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Children's Cartography:

What is a map according to children?

Master's Thesis by Heather Swienton

Committee: Alberto Giordano (Chair), Ronald Hagelman III, and Injeong Jo


I dedicate this work to the children mapmakers who participated in this research, and to all the aspiring cartographers, geographers and students of the Earth; stay creative and passionate.

Abstract: Cartography provides a powerful and creative means to visualize and comprehend the world around us. Beyond the feat of navigation, maps have been tools of war, instruments of education, and mediums for art. But what is a map? In this thesis, I offer one answer to this question from the perspective of approximately 332 schoolchildren aged 6 to 14 who visited the grounds of the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment for field trips during the Fall of 2017, located on the campus of Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. At the end of their visit, these children were asked to draw a map of their field trip experience. I seek to answer the question “for our child cartographers, what is a map?” by closely examining what children materially create when asked to make these maps, specifically cartographically analyzing the what and how of the mapmaking process from a map design perspective. This thesis is part of a multi-year study originated through the efforts of several students and faculty at Texas State University in partnership with the Meadows Center.

The purpose of this thesis is to provide an understanding of what a map is according to children, ultimately contributing to the field’s foundational understanding of the map given the lack of a standardized definition. With holistic considerations to the cognitive and educational development of the children, my findings suggest that a map according to a child typically involves a graphic representation of their experience that is composed of text, points, lines and polygons and a mixture of both mimetic and abstract symbology to represent both the natural and the built environment from a perpendicular perspective; these symbols vary in shape, are often used repeatedly to create texture or patterns, and can vary in color that sometimes abide to traditional color connotations. I make the case that such maps are manifestations of their experience in interacting with their environment and in using maps, ultimately expressing what is valuable to them in both map content and design.

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