Thinking with Maps: Understanding the World through Spatialization

Spatial reasoning, which promises connection across wide areas, is itself ironically often not connected to other areas of knowledge. Thinking with Maps: Understanding the World through Spatialization addresses this problem, developing its argument through historical analysis and cross-disciplinary examples involving maps. The idea of maps here includes traditional cartographic representations of physical environments, but more broadly encompasses the wide variety of ways that visualizations are used across all disciplines to enable understanding, to generate new knowledge, and to effect change.

The idea of thinking with maps is also used broadly. Maps become, not simply one among many items to learn about, but indispensable tools for thinking across every field of inquiry, in a way similar to that of textual and mathematical language. Effective use of maps becomes a way to make knowledge, much as writing or mathematical exploration not only displays ideas, but also creates them. The book shows that maps for thinking are not just a means to improve geographic knowledge, as valuable as that may be. Instead, they provide mechanisms for rejuvenating our engagement with the world, helping us to become more capable of facing our global challenges.

This book has a broader aim: It is fundamentally about general principles of how we learn and know. It calls for a renewed focus on democratic education in which both the means and ends are democratic. Education, just as the political realm, should follow Dewey’s dictum that “democratic ends need democratic methods for their realization.” Maps and mapping are invaluable in that endeavor.

Available from Rowman & Littlefield (as well as Amazon, etc.), April 1, 2020

978-1-4758-5928-7 • Hardback

978-1-4758-5929-4 • Paperback

978-1-4758-5930-0 • eBook


  • School of Information Sciences, University of Illinois, May 27, 2021
  • Bruce’s fascinating and insightful book draws the reader into a wide-ranging exploration of the nature of maps, and their vital roles in the process of education and global understanding.– Michael H. Fisher, Danforth Professor of History, Oberlin College, US
  • The author connects “maps and map-making” to virtually every discipline and human endeavor by leveraging his unusual multidisciplinary experience.– Nama Budhathoki, Executive Chairman, Kathmandu Living Labs, Nepal
  • By emphasizing maps as visual language… it address a serious deficit in the way maps are currently taught… identifies maps and other graphics as essential elements in helping us make connections across time, space, and subject material.– Gary Benenson, Project Director of City Technology, City College of New York
  • This book’s novelty comes from providing the concept of visualized contextual thinking with both a strong philosophical foundation and important real-world applications… We all do much of our thinking with maps. This book shows just how broadly this idea applies and how profound are its implications: for teaching, for learning, for improving society. An insightful and inspiring perspective.– Philip H. Crowley, Professor of Biology, University of Kentucky
  • Bruce explodes our traditional conception of maps as he considers maps as tools of inquiry in diverse fields. He continually reaches beyond maps to consideration of what maps afford us, even a view of ourselves.– Sam Brian, City University of New York
  • I recommend this book very highly—it’s a read that makes one feel in the company of an intelligent mind, who is taking one’s hand, and leading one down a path of fascinating, interconnected thoughts on the importance and meaning of maps, which are used to gain a better appreciation of a region’s physical and social history. Read this is as if one has become an explorer, invited down a timeline and across the earth, to learn from the revelations along the journey. From the old fold-up maps we all struggled with during car trips to the technological advances of current cartography, maps reveal culture, values, politics, claim territory or indeed even assert the existence of a people, such as the recent locating of thousands of indigenous communities in Peru. This is a valuable journey, spent with a well-informed traveler!– Mary Grizzard, Professor of National Security Affairs (retired), National Defense University, Washington, DC
  • This book is a fascinating collection of ideas about maps, their many forms, and the way people use them to both influence and be influenced by their environment. Maps and map reading are presented as personal experiences. Every map has a maker and every map has a user.– Abby Kerlin and Ellen McCrum, Bank Street College of Education
  • This is a fascinating book! If you would like to know what Paris street names have in common with the study of poverty in Nineteenth Century London, if you are curious about how fossilized footprints discovered in England shed light on the daily life of humans who lived 850,000 years ago, or wonder how maps can be used in the classroom to promote democratic education, this is the book for you.– Paul Horwitz, Concord Consortium