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Grassroots Mapping Curriculum

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Grassroots Mapping Curriculum (BETA)

2011, Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science.

This curriculum draft outlines materials, activities and technical documentation in support of DIY cartographic curricula. It is intended as a framework for reuse at a variety of institutions including the University of South Alabama, Parsons and Rhode Island School of Design. Portions of this curriculum will also serve as background information for designing community workshops.


We present this information as independent instructional modules. The idea is that any class can pick and choose units appropriate to their curriculum; some are more technically oriented, and some have broader subject material.


Step 1: Preparation

A mapping project starts with a discussion of what you want to make a map of, why, and for whom. Consider who the stakeholders are and what new information you’re trying to provide. It also includes a site survey - visit the site, if you don’t live there, talk to folks who do, check wind and weather patterns, look for good sites to fly from. Look it up on Google Earth and use the Historical Imagery slider. Procure materials and assemble a balloon or kite kit.

Step 2: Field work: capturing aerial images

(incomplete) ... Be sure to collect careful field notes and photos, and take advantage of any spare time to talk about why you’re mapping. This can be a good opportunity to do some interviews or videos. Be sure to save a complete copy of the map data, field notes, photos, and interviews.

Step 3: Map Making: Selecting images and preparing a map * Quick-start guide to map preparation Sort through images for the best ones manually or with, and find old reference imagery for the subject area to use as a base layer. Sorting online with provides a great opportunity to reach out to a larger online audience in a participatory way about the issues that concern you. Use Knitter or Photoshop to place images over the base layer and align them. Slowly add and refine your map; export it in an appropriate format.

Step 4: Publication and outreach

Collaborate with local residents and other interested parties to examine, interpret and comment on the map you’ve created. Prepare the map for publication online or in print, and be sure to contextualize the new information you’ve gathered; if you’re printing the map, consider publishing interviews, opinions, and analysis on the reverse side. A printed map is a great way to communicate with a broader community about the issues you are highlighting in your project; make it an invitation for commentary and discussion.

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