and remote sensing. Through engagements with historians, forestry surveyors, humanitarian and community mappers, and designers, you will have several opportunities to begin thinking about the shape of your final project. We will do a site visit to the University of Maine-Orono, hear from the GIS staff of Auburn, and video conference with experts around the country/world.

Welcome to the course!

Learning goals:

  • Develop an understanding of the history of making and using maps since the early modern period.
  • Re-create historical mapmaking practices in surveying and drafting labs
  • Reflect on how experiential learning changes your understanding of the past
  • Make connections between challenges faced by mapmakers and users of the 18th and 21st centuries
  • Discover the complexity of map-related industries on local, state, national, and international scales
  • Document our collective learning experiences on a website to preserve this knowledge and inspire future mapping projects for the Bates and local Maine communities.

Major Assignments:

5%       Graphometer Lab

5%       Sextant Lab

10%     Triangulation Lab

10%     Google/GIS Lab 1-4 (2.5% each)

10%     Fieldpapers/Open Street Maps Lab

10%     Historypin Lab

10%     Osher Reflection

10%     Orono Reflection

20%     Final Project

10%     General Course Participation and Attendance


Lab Reports (each group hands in 1 report, with exception of individual reflection contributions)

Specific details for each lab will be handed out, but they will follow this general format:

  • Description and analysis of materials and method
  • Presentation of final results in hard copy & digital format (as a map, write-up of data, etc.)
  • Reflection on challenges, process, and overall experience (about 200/words per person)
  • Due at the next class meeting.

Site Visit Reflections (individual)

  • 500 words reflecting on some thing you learned/became curious about during the visit related to the history of mapping

Final Project (in groups of 2 or 3)

  • Proposal due in class on May 19 – 200 word statement of 1) your project aims, 2) how it relates to course themes, and 3) how you will divide labor within your group
  • 3 options:
  1. Write a 1000-word argumentative essay that explores in more depth one mapping practice/company/group we have encountered in this course. If you would like to write about a topic related to mapping that you feel equipped to undertake based on previous knowledge, but that we have not covered in class, you must discuss this with me before May 18.
  2. Write a 1000-word essay that is a argumentative analysis of one map and the practices behind its creation and use. This can be any map you feel prepared to analyze based on our coursework.
  3. Write a 1000-word lab for one of the tools we encountered that you would like to provide for the Bates or Maine community. The lab should be accessible to beginners. The lab should include the following sections: introduction, lab goals, materials, background knowledge necessary, time required, procedure, end-of-lab questions, list of useful contacts and resources.
  • All final projects will be uploaded to our course website on May 26. Please prepare a brief abstract of your project for the website.

What do I mean by argumentative? It should have a thesis statement that demonstrates you are answering a research question about a specific, narrow topic. (For example, the research question “How has the digital theodolite transformed topographic surveying?” could be answered by a thesis statement that demonstrates how you are taking a position on the question in relation to already existing research.


  • Jerry Brotton, A History of the World in 12 Maps (Viking, 2012)
  • Mark Monmonier, No Dig, No Fly, No Go: How Maps Restrict and Control (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010)
  • Graphometer – 1/group to be purchased at Bates Bookstore (ONLY available here)
  • Sextant (already ordered, 1/group)
  • Protractor (1/group, available at bookstore)
  • Drafting paper (a few sheets/group, available at bookstore)
  • Pencils and a good eraser
  • Dedicated notebook for labs
  • Dedicated notebook/note-taking system on your computer for class notes
  • Mapillary app (as many as possible in the class, not required)
  • Optional: Theodolite app (depends on final project preferences)


Assignment and Homework Schedule:


Monday, April 25

10-12              Introduction

1-2                  Map Icebreakers

Homework for 4/27: Read Jerry Brotton, A History of the World in 12 Maps (New York: Viking, 2012), chapters 1 (Ptolemy) and 7 (Toleration/Mercator) and Matthew H. Edney, “Mapping, Survey, and Science,” Chapter 12 in the forthcoming Routledge Handbook of Cartography (2016) [L]

Wednesday, April 27

10-12              The Cassini Dynasty and the Scientific Revolution

1-2                  Discussion of Brotton and Edney readings

Homework for 4/28: Read J.B. Harley, “Silences and Secrecy: The Hidden Agenda of Cartography in Early Modern Europe,” in The New Nature of Maps: Essays in the History of Cartography, ed. By Paul Laxton (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2001), 83-107 and Edney, “The Rise of Systematic, Territorial Surveys” Chapter 13 in the forthcoming Routledge Handbook of Cartography (2016) [L]

