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Introduction: This map project is a part of Professor William Wolff’s Visual Rhetoric and Multimodal Composition graduate course at Rowan University. After studying various works on map theory and semiotics—among them books by Denis Wood and Sean Hall—each class member has embarked on an individual map project—the creation of an atlas. My atlas includes maps of the Olivet United Methodist Church (OUMC) in Pittsgrove, New Jersey, drawn from memory by both regular attendees and those who have spent limited time at the church. Map authors’ ages range from childhood to senior adult, and authors’ names include first names only as several authors indicated that they would prefer to be recognized in this fashion. My goals for this map study are two-fold. First, in the vein of my Visual Rhetoric and Multimodal Composition course’s studies, I intend to observe and identify semiotic symbols and design principles within the memory maps in this atlas. Identification of these symbols will allow me to discover similarities in symbol recognition and use within my sample of map authors. Identifying these elements will also speak to the larger issue of how visual rhetoric is used and interpreted by everyday people. My second goal for this project is more a matter of personal curiosity; tied in with questions of semiotics, the symbols people use and how they use them, I wonder about the larger cultural phenomena of how people respond to the word “map” today in a world full of talking GPS’s as well as how they respond to drawing a map of “the church.” Do people still think of maps in terms of titles, legends, compass roses, capital cities, and topographical features? Does “the church” bring to mind the church building alone or the building and its grounds? It is my hope that the following atlas will present an opportunity to engage in the visuals of maps and visual semiotics as a whole. Happy reading, and may you never take anything at face value.


The Regular Attendee Series:

___________Map 1__ By Nicole (child)

“Olivet United Methodist Church Map�


The Regular Attendee Series:

___________Map 2__ By Mona (adult)

“Olivet United Methodist Church Map�


The Regular Attendee Series:

___________Map 3__ By Lisa (adult)

“Olivet United Methodist Church Map�


The Regular Attendee Series:

___________Map 4__ By Kelly (young adult)

“Olivet United Methodist Church Map�


The Regular Attendee Series:

___________Map 5__ By Ken (senior adult)

“Olivet United Methodist Church Map�


The Regular Attendee Series:

___________Map 6__ By Francis (adult)

“Olivet United Methodist Church Map�


The Limited Attendance Series:

___________Map 7__ By Sierra (teenager)

“Olivet United Methodist Church Map�


The Limited Attendance Series:

___________Map 8__ By Sophie (child)

“Olivet United Methodist Church Map�


The Limited Attendance Series:

___________Map 9__ By Jim (adult)

“Olivet United Methodist Church Map�


Atlas Analysis:

Maps are full of language, and by “language” I am referring to more than text. Visuals have a language of their own; the way they speak to us, the meanings and messages they carry—that visual rhetoric is as much a part of map‟s language as the words, and possibly more. In his book This Means This, This Means That: A User‟s Guide to Semiotics, Sean Hall (2007) says, “Signs are everywhere…” (p. 7). This atlas includes nine maps, drawn from their author‟s memories, of the same locale—the Pittsgrove, New Jersey, Olivet United Methodist Church. They are full of signs. Using Hall‟s insight into the field of semiotics, I will strive to identify some of the elements within these maps and the meanings they convey, though, as a subjective experience, my interpretations of the maps may not match yours. Hall (2007) outlines the journey of a message as one including five key elements: “sender (who), intention (with what aim), message (says what), transmissions (by which means), noise (with what interface), receiver (to whom), [and] destination (with what result)” (p. 8). Originally, each map in this atlas had an individual author (sender) who drew the map on white paper (transmission) to help me with a school project (intention). However, because I have collected the maps into an atlas and am now sharing them via an online presentation medium, the sender, intention (mine being to analyze semiotics for a class), and transmission factors have been altered. Keep this in mind as you look at the maps and read onward. The maps‟ destinations, the results with which I met, varied. Some maps gave me a large overview of the church‟s surroundings while others focused on only the church building. The genre of all the works in this atlas—with the possible exception of


