NJIT Course Helps Students Trace History Through Ancient and Current Maps

NEWARK, April 3- Computer science and information systems students at New Jersey Institute of Technology, Newark, leave no seats unfilled for an unusual new elective history course, "Mapping Human History."

"The idea of allowing students in computing sciences to take an elective course combining history and geography was very appealing to me. Linking periods and places, both ancient and modern, through maps and evidence examination is one way to help the students develop information organization, critical analysis, and evaluation skills, all essential to problem solving and programming," says Fadi Deek. Deek is vice chairperson, of the computer information science department.

Sara Gronim, the principal designer of the course, who is a lecturer in the NJIT/Rutgers-Newark Federated History Department, agrees. "By studying ancient and modern maps, students learn critical thinking and writing skills, as well as history, geography, and culture. They must also put the maps in a historical context and think critically about what each map contains as well as what it doesn't contain," she says. The two universities, located across the street from each other in Newark, have a long history of sharing courses, degree programs, services, facilities, events and more.

The course examines maps of many cultures, such as those of Australia's aborigines. The course evolved from Gronim's Ph.D. dissertation on the structure of the natural world in British colonial New York, which won the Dixon Ryan Fox Prize for 2000 from the New York State Historical Association, awarded to the best unpublished manuscript on the history of the State of New York.

Students pour over Western maps dating from medieval period to current times. Gronim says, maps offer something remarkable about cultural patterns and ideas. "On the Marshall Islands, they used to use grids of sticks to indicate water flow patterns. The Aborigines drew animals to tell stories about the landscape on maps," she says.

Later, students analyze and write a five-page paper based on a contemporary map of their own choosing. A New Jersey shore resort, a rock climbing map of New York's Shawngunk Mountains, Disney World, Madison Square Garden, the New York City subway, and a postcard map of Stuttgart, Germany, number among the maps students featured last semester. Additional course requirements include completion of a five-page paper on non-Western map-making, a final and a midterm exam. Required reading materials include How to Lie With Maps, 2nd Ed., (1996) by Mark Monmonier and Maps and Civilization, (1996) by Norman J. W. Thrower.

"In our course evaluations, our students say that they now think about history in a completely different way. Maps are a window into a people's culture and, in turn, you need to understand people's culture to understand what's on their maps," Gronim says.


NJIT is a public research university enrolling over 8,200 bachelor's, master's and doctoral students in 80 degree programs through its five colleges: Newark College of Engineering, New Jersey School of Architecture, College of Science and Liberal Arts, the School of Management and the Albert Dorman Honors College. Research initiatives include manufacturing, microelectronics, multimedia, transportation, computer science, solar astrophysics, environmental engineering and science, and architecture and building science. According to Yahoo! Internet Life magazine rankings, NJIT has been America's most wired public university for three consecutive years.

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