After thinking about and studying their maps for the entire semester, students produced some really interesting “Biography of a Map” projects. What started as a short assignment intended to introduce students to the advantages and limits of scientific claims, see “Biography of a Map—Further Experiments in Pedagogy,” quickly grew into a term-long research project. Their initial efforts show considerable promise while also highlighting some challenges. Students were able quickly to see maps as more than neutral reflections of the natural world, see Marketing a Colony—William Penn’s Maps of Pennsylvania. At the same time, students had to confront some unfamiliar challenges, see Mapping Our Way Forward—More Experiments in Pedagogy. Here I want to reflect on how I tried to help students identify, articulate, and confront those challenges. Along the way I will highlight some of their successes. I will also try to indicate where I could adjust the project to make it more successful.
Having read the “Biography of a Map” papers, I now see where the project worked, where it approached my goals set out in the first post, “Biography of a Map—Further Experiments in Pedagogy,” and where it didn’t quite reach those goals. Some of the work has been really good—previously I pointed to student efforts to understand William Penn’s maps as marketing propaganda, “Marketing a Colony.” Other students produced interesting analyses. One student examined William Dugdale’s 17th-century maps of Warwickshire:
In his account of the history of Warwickshire county, The Antiquities of Warwickshire, Sir William Dugdale included a series of maps, one of which depicts the region of Knightlow Hundred. The purpose of this particular map is to define the geographical setting of a significant area within the historical county of Warwickshire. The book, The Antiquities of Warwickshire, works to preserve the medieval history of this county for the gentry. In fulfilling this purpose, it effectively establishes the status of the landed gentlemen. The county of Warwickshire, as well as the boundaries of hundreds, are divisions that date back to Roman times, so by stressing this area as a defined geographical community of gentry, Dugdale gives them a heightened sense of superiority. The establishment of the boundaries and layout of the community allows him to unite the gentry through an account of a shared past. The audience and commissioners of the book, and thus the map, were the gentry themselves who had a private interest [in] elevating and securing their status. All of these factors interplay to create a map that stresses the relations of the gentry and their history amongst the geographical region of Knightlow Hundred, Warwickshire.
Last fall while teaching a course on the history of the scientific revolution I chronicled my efforts to teach students to be curious. I tried modeling curiosity, showing them how to formulate questions, and explaining good questions (at some point in the near future I will polish off the posts that conclude that particular experiment in pedagogy, which seemed to enjoy mixed results). This fall, in my Introduction to the History of Science course, which spans Greek antiquity through the 14th century with forays into the Islamic and the Byzantine worlds, I am again adjusting my approach in order to get students to struggle with primary sources—old things—much sooner and in a more open-ended way. Moreover, this time I want to use that source material to persuade students to see science, its power to organize reality, and its history in a more nuanced and problematic way.
To accomplish these goals, I jettisoned my course’s typical chronological framework, which structured the first half of the semester. Instead, I opened with a couple weeks on maps and mapping. We began simply enough by looking at some Google maps of the local area, comparing the satellite versions with the schematic map.