Atlas of Meaning

Leeville CemeteryThis pilot project will be a fine-grained participatory mapping study that includes ethnically diverse communities in Louisiana to depict the local geographies of places, pathways, and personalities. Following up on work begun during a Sea Grant-funded “rolling seminar” in 2018, the Louisiana team will work with a local organization in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, to begin the process of assembling teams of local “experts.” The parish has a complex social geography, including a large Native American population along with Asians, Acadians, and African Americans. Sizable areas remain outside the state’s coastal restoration plans, thus exposing some residents to the multiple hurricanes that have struck the area and to the risk of sea level rise.

The researchers will conduct participatory mapping exercises with knowledgeable individuals who have deep community ties. The exercise will assemble information about places of local significance and inventory related information about place-based culture, nature-society relations, family networks, local history, and livelihoods.

This undertaking will consider natural resources as sources of livelihoods that are culturally based and have greater meaning than mere income, as critical elements of local diets rooted in local coastal environments and tradition, and as the foundations for personal and community pride that undergird resilience and adaptation. Investigators will also seek out places of social import, with an emphasis on the less recognized events that have been locally noteworthy, but not at a state level. Structures and landscapes that have been lost as material objects, but retained in memory, will be plotted. Also of significance will be places and environmental conditions that pose a threat to communities and what they value.

The exercise will map the multiple ethnic and linguistic groups who constitute the diverse local population, each with its own cultural geography. The project will be sensitive to and consider social vulnerabilities of all sorts. We will assemble additional maps that record prominent pathways – routes of migration into the region, family and social networks, and important corridors for regular commuting and migration – both in and out. Pathways also exist as part of local ritual and pilgrimage.

The third layer of the mapping exercise will be to plot the location of leaders in local culture and society. For each place, pathway, and personality, researchers will assemble and archive associated documentation to provide a long-term repository that will help perpetuate traditional resilient practices and preserve social memory. The key objective will be to expose the previously unmapped contours of culture and meaning that reside in the social memory of communities in threatened coastal communities. Such a mapping exercise will complement the multitude of technical cartographic products that rely on readily available, computerized data, but are unable to depict the social and cultural fabric of places in comparable detail. This atlas of meaning will expose the neglected but fundamental  humanities elements that can provide vital clues for culturally situated adaptive pathways in a perilous environmental setting.


Participatory mapping to collect and archive locally held ideas about place:

places feared (zones of locally recognized risk) – this differs from the customary zones of risk based on biophysical and demographic data

places revered (religious/sacred or with deep cultural meaning) – everyday sites that anchor regular, but vital activities

places of abundance/abundance lost (fishing, trapping, hunting, medicinal resource locations) – this differs from economic and demographic change data

who lives where (people you know and don’t know) – family and community territories, ethnic enclaves, language regions, and the social networks created by these distributions – this differs customary census data on demographic and economic patterns

pathways of significance (migration, pilgrimage, ritual, commute, etc.) – largely unmapped

places of personal/community importance (notable events) – this differs from national register places by including lesser known events and people, especially those with ties to events seen as controversial or resistance

places lost but remembered (building removed) – largely unmapped



  1. Identify and establish contact with local organizations
  2. Work with local organizations to assemble groups of local experts
  3. Schedule mapping exercises
  4. Host series of participatory mapping exercises to assemble basic “data”
  5. Create maps
  6. Conduct follow-up workshops with local experts for review/critique of maps
  7. Assemble and post on-line version of map
  8. Compare and contrast atlases from two sites
  9. Prepare reports on methods and outcomes



Boll-Bosse, Amber J., and Katherine B. Hankins. ““These Maps Talk for Us:” Participatory Action Mapping as Civic Engagement Practice.” The Professional Geographer 70, no. 2 (2018): 319-326.

Cadag, Jake Rom D., and J. C. Gaillard. “Integrating knowledge and actions in disaster risk reduction: the contribution of participatory mapping.” Area 44, no. 1 (2012): 100-109.

Fagerholm, Nora, and Niina Käyhkö. “Participatory mapping and geographical patterns of the social landscape values of rural communities in Zanzibar, Tanzania.” Fennia-International Journal of Geography 187, no. 1 (2009): 43-60.

Gerlach, Joe. “Editing worlds: participatory mapping and a minor geopolitics.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 40, no. 2 (2015): 273-286.

Hemmerling, Scott.  Louisiana Coastal Atlas.  Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2017.

Klain, Sarah C., and Kai MA Chan. “Navigating coastal values: participatory mapping of ecosystem services for spatial planning.” Ecological Economics 82 (2012): 104-113.

Nicolosi, Emily, Jim French, and Richard Medina. “Add to the map! Evaluating digitally mediated participatory mapping for grassroots sustainabilities.” The Geographical Journal (2019).

Pulido, Laura, Laura Barraclough and Wendy Cheng.  A People’s Guide to Los Angeles. Berkeley:  University of California Press, 2012.

Sletto, Bjørn Ingmunn, Charles R. Hale, Beth Rose Middleton, Anja Nygren, Iokiñe Rodríguez, Rick Schroeder, Astrid Ulloa, and Bjørn Ingmunn Sletto. ““We Drew What We Imagined” participatory mapping, performance, and the arts of landscape making.” Current Anthropology 50, no. 4 (2009): 443-476.