Map 6—is “maps.” Having been drawn in that genre, the maps also follow certain conventions of cartography. They use lines to denote walls and mark off separate rooms within the church building. Maps 2 and 4 use series of lines within the large sanctuary area to represent pews, the lines being the signifiers and the pews being the signified, but most of the maps in this atlas have forgone the use of symbols beyond lines for walls and assorted symbols for doors. Again, the giant heart in Map 6 is the one obvious exception; it seems to signify its author‟s equating of his faith and place of worship with his heart, figuratively. Maps 1, 2, 4, 8, and 9 rely on heavy textual content to assign meaning to different spaces in the building. These four maps also arrange all text to face roughly the same direction, another “rule” of mapmaking. The “font” in each of these maps can say something about its creator. For instance, the text in Maps 1 and 8, being less evenly spaced and sized, may speak to creators being younger and less practiced at writing than the adults who made Maps 2, 4, and 9. The styles of writing in Maps 2 and 9 would also lead me to assume that their authors are relatively neat and organized while the writing in Map 4 appears a little messier, a little less thoughtfully constructed. The noise in the maps in this atlas is the most concerning factor is investigating their semiotic elements. As I previously mentioned, each map was originally drawn on white paper. The maps were then scanned into the computer in order to compile them into an online document. What little marks might have been missed by the scanner? Was anything accidentally cut off? Did this semiotics-analyzing student really not tamper with any of the maps? Are they really the way their original authors intended? Map 2 is, unfortunately, a prime example of a scanner creating noise in dark and light splotches. I would also say that transferring the maps to the digital realm in the first place is evidence of noise.


For all the noise and symbols and text in the maps, my question lies with the minds behind them. Denis Wood (1992), in The Power of Maps, says, “…there is nothing natural about a map. It is a cultural artifact, a culmination of choices made among choices every one of which reveals a value…” (p. 108). I am interested in why the authors of these maps used or didn‟t use particular symbols, text, and methods. For example, Map 4 uses very small male and female symbols consisting of a circle and triangle each in different positions for the two small rooms next to “Youth SS.” To most Americans, these symbols automatically represent male and female bathrooms because we see them on bathroom doors all the time. It has been culturally ingrained in us. This is why the six variants of symbols used to represent doors strike me as interesting. The door symbols in this atlas include empty spaces, zigzag lines, small lines set perpendicularly against wall lines, quarter circles, pictures of doors with doorknobs, and text spelling out “door.” We see and use doors every day, but how often do we use symbols for them, on maps or otherwise? Culturally, unless you draw building maps for your job, Americans probably don‟t think about doors all that much. They constitute a fairly standard piece of our everyday environments. I wonder if lacking an iconic symbol for doors is indicative of a culture that takes them for granted. How would a culture whose buildings rarely have doors mark or read symbols for them? In The Power of Maps, Wood (1992) talks about hillsigns at great length, about how they progressed to “represent more fully the physical reality of our existence” (p. 177). The maps that leave empty spaces for doors do not attempt to represent the physical reality. It seems doors are so taken for granted that they do not merit a symbol on the map. Wood (1992) also says, “But with the passage of time, the form would sufficiently evolve…that this ancient form would acquire the stigma of „Well, that‟s how we used to


do it,‟ or „Here, you can play with this one‟” (p. 175). To me, this element in this particular atlas says to me, “Doors? Eh, draw them however you want. Or not at all. We all know they‟re there anyway.” There is much more information to be explored in this atlas, many more semiotic elements to be analyzed and investigated. Our perspectives and experiences are always changing, thus, our responses to visual compositions are never the same twice. I hope this foray into the world of semiotics has given you food for thought and a desire to look beyond the surface of images.


References Hall, S. (2007). This means that: A user’s guide to semiotics. London: Lawrence King. Print. Wood, D. (1992). The power of maps. New York, NY: The Guilford Press. PDF.


The Language in Maps: A Map Study of the Olivet United Methodist Church