Thursday, April 28

Osher Map Library FIELD TRIP – meet in Pettigrew 301 at 10am to prepare for departure. Return to campus ~5pm

Homework for 5/2: Write Osher Reflection and read Edney entries for History of Cartography vol 4 on “Geodesy and the Size and Shape of the Earth,” “Meridians, Local and Prime,” and “Geodetic Surveying in the Enlightenment” [L]

Monday, May 2

Osher Reflections due 10am

10-12              Geodesy and Surveying Discussion

1-2                  Graphometer Lab

Homework for 5/4: Build Sextant and read Ken Alder, The Measure of All Things (New York: Free Press, 2002), chapters 1 & 2 [L]

Wednesday, May 4

10-12              Mini Lecture/Sextant Trial

1-2                  Graphometer Lab

Homework for 5/5: Complete Graphometer Lab

Thursday, May 5

Graphometer Lab Reports due 10am

10-11              Planetarium lat/long demonstration (meet in Carnegie lobby with sextant)

11-12              Sextant lab continued/Triangulation Prep

Homework for 5/9: Complete Triangulation Lab and Report, read USGS Circular 1050 (sections noted on Lyceum entry) and Mark Monmonier, How to Lie with Maps, chapter 9 (pages 123-138) [L]

Monday, May 9 

10-12              Triangulation Group Work/Sextant Work at 11:30

1-2                  USGS History Discussion

Homework for 5/11: Programming Historian Geospatial Lessons 1&2

Wednesday, May 11

Triangulation and Sextant Lab Reports due 10am

10-12              Ladd Special Collections visit/Programming Historian Discussion about Lessons 1&2

1-2                  Thinking Spatially Discussion (w/Sam Boss from the Harward Center)

Homework for 5/12: Programming Historian Labs 3&4 and read Anne Kelly Knowles, “GIS and History,” in Placing History: How Maps, Spatial Data, and GIS are Changing Historical Scholarship, ed. By Anne Kelly Knowles (Redlands, CA: ESRI Press, 2008), 1-25 [L]

Thursday, May 12

ORONO FIELD TRIP – meet in parking lot between Pettengill and Commons at 7:30am. Return to campus after dinner in Orono (done with meetings in Orono at 4pm).

Homework for 6/16: Write Orono Reflection, Finish Programming Historian Lab Report, Read “Neogeography and volunteered geographic information: a conversation with Michael Goodchild and Andrew Turner,” Environment and Planning A 45 (2013): 10-18 [L], and review these websites:






Monday, May 16

Programming Historian Lab Reports due 10am

Orono Reflection due 10am

10-12             Orono recap/USGS History/OpenStreetMaps and Missing Maps

1-2                  Fieldpapers/Open Street Maps Lab w/Stamen Design and Sustainable Bates

Homework for 5/18: Work on Fieldpapers Lab, Read “Historypin in the Community” (2014) [L] and Brotton, chapters 10 (Geopolitics) and 11 (Equality)

Wednesday, May 18

Fieldpapers Lab Reports due 10am

10-12              Fieldpapers Lab Continued/Brotton Discussion/Historypin Prep

1-2                  Historypin Videoconference

Homework for 5/19: With your partner, decide on a final project and write up a brief proposal to share with the class on Thursday afternoon.

Homework for 5/23: Read Mark Monmonier, No Dig, No Fly, No Go: How Maps Restrict and Control (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), entire book (plan ahead and read over the week and weekend!)

Thursday, May 19

10-12              Historypin Lab continued

1-2                  Final Project Proposals Due/Historypin Lab continued

(Remember to read the Monmonier book for Monday.)

Monday, May 23

Historypin Lab Reports due 10am

10-12              Monmonier discussion and Final Project activity

1-2                  WordPress workshop for course website/Historypin recap (TBC)

Homework: Read Edney, “Map History: Discourse and Process,” Chapter 5 in the forthcoming Routledge Handbook of Cartography (2016) and Rob Kitchen, Chris Perkins, and Martin Dodge “Thinking about maps,” in Rethinking Maps: New Frontiers in Cartographic Theory (London: Routledge, 2011) [L]

Wednesday, May 25

10-12              Videoconference with Cadasta (TBC)/Fieldpapers recap

1-2                  Final Project peer review activity

Homework: Read Amy K. Lobben, Megan Lawrence, and Robert Pickett, “The Map Effect,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 104, no. 1 (2014): 96-113 [L]

Thursday, May 26

10-12              Final discussion and website tweaking