“Mapping” Our Course

Welcome to Mappenstance.

This is the blog site of the mapping seminars in the Department of Rhetoric & Communication Studies at the University of Richmond.

In addition to being scientific collections of data and artistic works of beauty, maps are also, importantly, rhetorical documents. Note two of the most controversial map projections of all time side-by-side, above: the Mercator Projection (left) and the Gall-Peters Projection (right). The Mercator Projection was ideal for sea-faring exploration in the 16th century, but it was also increasingly a tool of imperialism and colonialism in its validation of Eurocentric features. The Gall-Peters projection in the late 20th century corrected the distortion of area in the Mercator, but created distortions in terms of shape. Arno Peters’ revival of the Gall Projection was designed for a de-colonizing world where the proper depiction of the massive area of so-called developing nations was paramount. Such a correction on the Mercator showed the kind of contestation that maps have endured over centuries.

From this rhetorical standpoint, maps have always shaped (and been shaped by) the contours of power, often through the authority of the nation-state. Maps provide the seeming naturalness of borders and boundaries and powerfully demarcate our everyday spaces from the local level all the way up to the global. At the same time, maps can be used to challenge and indict power and hierarchies. To capture this tension, this year’s senior Capstone seminar is called Mapping Power/Empowering Maps. Mapping Power refers to the building of a critical lens that acknowledges all the ways in which maps are complex processes in the maintenance of control). Empowering Maps points to the exploration of the emancipatory potential of maps to argue for social change, through methods like “counter-mapping” and “radical cartography.”  This Capstone, then, assesses how important maps are to the exercises and strategies of power, but also to the possibilities for social justice and change. For better or for worse, maps place us in the world, and that is a monumental political act. We also believe that the unique power of maps is a terrific opportunity to build on concepts that our rhetoric and communication studies students have been amassing over years of work with us: public life, persuasion, intersectionality, citizenship, media, identity, visuality, amongst a host of others.

The main home page  of the site collects the posts of the senior students in an exercise where each student “curates” the blog for a week. They find a “Map of the Week” and write a substantive blog post about it. Other smaller posts are collected for “Atlas of the Week” and “Link of the Week.”  Enjoy the site and please engage by posting!

Here is the syllabus to the Spring 2022 Senior Capstone in the Department of Rhetoric & Communication Studies at the University of Richmond