This time Dr. Steve McFarland visited us from the University of Tampa. Steve gave us a lot of interesting food for thought – I’d never considered before that maps historically have given more power to those who already have power. For example, city maps often included important landmarks and the houses of the wealthy, but slums were left as blank spaces. He then went on to describe some projects that have tried to redress this balance in the past few years. One project, ‘Queering the map’ , aimed to use maps to construct and affirm identities. Sometimes using maps has resulted in new concepts, such as environmental racism – through the work of Laura Pulido, who showed that toxic waste in LA tended to be released in areas inhabited by people of colour.
He then talked about some of his own work mapping the relative salaries of pthp lecturers in HEAs across America – rates of pay are very different across the country and it turned out that a pthp lecturer at his own university teaching 6 classes per year (as expected of a tenured academic) would just about make minimum wage. We had a very interesting discussion after the formal presentation, about the future of mapping crowdsourced information to help in disaster/crisis management. However, some people can be fearful of taking part in such projects as the maps could be subverted away from their originally intended use. For example, protestors could upload information to be mapped in real time to show where teargas is being deployed, and use this to stay away from police. However, the police could also potentially use these maps to target protesters. In this case however, the police are likely to have helicopter access, so the presence of a crowdsourced map would close the information gap between the two sides.
Ultimately, we discussed whether the growth in the use of maps has outpaced our ability to understand them. Going forwards, spatial literacy is likely to be just as important as numeracy, which is music to the ears of any geographer!
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