Christine Leuenberger, senior lecturer in the Department of Science and Technology Studies, has been awarded more than $150,000 from the National Science Foundation's Division of Social and Economic Sciences. The award will fund a project to investigate the political use of maps in a conflict zone and how maps become part of territorial claims-making.
"This is especially important at a time when various governmental and nongovernmental organizations and interest groups increasingly produce maps in order to put forth particular geopolitical visions," Leuenberger wrote in her grant application.
New mapping technologies and software enable various groups to disseminate alternative maps. "In such an environment it is especially pertinent to focus scholarly attention on developing conceptual tools for understanding the rhetoric of mapping practices," Leuenberger wrote. "The Israeli-Palestinian dispute over mapping provides a rich context for theorizing about alternative mapping practices so as to emphasize the importance of constructing integrative maps that recover diverse geopolitical visions. Careful analyses of how and why different adversarial groups map the same territory differently may serve as a resource for reconciliation. …"
The project, Map Wars: The History and Sociology of Mapping Practices in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, will also focus on how the geographical sciences have become entangled with politics, territorial claim making and nation-state building in Israel and the Palestinian Territories from 1948 until today. Leuenberger will conduct in-depth interviews and perform ethnographic and archival research.
Due to recent conflicts in the region, it has been increasingly difficult for Israelis and Palestinians to work together on peace-promoting projects. Leuenberger will work with Israeli and Palestinian academics and United Nations officials and share her findings with local experts and with organizations that work toward historical justice and reconciliation in the region.
Leuenberger will also develop a comprehensive methodology to analyze how social and political concerns become embedded in the visual rhetoric of maps. "My aims are to use the tools of the social sciences to increase scholarly and public appreciation of the importance of understanding knowledge in its cultural, social and political context, to provide better insight into contentious issues, and to thereby enhance prospects for eventual reconciliation," she writes.