Chair’s Message

Welcome to the Cartography Specialty Group. Over the last two years we have grown from just over 400 members to nearly 600, and have a strong presence at through member presentations and sponsored sessions at the AAG Annual Meetings. This year’s meeting in New York City should be a great one. Take a look at the call for sponsored sessions and information provided by our Vice-Chair, Ian Muehlenhaus, who is organizing and coordinating the CSG session sponsorship. I encourage all CSG members to participate and look forward to seeing you at the meeting in February.
This past academic year, I participated in a curricular innovation group, discussing plans to redesign some of the GIS and Cartography courses at George Mason University. The group, consisting of a wide spectrum of faculty from the GMU College of Science, were intrigued by the growth and popularity of our department’s courses. Our GIS and cartography courses are genuinely popular, with growing enrollments that push the capacity of our facilities and teaching staff. A few of the curriculum group participants may have held a mistaken notion that GIS and Cartography courses are about using software and are, in essence, applied IT courses. This notion echoes the statements of an otherwise well-informed acquaintance, who said, after hearing that I taught cartography, “Do they really still teach that? That’s old school.” My goal, since hearing this statement, has been to make my cartography courses engaging, practical, intellectually rigorous, and relevant to modern society, including the use of web-based methods and social media. During the curricular innovation group meetings on my campus, we reviewed the well-publicized book, Academically Adrift (Richard Arum & Josipa Roksa 2011, University of Chicago Press), which questions the fundamental goals and outcomes of university education, and suggests that students are not being taught to think critically and write competently. The book has raised questions about the fundamental value of a university education, particularly in light of the rapidly increasing costs of attending a traditional 4-year school.
For those with teaching responsibilities, let me pose the following questions. What are we doing to infuse critical thinking and scholarship into our cartography courses? What intellectual benefits do our students receive from our courses? My acquaintance viewed cartography as a technical skill or trade, and one that might have had merits decades ago but now is outdated as a university course. These mistaken notions are usually pretty easy to debunk and refute, but when they arise, they do cause me to ask myself what I can do to make my cartography and GIS courses intellectually challenging and relevant. Any CSG members that have good ideas about this topic or related ones, including the relevance of the arguments made in Academically Adrift, please take a minute to post your comments to , where we will begin mirroring some of the traditional newsletter and AAG list-serv content in a format that facilitates more interaction.

Matt Rice, Assistant Professor
George Mason University


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