By Rebecca Edwards ’21
“I made an effort to really go out and talk to people from the city, and gather as many resources as possible. I connected with the East Side Freedom Library and Peter Rachleff, who used to teach history at Mac, to make sure everything I wrote was appropriate and accurate.”
—Becca Gallandt ’22
What is a cultural atlas?
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) lab instructor Ashley Nepp finds the concept hard to define, but she knows one when she sees one.
“I don’t think anyone really agrees on a definition—but the idea is to try to tell stories that might be overlooked by traditional maps,” Nepp says.
“Throughout history, maps have been used as tools of power, surveillance, and colonization. This is a way to take back the map and show what’s missing. How does a place feel, smell, taste? What is the experience of being there?”
Her course “Cultural Atlas Production” asks students to answer that fundamental question in the only way they can: by making a cultural atlas themselves. The result? Meandering Minneapolis, a 64-page exploration of St. Paul’s neighboring city.
Each student is allowed a two-page spread to take a deep-dive into the topic of their choosing. Last spring, those topics ranged in theme from the theatre scene and public murals to the winter landscape and the history of Minneapolis flour mills.
Above: Flip through Meandering Minneapolis.
For Kay Richter ’22 (Davis, Calif.), the project turned into something very different than she had originally intended.
“I wanted to do something kind of political, and I knew I was going to make redlining a part of it,” Richter says. “I decided it would be interesting to map other things that are red—I thought about mapping every red building in the city, but then I realized how difficult that would be.”
Richter consulted with friends for new ways to keep her spread red. One idea stuck: communism.
“I discovered that Minneapolis has this rich communist history that doesn’t get talked about,” Richter says. “It clicked, and I had to do it.”
Her spread details the restrictive housing policies that segregated Minneapolis neighborhoods, as well as the fallout from the federal Smith Act, which aimed to silence communist voices. As it turns out, Minneapolis is one of the only cities that favored Trotskyism over Stalinism at the peak of the 20th century communist movement—who knew? But that’s the point.
“It’s so great and also so strange to have gotten to know Minneapolis through this lens,” Richter says. “I’ve been going over a lot more, and now I’m starting to get to know the city the traditional way, too.”
Becca Gallandt ’22 (Orono, Maine) had a similar experience.
Her spread (dedicated to Kate Bush and Macalester’s Veggie Co-op), zeroed in on the history of the labor rights movement in Minneapolis, as well as its prominence today. As a student from out of state, she feared she wouldn’t do Minnesota justice.
“It was super, super daunting,” Gallandt says. “I made an effort to really go out and talk to people from the city, and gather as many resources as possible. I connected with the East Side Freedom Library and Peter Rachleff, who used to teach history at Mac, to make sure everything I wrote was appropriate and accurate.”
That task became all the harder after students were sent back to their hometowns amid COVID-19 concerns. But to Nepp, Richter and Gallandt’s surprise, the class pulled through and finished the job.
“I’m incredibly proud of how well it turned out,” Gallandt says. “It definitely changed my perspective on the city. Looking at everybody’s spreads, there are so many facets to this place that I would totally have missed. Biking around Minneapolis is going to be a totally different experience from now on.”
August 31 2020Back to top