Saturday, October 22, 2011

Deep Map Assignment

Since I am getting some very strong writing from an undergraduate liberal studies class in response to this exercise I thought I would share it.

The assignment is introduced during a lecture/discussion on the works of Baudelaire, Joyce, deCerteau, William Least Heat-Moon, and Tim Robinson, writers unified by their emphasis on walking, dwelling, eclectic attention, genre-blending and so forth.

Deep Map

In this short essay assignment choose a neighborhood or even a small part of a neighborhood and develop a Deep Map of this area. The objective is to examine this urban location in a highly interdisciplinary way.  It is very important that as you develop your essay that you physically visit the place: the essay to a large extent should draw upon the processes of becoming familiar with the chose location.

Elements of Essay

Your essay should contain the following elements:
  • Name of place, location [bounded by which streets] etc
  • Your description of the place: this should contain physical descriptions, and natural history description [can you say anything about the urban forest in that location; did you see any wildlife? Etc]
  • History of the location. You can draw upon any written source, but also feel free to develop your historical account directly from the people who have lived there
  • Stories: record anything you learn about particular event in the neighborhood, or tales of odd occurrences, stories that appeal to you associated with the location. Any usual place names? Especially interesting are stories that you learn from people as you visit the neighborhood. Strike up conversations if you feel comfortable doing so; chat with folks that have lived there for decades, chat with people who have just moved in! 
  •   Describe any particularly striking objects [monuments, public art etc.] that you find interesting in the neighborhood. 
  • You must take some photographs of interesting features in the location that illustrate the essay.

Definitions of Deep Map

"Reflecting eighteenth century antiquarian approaches to place, which included history, folklore, natural history and hearsay, the deep map attempts to record and represent the grain and patina of place through juxtapositions and interpenetrations of the historical and the contemporary, the political and the poetic, the discursive and the sensual; the conflation of oral testimony, anthology, memoir, biography, natural history and everything you might ever want to say about a place …" Mike Pearson and Michael Shanks, Theatre/Archaeology (Routledge 2001) page 64-65works []

 Some Practitioners

“Early, I aimed to write about the most spare landscape, seemingly poor for a reporter to poke into, one appearing thin and almost minimal in history and texture, a stark region recent American life has mostly gone past, a still point, a fastness, an ascent seeking a penitential corner might discover. Chase County fit.”
William Least Heat-Moon PrairyErth [a Deep Map] 1991.  He co

 “A suggestion from the post mistress in the western village of Cill Mhuirbhigh gave me the form of this contribution: since I seemed to have a hand for drawing, an ear for placenames and the legs for boreens, why should I not make a maps of the islands, for which endless summersful of visitors would thank and pay me”  Tim Robinson (1935 -) Stones of Aran: Pilgramage 1986


  1. Glad to see deep mapping used in this context but wonder why this is still seen as a primarily "literary" approach, particularly in the USA. For an alternative see my ‘The Spaces of “Deep Mapping”: a partial account’ in Journal of Arts and Communities Vol 2 No 1 (July 2011) pp.5-25.

  2. Well, we use it primarily along with our urban mapping projects, e.g. see and

    My main inspiration for this sort of work comes from Tim Robinson: who combines a literary and the cartographic... I am looking forward to reading your paper.

  3. Obviously Tim Robinson’s work is a good point of reference for this kind of work, particularly if the emphasis is primarily on the cartographic/historical dimensions of place, but I think there's a body of both practice and pedagogy that's developing in all kinds of productive ways that might be of interest with you. Do you know Brian Katen, Associate Professor and Chair of the Landscape Architecture Program in the School of Architecture + Design at Virginia Tech? I sat in on one of his classes last year when I was there for the Mapping Spectral Traces workshop - - and, from conversations we had afterwards, I think he’s developing interesting pedagogic models around this area of work. (His research explores the everyday landscape, community identity and conceptions of place, and the complex relationship between the landscape, its archives, and memory). You might also be interested in our Mapping Spectral Traces Network, since the work of people like your fellow countryman Antony Lyons, the Australian landscape designer Prof Gini Lee and Prof Christine Baeumler at the University of Minnesota are possibly relevant to your interests?

  4. Thanks Iain, this is interesting to me thanks. A lot of the work you are pointing to is new to me. I am an ecologists primarily, and a writer of sorts I suppose so there are certain tools in my belt that I tend to use. But it does prompt me to think a bit more deeply about the sorts of collaborations that are possible. As it happens were are currently hosting some work on art and environment in relation to regional conservation efforts. This is motivated primarily so that we can think about programs to match the relatively larger efforts that we have been involved with in the natural and social sciences. I'll write a little about these efforts in the coming weeks.

  5. Sounds great, look forward to hearing more. As I understand it deep mapping is about generating 'joined up thinking' and connectivities in ways 'trans-disciplinarity' usually fails to do because its thinking is still bound too much to academic disciplinary (and so ultimately exclusive) presuppositions - that's where we believe the arts can help.

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