TRANSCRIBING FROM THE MIND TO THE MAP: TRACING THE HISTORY OF A CONCEPT
Geographical Review 106(3)
Jacqueline W. Curtis
American Geographical Society: What is the main purpose of your study?
Jacqueline Curtis: The purpose of this study is to provide a review of the many ways that sketch mapping (also known as mental mapping, freehand mapping, etc.) has been used to understand people’s knowledge, preferences, perceptions, and behaviors. This idea of having people draw maps of what they individually and/or collectively know, feel, etc. has been around since the 1960s/1970s, and was mostly found in geography, planning, or environmental psychology research. However, many disciplines have recently been employing this concept, along with integrating sketch maps with Geographic Information Systems (GIS), to reveal what would otherwise be invisible landscapes (e.g., education, economy, crime, culture, health). This article looks at what has changed and has remained the same in sketch mapping over nearly 50 years, and concludes with a discussion of the problems and prospects to be considered in future use of this concept.
American Geographical Society: What are the practical, day to day implications of your study?
Jacqueline Curtis: How people feel and what they know about their surrounding environs can be a powerful influence on a range of outcomes, from daily behaviors, to their overall health, to decisions on staying or leaving their home. However, capturing and representing such data in a way that is both rigorous for research and actionable for the community is challenging. Sketch mapping is growing in popularity as a way to achieve this goal. This article provides an overview of the concept, a brief history or its origins and early use, and examples of the trends in its application over time. This article can be used to educate researchers, policy-makers, and clinicians on how sketch mapping can be used to understand a variety of community issues such as allocating resources (e.g., parks, clinics, healthy food outlets), reducing crime and fear of crime, and understanding disease transmission and risks.
American Geographical Society: How does your study relate to other work on the subject?
Jacqueline Curtis: This study is a review of the growing work on sketch mapping. It summarizes and identifies trends in existing research using this concept.
American Geographical Society: What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study?
Jacqueline Curtis: Sketch mapping is gaining multidisciplinary appeal as a way to understand geographic patterns of perception, knowledge, and behaviors at fine spatial scales (e.g., within a neighborhood, village, etc.). In part, this growth has been due to a theoretical shift to local ecological frameworks and appreciation for local knowledge, and methodologically due to the ability to integrate sketch map data in GIS.
Despite widespread growth of this concept, there are still many questions in need of answers regarding the design, use, representation, and interpretation of sketch maps and their resulting data. Geographers are well-positioned to lead research that answers these questions and informs the broader multidisciplinary applications.
American Geographical Society: What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study?
Jacqueline Curtis: This article points to a methodological expansion in use of sketch mapping, but without an equivalent growth in theoretical advance. It calls for both looking to relevant theoretical work outside of geography, but also to increasing such research within the discipline to create a more complete and balanced knowledge base.
American Geographical Society: How does your research help us think about Geography?
Jacqueline Curtis: This article highlights existing research that uses sketch mapping to reveal the diverse and powerful geographies that are at work every day in every place. In many ways, they affect the decisions we make and the outcomes we experience. However, they remain invisible and unknown unless efforts are made to transcribe these geographies from the mind to the map. Revealing these geographies is essential to understanding the dynamics of communities and places, and therefore to making more fully informed decisions to resolve some of our most pressing social and environmental problems.
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