UC Science Radio Season 2: Episode 7

David Garcia: The Truth Behind Mapping 

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People make maps – but maps can also shape people. David Garcia’s research looks into the production of geographic knowledge in the digital age. Who’s making maps, for what purpose, and why do these questions matter?

Maps have had a profound influence on people throughout history, and the present day is no exception.

David Garcia’s research takes the spotlight off maps themselves, and instead shines it onto the people who make and use maps. He’s particularly interested in how people shape maps according to their own biases, and how today’s digital tools can help democratise the production of geographic knowledge. David explains his research in this episode of UC Science Radio.

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In this episode

1.08 The focus is about the latest trend in the production of geographic knowledge which is more digital, more networked, in our case popularly known as crowdsourcing.

1.49 I am studying the people who are making OpenStreetMap, that's why I chose an ethnography, and more dealing with the nature of the production of geographic knowledge.

2.17 If before ethnography and cartography have been used to study my peoples, peoples from the so-called developing world, how about using ethnography to study the cartographers who are people too.

4.20 Historically the production of the maps in the Western sense, the Western cartography, has been in the hands of the few, usually with the government. And due to the latest technologies, there's more opportunities for ordinary people, citizens to contribute

6.11 I am part of a cohort of a generation of Filipino mapmakers… we noticed that through the years, we needed an organisation that will take care of the mapmakers.

8.13 I've noticed that in my international collaborations, it's really just the maps that matter, and it's very dehumanising, too. And, in my culture, the people are more important than the maps and the mapping.

8.50 At the end of the day, without people there would be no mapping, hence the Ministry of Mapping.

11.23 The specific change I'm after is for the organisations and the leadership of mapping organisations to change, because I think it matters who tells those stories while mapping, and who gets powerful due to the stories and the mapmaking. Because for the past hundreds of years, peoples like us, and our native and indigenous relatives all around the world have been disadvantaged by mapping.

12.08 I argue that there's a higher chance… for us to succeed in regenerating nature, for example, if native and indigenous peoples are leading the production of geographic knowledge.

Read a transcript of the full interview.

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Meet our speakers

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David Garcia

David Garcia is a PhD student in the field of geospatial science. His research is focused on the nature and ethnography of crowdsourcing and mapmaking. David has also founded the ‘Ministry of Mapping’, a geospatial mapmaking collective that does crisis mapping and supports mapmakers.

“My research into crowd-sourced mapping has shown me that because people all have different needs, there are actually different measures for what counts as geographic truth. For me that's the amazing part. Mapping is both social and technical.”

Read more: David's UC journey

Molly Magid

Molly Magid

Molly Magid is an MSc student at UC. A recent graduate of Brown University, Molly is working on research in conservation genomics with Associate Professor Tammy Steeves from the School of Biological Sciences. Molly is passionate about finding ways to communicate science to the public in a clear, novel, and engaging ways. Most recently, Molly worked as the lead student producer on the podcast Possibly, which answers listener's questions about sustainability using relevant science research.