Put yourself on the map

IN one of his "Mapping Project" books, Kevin Anderson relates how British Rail once asked every primary school in Britain to identify its nearest railway station. The amused children of Unst wrote back promptly: Bergen.

It's a good example of how the mappers take those they map for granted and this is what is behind Anderson's project. While we depend on maps constantly, they are always made for us. The map is the picture, the powerful present to demonstrate their power over others. What if it worked the other way round? What if people made their own maps of their localities, communities, lives, countries?

The projects have taken off in Ireland where there is an obvious need for some self-defining imagery such as the self-made map provides. One exercise in Crumlin saw an old mill town whose roads all seem to lead somewhere else and which is marginalised in all motorway maps proclaim its own, non-sectarian identity with pride through the various maps different community groups produced.

In Scotland, where we are continually confronted by maps that say south of us is "the north" and which label everywhere beyond the central belt as "remote" (from what?), the need to take possession of the map is self-evident.

As an educational tool its potential is far-reaching as Anderson has discovered in schools all over Ireland and England. Pupils could be asked to map their own communities or towns - an exercise which would produce interestingly different focal points and itineraries from the official maps.

They could map their own journeys, weekdays and weekends through life. They could construct photo maps of what they believe are the important places and people - and compare them with the official versions. From that type of exercise they could progress to mapping their histories - personal, local, national. And from there they could begin to look at the relationship with other places - in the British Isles, Europe, the world. The connections are always there.

Rather than artificially imposing concepts such as citizenship, community schools, social inclusion and multicultural awareness, to name but a few, such projects seem to offer an effective way of bringing them into being.

Let's admit that the social education programme overdoses to little effect on social issues and let's make space for more potentially rewarding projects such as these.

Further information can be obtained from Kevin Anderson at 16 Glengyle Terrace, Edinburgh EH3 9LN.

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