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Cultural Atlas of Portland


“Every City Should Have An Atlas” – Rebecca Solnit (Kelley 2012)

Maps have a strong hold on people’s imaginations. When presented with a map, most people take it as authority – this is what is in this place. But all cartographers make decisions about what to include and what not to include and how best to represent the world. Maps tell stories and the mapmaker chooses how to tell that story. So many of the maps that people encounter are similar and use the same sets of conventions to talk about the places that make up the world.

A cultural atlas provides people with a new cartography, a new way of understanding places. It challenges and develops people’s geographic imaginations. It allows different stories about place to be told, both personal and general. A cultural atlas provides a cartography of social relations and social justice. For these reasons, and as Solnit’s quote above illustrates, there is a call in the social sciences and the humanities to employ maps in order to tell these stories (Kelley 2012, Shobe and Banis 2010, Dodge et. al 2009, Pearce 2008, Sinton and Huber 2007, Harmon 2003). As Dodge et al. state in their introduction to Rethinking Maps, maps have moved beyond representation because people now interact with maps in a variety of different ways. Some have responded to this call with cultural atlases including Mission Possible: A Neighborhood Atlas (Mission Loc@l and CAGE Lab 2012), Laramie: A Gem City Atlas (University of Wyoming MFA Writing Program 2011), Notes for a People’s Atlas (AREA Chicago 2011), Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas (Solnit 2010), Everything Sings: Maps for a Narrative Atlas (Wood 2010), Strange Maps: An Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities (Jacobs 2009) and An Atlas of Radical Cartography (Gordon et al. 2008).

We are making The Cultural Atlas of Portland because we want to provide people with a variety of views and perspectives of this city. In both serious and humorous approaches, the Atlas will challenge accepted narratives of the city. We seek to provide a new cartography of Portland, and given the recent national interest in Portland, producing this atlas now is timely. We work on this project with students and recent graduates so that at its core, it is a collaborative project.

The Cultural Atlas of Portland is a project we have been working on, in some form or another, since 2007. Many of the ideas for the project were developed in a number of our classes particularly Maps and Society (GEOG 399) and Cultural Atlas Production (GEOG 410/510), which we co-taught. The atlas is also an outgrowth of a mapping project we did entitled ‘Portlandness’ that was shown at the SEA Change gallery in downtown Portland during May and June of 2009. The project entered a new phase when in 2010 when we began what is now the working manuscript for The Cultural Atlas of Portland. At the annual meeting of the North American Cartographic Information Society, David presented a poster on the Atlas as a work in progress. The positive feedback we received has further convinced us that the time for this project is now.

Hunter Shobe and David Banis


AREA Chicago. 2011. Notes for a People’s Atlas. Published by AREA Chicago.

Dodge, M; Kitchen, R and Perkins, C. 2009. Rethinking Maps: New Frontiers in Cartographic
Theory. London, Routledge.

Gordon, A. et al. 2008. An Atlas of Radical Cartography. Journal of Aesthetics and Protest Press.

Harmon, K. 2003. You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination.
Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press.

Jacobs, F. 2009. Strange Maps: An Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities. Studio Press.

Kelley , C. 2012. Every City Should Have An Atlas: Interview with author Rebecca Solnit. 

Mission Loc@l and CAGE Lab. 2012. Mission Possible: A Neighborhood Atlas.

Pearce, M. 2008. Framing the Days: Place and Narrative in Cartography. Cartography and GIS.
35(1): 17-32.

Shobe, H. and Banis, D. 2010. Music Regions and Mental Maps: Teaching Cultural
Geography. Journal of Geography, 109 (2) 87-96.

Sinton, D. S., and W. A. Huber. 2007. Mapping polka and its ethnic heritage in the 
United States. Journal of Geography, 106 (2): 41–47.

Solnit, R. 2010. Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas. Berkeley: University of California Press.

University of Wyoming MFA Writing Program. 2011. Laramie: A Gem City Atlas.
Exhibited at University of Wyoming Art Museum April 30- June 19.

Wood, D. 2010. Everything Sings: Maps for a Narrative Atlas. Siglio Press.