The Immanent Textbook

I use Twitter mostly, so this is my only medium in which to share thoughts that exceed 140 characters. I usually only put self-contained, finished pieces here, but today I’m going to just toss out a few random musings (also I’m sick and have not slept much for 4 days, so forgive any incoherence).

What if we made a cartography “textbook” based almost entirely on existing online content?

Most days, I find some cool mapping-related thing on my Twitter feed. Practical mapmaking advice, bigger-picture criticism/analysis of cartography, etc. Something which aims to educate and enlighten (I like to think that a few of the posts on this blog could likewise be described this way, too).

There’s all kinds of good sharable stuff out there, and it got me to thinking: what if we compiled it all into an intro cartography guide? I get emails from people who ask me how they can get started learning mapping, and I never have a useful answer other than, “go to a university like I did.” But that should not be the only answer, especially when we look at, for example, how many people learn coding by reading free online resources.

The advantage to using existing content is it means that no one really has to write anything new. I suspect that, scattered around the Web (blogs, free online journals like Cartographic Perspectives, Wikipedia, etc.), there’s pretty much everything someone needs to know to get a decent start to quality mapmaking. It just needs to be curated and compiled.

Specifically, it needs experts from the community to:

  1. decide what subjects should go in the textbook, in what order;
  2. track down existing writings that address these subjects;
  3. occasionally flesh out the skeleton by writing a small amount of material to connect pieces together, or introduce broad themes; and
  4. maybe come up with some practical exercises so that people can put this stuff into practice.

I don’t know, maybe this has all already been thought through and is underway somewhere else. There are certainly various useful lists of map resources out there that I’ve seen, but I don’t think any of them cover everything needed to go from zero to “capable of making a variety of decent maps.”

Certainly, the end result won’t be the same as a coherent text written by a focused author (or group of authors), and the student must be willing to put up with the patchwork nature of the guide, but I think it would fulfill a need nonetheless. Plenty of people want to learn mapping but don’t have access to formal channels.

Also, this idea seems like a lot of work, and I am overburdened already and likely can’t do most of the lifting myself. Maybe just provide counsel and big-picture input. But someone awesome should take this on and perhaps brand it as a revival of my forgotten NACIS Initiative for Cartographic Education. I feel like if we all get together on this, it wouldn’t be a lot of work.

Anyway, scattered thoughts from the mind of a convalescent.

2 thoughts on “The Immanent Textbook

  1. Very much agree and would love to participate if possible.

    As a cartographer masquerading as a GIS instructor and specialist I’m frequently answering questions (or giving workshops and lectures) on cartography.

    I’ve compiled my own list of resources I find particularly useful on my site and typically just point new users there as needed. Becasue so much of my work revolves around academic use of GIS and maps made from GIS I’ve compiled another set of resources specific to cartography in GIS.

    It would be great to find a place to add this material to and to then use as a real base of knowledge on the topic.

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