CULLOWHEE – The Western Carolina University professor who founded the World Map Project for the Peace Corps is leading WCU students in updating a manual for the initiative, which is responsible for hand-painted world maps in more than 40 countries on five continents.
Barbara Jo White, an assistant professor of computer information systems at Western Carolina, was serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic in 1988 when she started thinking about paper maps and how they did not last long in the rainy, humid climate. So she and two teenage students painted a large world map on a wall at a Hondo Valle school using a grid method she developed to paint the world map to scale, square by square.
The map inspired another, which inspired another and another. The project’s appeal stretched beyond promoting geographic literacy to bringing communities together, said White. “Participants go through a feeling of ‘I don’t know if we can do this,’” she said. “Then, when they finish the map, they are able to say, ‘Look what we did together,’ and take that success and teamwork to another project.”
As the World Map Project gained momentum, White trained others in leading the project and wrote the first edition of what is currently an 86-page manual. The step-by-step text explains the grid system of making world maps to scale and offers strategies for map surfaces and color schemes.
WCU and Peace Corps representatives recently entered an agreement to have White, who joined the WCU faculty in 2005, and WCU help update the World Map Project manual, which is more than a decade old, through engagement projects with School of Art and Design students and their professor, Mary Anna LaFratta. WCU students will be involved in updating map boundaries, such as changes that capture the independence of East Timor and countries in former Yugoslavia. In addition, the update will incorporate National Geographic’s change to the new form of world map projection, which alters the shape of every country.
The updates will build on the recent work of White and Michèle M. Magill, an associate professor of French at N.C. State University. Magill’s students translated the World Map Project manual into French.